Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is genuinely bloody terrifying.
It’s worth mentioning this fact right up front because it’s been a long time since a Resident Evil game could make this claim. Oh sure, the first couple instalments had the shock of the new and were dead creepy to boot, and Resident Evil 4 compounded nail-shredding scares with a sinister Cthulu-esque atmosphere.
But ever since Resident Evil 5 – the game most fans of the series agree was where the rot started to set in – Capcom’s premier horror franchise has been big on viscera and jump scares and not much else. Resident Evil 6 was more run ‘n gun than horror and the less said about Operation Raccoon City, the better.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard Review – A new horror
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (hereafter known as Resi Evil 7) wisely junks the focus on action that hampered those previous instalments and takes the franchise back to its roots by way of Southern Gothic Horror.
Somewhere between this game and Resident Evil: Revelations – the last decent entry in the franchise since the early noughties – someone over at Capcom realised that scaring the hell out of players depends largely on making them feel vulnerable and surrounding them with a flesh-crawling atmosphere thick enough to choke on.
Resi Evil 7 does this and then some. It also takes some cues from some of the better horror games of recent memory – Outlast, Alien: Isolation and the Amnesia series among them.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard Review – Alone in the dark
First, action has been switched from a third to a first-person perspective. Second, the player doesn’t control some tooled up special forces operative. Instead they pilot Ethan, an untrained, untested poor bastard who finds himself alone in the dark with horrors who seem impervious to pain and capable of killing him quite easily.
The plot kicks off with Ethan travelling down to a derelict estate in Louisiana in search of his wife Mia, who has been missing for three years. After entering the manor looming over the overgrown plantation, Ethan quickly becomes aware that something is horribly out of place. His search eventually leads him to Mia and the Baker family who…
And here I will stop. Horror games are far more jolting the less one knows before playing them, and since this is one of the most frightening games Capcom has produced in a small age, I don’t want to spoil anything for you. Suffice to say that Resi Evil 7’s plot owes less to zombie outbreak films like its predecessors and more to exploitative redneck slasher fare like The Hills Have Eyes and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard Review – Atmosphere
As players wander through the plantation’s crumbling structures they’ll come across scenes that will both shock and revolt them. Every surface is covered with a thin layer of dust. Paint work is peeling off every wall. Lifting the lid off a pot reveals brown congealing offal as a flurry of cockroaches run for cover. The early moments in Resi Evil 7 set the tone immaculately; one would have to be deranged not to be unsettled.
This sense of dread that permeates throughout Resi Evil 7 is palpable and is aided in no small part by one of the best soundtracks to underpin any game of recent memory. The further players progress into the game, the more the noises in their environment heighten the tension.
Ethan’s footfalls echo through corridors giving them the impression they’re alone. Then some innocuous noise will clatter into the soundtrack – a creak off in the distance or the sound of bottle dropping as the player accidentally brushes it off a counter – and they’ll want to jump ten feet in the air.
The musical score plays possum too, ramping up the tension with a steadily climbing set of chords before tapering off with no pay off. Then the musical bed will drop out entirely for minutes at a time, seemingly heralding the arrival of some new horror and then… once again nothing. By the time the monsters do arrive, the player’s nerves are shot.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard Review – It’s happening to you
The switch to first-person perspective is a masterstroke as it makes Ethan’s ordeal feel all the more personal. Armed with a torch and whatever else they can find lying around, players may start to feel like the walls are closing in; in some sections their HUD is nothing more than a pool of light, offering up visuals that run from mildly creepy to outright terrifying.
Furthermore Ethan’s lack of skills in combat heighten the tension. While players will get their hands on an assortment of weapons – a handgun, a knife and a shotgun among them – the unwieldy shooter mechanics and frantic melee attacks will make them feel like every encounter could be fatal if they don’t take a firm grip on their nerves. Occasionally, their only choice is to hide as an unkillable foe sidles by just inches away from them.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard Review – Resi roots
While Resi Evil 7 takes more than a few cues from current horror trends, the game’s eccentricities place it firmly in the framework of its franchise. Yes, players are vulnerable and yes, they need to hide occasionally. But Resi Evil 7 also features aspect players will note with a wry smile as being classic Resident Evil; preposterous puzzle doors, green herbs, a tiny inventory slot that needs a lot of micro-management, a storyline that becomes more bonkers as time goes on and – of course – a house that functions both as a hostile environment and complicated puzzle in dire need of unlocking.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard Review – Verdict
So Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is something of a triumph. Capcom has brought back into its franchise traits that are both recognisable and compelling, while taking a few pages from competitors’ playbooks and then sticking the unique Resident Evil stamp on them.
This is one of the best horror games released on this generation of gaming platforms and proof that not only can an old dog learn new tricks, it can actually improve on them.
- Resident Evil 7: Biohazard was tested on a PS4. A retail copy was provided by the publisher.