Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (2017)

You Have Once Again Entered…The World of Survival RUNNING.

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Added to the pile this week!

I’d always thought of the first PS1 Resident Evil as an antithesis to the first-person shooter. Back in 1996 there were at least ten Build Engine titles in the PC section. id Software was a big player and 3D Realms its themed gun-blasting alternative.

In the midst of market saturation, here was this third-person tank control anomaly with cinematic camera angles, set in a creepy house full of zombies and bad Canadian voice acting. Bullets and health didn’t drop from the sky like candied manna. It was a slow-paced, tense “survival horror” game, the complete opposite of Blood, Duke Nukem 3D and Quake.

Twenty years later, Resident Evil has once again undergone a drastic style revision. We’ve seen this time and again as the series got stale in its presentation. Resident Evil has metamorphized from third-person survival horror, to campy over-the-shoulder action hero fun, to over-the-shoulder with survival horror spliced back in, to HD remake third-person survival horror with the difficulty cranked to eleven. After two decades of battles with Umbrella and its black market criminal remnants, out comes Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, a first-person survival horror shooter.

The game begins by introducing us to Ethan Winters, an everyday guy compared to your usual RE protagonist with planetary-sized biceps. His wife Mia, supposedly working a traveling nanny job, goes missing. Three years later, Ethan gets a lead that she is alive in Southern Louisiana Bayou Country. Being a regular joe, and of course without informing the police, Ethan drives to a ranch innocently lurking in the swamp.

The guest house, our first stop on what will become a macabre tour, basks in neglect. The kitchen is a rest stop for vermin. Dilapidated furniture sits in ominous darkness. The place is gross and unwelcoming; one gets the sense that something bad is going to happen, the question being when.

Ethan finds Mia alive within the labyrinth of squalor. Simple enough. But with an average playtime of 9 1/2 hours to go, the worst is yet to come. Indeed, within minutes Mia goes Deadite and lops off Ethan’s hand with a chainsaw.

Ethan then wakes up to a dinner scene reminiscent of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, complete with a comatose elderly relative parked at the table. Ethan refuses to eat mama Marguerite Baker’s world-famous Intestine-n-Dumplins, prompting family patriarch Jack to respond in the traditional manner when dealing with haughty house guests.

This is where the real fun begins, and where it gets terrifying for me. Despite Jack stalking me with a shovel and sporting a case study in jaundice, he comes off so gosh-darned human that the creep factors go into overdrive. A shambling, rotting zombie is one thing: they’re a sight for the gag reflexes to behold, especially if one factors in what they must smell like. Jack, with his Dad joke one-liners, is like a good ol’ Southern suburbanite papa. He could be anybody you know with a sudden hankering for murder.

But that’s before Ethan reaches the basement area, blanketed in an appraiser’s nightmare of black mold. It’s ominous enough—imagine what that must smell like—and then exoskeleton monsters made of teeth and hard-hitting claws start rising from the muck. Oh, the smell. Like the time I lost a half-eaten plate of Hot Pockets under my GameCube pile for three months.

The classic Resident Evil questions arise: should I fight or run? Is this encounter worth my precious shotgun ammo? Is this the right or wrong time to heal? Do I mix gunpowder or herbs with the cleaning fluid? Don’t let the FPS look deceive you. This ain’t Doom and supplies are scarce.

Typical of survival horror, running from standard fodder is wise when there are stronger bosses ahead. Sometimes circumstances, such as cramped corridors, wasp swarms or tentacles, prevent flight from being a feasible option. Fortunately Ethan can arm block to soften damage. Blocking isn’t an assured win button, however; it requires precise timing to execute.

There’s an ever-deepening mystery unfolding here, with enough vague clues thrown around to keep you guessing and moving forward. I tried putting together pieces along the way. Who is “she” exactly? What is the “gift?” Why is grandma always wheeling herself out to give me the stink eye? The story is a compelling motivator, on top of how fun the game already is.

Fair warning for the faint of heart as well: Resident Evil 7 is gross. We’ve come a long way from pixelated gore on the PS1. Glorious 1080p resolution (or 4k if you’ve got that kind of money) renders dismemberment, disembowelment, stabbings, axe murders, chainsaw jousts and immolation. Welcome to true horror. Though it’s been fifteen years since Resident Evil 4, I still get squeamish seeing my own character horrifically murdered. I need my entrails, man.

Resident Evil 7 is also compatible with the PS4’s VR headset. This is one of those cases where I’m not brave enough to spend $300 extra, and not just because of buyer’s remorse.

There’s plenty of replay value to be found within RE7. Granted, playing through the game once is enough to teach players about completing objectives faster and surviving with greater success (like how it’s much more practical to run and hide from a Baker than shoot them.) However, there are plenty of collectible items to seek out the second or third time around. You get those sweet weapon bonuses in your inventory box. Those who complete the game under four hours get boons like x-ray glasses (which permanently highlight every hidden item in sight) and infinite ammo.

Beating the game also unlocks ‘Madhouse’ Mode, RE7’s hard difficulty setting. In contrast to your typical teeth-grinding, curb-stomping nightmare runs, Madhouse is more of an Arranged Mode than a blood pressure test.  It requires more thinking power rather than luck or skill. Finishing it begets more welcome bonuses.

With all this praise I’ve heaped on my Resident Evil 7 experience, is there anything negative I could say a bout it? Well, yes. As big a pain and ammo magnet as they can be, I counted about four varieties of Molded monsters throughout the game. Remember Lickers, Chimeras, plants, giant plants, giant snakes, giant spiders, and zombie dogs? Aside from one section with a plethora of oversized wasp nests, the majority of RE7 involves running or gunning through the same assortment of mutant vermin.

My other two gripes have to do with story content. There are loose threads intentionally left open to justify $9.99 DLC add-ons. Alternatively there’s this Internet source called YouTube with full Let’s Plays uploaded, for those with less patience and shorter pockets. Whether you would call that cheating is between you and your gaming scruples. There’s also the always invaluable Wiki.

By far the biggest problem that rattled me was a bullshit mid-game choice that affects the ending. Without spoiling much, I applied logic to this “moral conundrum,” so to speak, only to have the game punish me for thinking too much about it. My question here is whether we needed this branching interlude in the first place. I would have preferred the outcome be like Silent Hill, big or small choices along the way determining how it concludes.

Keep or purge? Resident Evil 7, despite the new look and a few bumps along the way, is a return to form. The wide variety of stuff to unlock already marks it as worth keeping around. Beyond that, it’s ideal for speed-running. We are home. Keep.