Thoughts on: Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

[Russian version] 

Anyone who’s known me for a while knows that Resident Evil is one of my absolute favorite game series. I’ve played most of the games that were ever released, excluding some rare terrible ones, like Game.com version of RE2, or a mobile port of RE4. And I like the vast majority of them, even if they’re not very good games. That said, I’m also always the harshest critic, wishing these games to be the very best they can be. And lately the series weren’t feeling all that well, with me liking a lot of parts of Resident Evil 6 despite the fact that it’s a pretty bad game, or wanting to love Revelations sub-series, even when they made one mistake after another.

Yet, Capcom released Remasters of 2 Gamecube classics and were promising to truly review their stance on what the next main entry in the series would be. With each new interview, each video, playable teaser-demo I was becoming more and more hopeful that Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (or, in Japan, Biohazard 7: Resident Evil) will be great. A true return to form and yet some new direction for the series. Were my hopes in vain?

Main thing that a lot of you would want to hear is — Resident Evil 7 is the closest a new game in about 15 years or so ever got to what classic survival horror was about. That niche mix of action adventure with horror flavor, careful resource planning, methodical combat and smart escapes, rich on details environments to explore in non-linear fashion is back. Despite some fears that the game might lean too much on horror elements, introduce a lot of stealth or have way too much action, Resident Evil 7 feels exactly like a Resident Evil game used to be, except from first person perspective. In fact, for any longtime series fan I can describe the game as — imagine Resident Evil Remake, but with focus on Lisa’s subplot, with more classic slasher horror references and from the first person perspective with an ability to crouch. That’s clearly what the developers wanted to make and they succeeded.

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Locations are lovingly crafted to look as detailed and nice with real time visuals as pre-rendered visuals in classics used to look. There’re lots of little interactions and items hidden in odd places. One of the locations even uses «weapons as tools» in a clever way, while puzzles try to be both simple, as they always were in the series, and also fun. There are themed keys, of course, and using a crank item. But there’re also interesting shadow puzzles, puzzles that you solve by watching a VHS tape and lots of simple smart item usage and re-usage. All of which is paired with yet again simple slot-based inventory, without tetris elements of RE4, a nice in-game way to bring the old health indicator back, but now as a smartwatch and the surprisingly clever mixed usage of both set save points and autosaves.

On top of that, there’s a special Madhouse difficulty that works not simply as «Hard mode» but rather as «Arrange mode» from Resident Evil: Director’s cut, with item and enemy placement being remixed, including some of the key items, which brings alternative puzzle solving in. And Capcom didn’t forget about the good old unlockables as well — there’s enough of those, most being pretty useful. Even if due to the first person perspective there are no costume unlocks this time around. A bit of a shame, really, since perhaps making special custom hands and weapon skins could’ve worked as a fun substitute.

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Oh and action is spot on for the most part. While I still prefer how the classic autoaim de-emphasized the player ability to aim, instead focusing on the player ability to position the character in the game world, Resident Evil 7 doesn’t feel like a «slow FPS», instead still having that deliberate methodical combat of the originals — your aim just plays a bigger part in it. Still have doubts about the block button and think that, perhaps, a slight timed dodge could’ve been more preferable, but it works just fine and is fine to learn to us. And while the more disposable nameless mold-based creations in the game are just good (apart from one pretty terribly designed type), it’s the named enemies that truly shine. Every single one of them works like a mini-boss or a full-on boss, in a way similar to how Tyrants, Nemesis or William Birkin worked in the classic trilogy.

They have very nicely done voice acting and characterization too. It often goes campy but in the way that remains both silly and disturbing at the same time, similarly to how a lot of memorable villains in previous Resident Evil games worked. Without spoiling too much, I must also say that despite a more down to earth approach of most of the events in the game, Capcom does remember that we loved those insane «evil corporations doing dangerous things, also people are not who they are, also spies» plots and these elements are in the game. Which makes me hopeful to see them explored in more detail in the future DLCs.

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With all this praise I’m giving, I cannot help but mention several weaker elements as well. For one — the game is extremely uneven. It starts with a more linear introductory part that has way too many «playable cutscenes» and almost none of the core gameplay. Then it gets to the very exciting and non-linear core gameplay. Only to suddenly become more linear again for a while. And then it switches between the two approaches a few times, but without really being as exciting and creative as the beginning part of the game proper. And everything suffers due to it. Madhouse becomes a simple «hard mode» after the first 1/3 of the game is done. Locations become less memorable, more visually simplistic. Lack of dedicated prominent soundtrack becomes more notable, when you realise that you notice only about 4 tracks out of the entire 80+ track soundtrack. Things never become bad, but they certainly become weaker, in a way that none of the classics did.

And there are occasional annoyances, like these «playable cutscenes», which never really hit the lows of the QTE-fest of Resident Evil 6, but still feel so alien in the otherwise «honest» tight mechanics rest of the game. And they are not skippable. In the entirety of the game from beginning to the end only one cutscene can be skipped, because it’s pre-rendered. All the other parts, including a long opening or parts where you can do nothing but move camera, are unskippable. Which makes this game, that is so fun to replay when it finally starts, so much less fun to replay, because getting to that start takes forever. I really hope Capcom releases an option to skip those as a future update.

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But you know what? I loved it. This is classic survival horror made today. It’s not exactly at it’s best, it can be done even better. But it’s done great and for the genre that was essentially dead for almost 15 years, that is an impressive feat. It’s very reassuring to see Capcom finally dedicate themselves to what people were asking them to do for such a long time. They also did it without making mistakes of Alien: Isolation, that was afraid of being short — Resident Evil 7 will take you about 7-9 hours the first time around, but can be replayed at under 3 hours, even without speedrunning. Which is slightly longer than classic survival horror titles, but not by much.

If you wanted to have a nice dose of those «action adventure with horror elements, heavy focus on exploration and item management» games we used to call survival horror, there’s nothing better than Resident Evil 7 currently available. Apart from the classics. :) If you could never get into the genre before — perhaps this is what you’d like. Either way, I’m very excited about the future of Resident Evil series again. And the world of survival horror welcomes you once again.

P.S. Short video review: