Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
I’ve been more scared for Resident Evil than by Resident Evil throughout the past few years. The series has progressively moved further away from horror and has suffered an identity crisis along the way. I felt that the future of the franchise looked grim as it carved out the crushing dread and tension and failed to substitute it with something better. Resident Evil 7, from what I played, looks to bring the franchise back to its terror-filled roots.
While set a few years after Resident Evil 6, the story and premise are more personal and not about saving the entire world from some lettered virus. Protagonist Ethan Winters’ simple mission to search for his wife in the fictional town of Dulvey, Louisiana is made more complicated by the previously-teased Baker family. Hostile and not quite human, this dysfunctional group quickly turns Ethan’s search-and-rescue mission into a mission to survive.
The Baker’s isolated, expansive plot of land re-emphasizes the “resident” aspect of the game’s title. The classic Resident Evil formula began to naturally unfurl once the game stuck me in the house and house-like structures. Shoving animal keys into doors with animal-shaped holes while managing resources and dodging threats are a much-needed return to form. RE 7 isn’t a radical reinvention of what the series has done before, but it is executed with confidence and proper pacing, something the past few mainline entries have lacked. This residence is very much built upon the foundation of the original Resident Evil – albeit in first-person.
The perspective shift is more than just a stylistic change since it acts like a modern-day equivalent to tank controls. The clunky movement in the Resident Evil trilogy on the PS1 was essential in creating a sense of uneasiness. The first-person camera feels like a contemporary version of that nostalgic handicap that limits your field of view instead of your ability to move. The first-person viewpoint didn’t afford me the luxury of rotating the camera around corners from a safe space and pulled me closer into the experience. The limited view didn’t feel like blinders that made the scares feel cheap, but was a fresh evolution for the series that’s in-line with other recent horror games like Alien: Isolation and Soma.
Resident Evil’s new perspective doesn’t turn the game into an action-oriented first-person shooter. Ethan is not a confident, capable cop like Leon Kennedy or a jacked, boulder-punching meat bulldozer like Chris Redfield. He’s just a regular dude, which is reflected in his combat prowess – or lack thereof. He physically defends himself like the last person to get picked in dodgeball and his run speed and stamina – especially when injured – are that of a middle-aged, out-of-shape smoker.
Moving while aiming is sluggish and Ethan’s hands tremble a bit as he tries to line up a shot. Methodical gunplay like this doesn’t let you to spray-and-pray; it wants you to worry over every bullet and the pacing and controls reflect that. There’s a real sense of weight – both physical and mental – during combat and that anxiety works in tandem with the game’s commitment to horror.
But I didn’t shoot at zombies. While the Baker family’s unnatural abilities seem like a healthy mix between the Ganados from RE 4 and the Majini from RE 5, the new Molded enemies are more abstract. These black, goopy creatures emerge from the walls and make ample use of the claustrophobic rooms and tight hallways, trapping me when I failed to run away and appearing suddenly around corners. My plan to bottleneck them in a hallway fell apart since these muck creatures folded back into the wall when I ran away. I had to fight them on their terms and it was terrifying. Killing the Molded with my back against the wall and only a few bullets left brought back the tension that I’ve missed in recent years, even though I died a few times bumbling with the heavy shooting controls and movement.
Deliberate movement makes it easy to wish for upgrades that make Ethan faster and a little less shaky, a possibility if the shop is any indication. Antique coins are hidden around the mansion and let you buy upgrade-filled syringes at some safe rooms to increase your health or stamina. Well-hidden coins gave the decision of what to upgrade weight since I could never quite afford everything, despite my thorough teardown of the mansion. Resource scarcity encourages heavy scavenging, but the upgrade coins add a more permanent incentive to search every rotting nook and cranny.
Crafting is also important for character progression, albeit temporary. Chem fluid quickly became the most valuable item in my pack because of its flexibility. Combining strong or weak chem fluid with an herb yields a health kit while mixing it with gunpowder gives additional ammo rounds. Deciding how to allocate craftable items is a fitting, stressful dilemma that gave me more control over how I wanted to play.
In its first few hours, Resident Evil 7 has a focus: creating an unsettling, looming layer of tension. Everything in the demo served that thesis. Whether I was sneaking around the twisted enemies or shooting at them, I felt on-edge; panicked at the mere thought of one wrong move or one missed shot. Constant – but well-paced – surprises meant I could never rest easily while tiptoeing around the mansion searching for keys and supplies. I didn’t get to leave the Baker’s hellish house, but I left the demo with a renewed sense of hope for Resident Evil. If the full game can consistently maintain this level of quality and confidence, it could be the refresh the franchise has desperately needed for years.
For a video version of our impressions of the demo, check out our video segment with Capcom's Tim Turi from the Game Informer Show here.