Video Game Review: "Resident Evil VII: Biohazard" (2017)
I'm not easy to please when it comes to the Resident Evil series. It's long been an iconic series for those of us who spend too much time gaming, but you have to be realistic about the entire history of the series. There have been classics that make any gamer's Top 10 (the original RE, RE2, RE4) and those that shit the bed (RE: Outbreak, RE6). It's a very mixed bag that stands on the groundwork of one of the most game-changing series ever made.
I knew that I would buy it straightaway, as I do all Resident Evil games. It's just what I do. Much like a new Grand Theft Auto or Legend of Zelda there are no questions about whether or not you will own it. My only question this time was more of a "this generation" kind of puzzler: buy a physical disc or download it from the PSN.
I chose to download for the first time ever (for something than a DLC expansion). I acquired the pricey Deluxe Version for $89.99, because I want that extra content the moment it hits (and I had the scratch). Judge me. I don't give a shit.
Let's dig in. Pun intended.
The story is very clean and basic: Ethan is your protagonist. His lovely wife, Mia, went missing 3 years ago while doing some overpaid "babysitting". In the present day he receives an email claiming to be from his wife begging him to come to Dulvey, Louisiana and save her. That's it, and it works masterfully because of the simplicity. You are plunged straight into the unknown in a classic horror scenario. Straight and to the point.
The biggest change hit me in the face from the time I saw the first trailer a few months back- it's FIRST PERSON!! This made me nervous (Outbreak, anyone?). I knew it could be done properly, but this has never been an "FPS" game (that's in quotations because it's definitely not a shooter). I was intrigued. Does it succeed?
It's a resounding yes for me. The change in perspective takes you out of the mode of being able to see 3/4 of the sides around you and forces you to exist in real space, so to speak. I know that this was done partly for the VR experience (no, I don't have VR). The beauty of it is that it makes the whole experience feel less "video gamey" and much more personal. I mean that in the best way possible. The jump scares garner more intensity this way. The search builds much more tension. You will find yourself taking things in a significantly slower fashion.
The story, overall, was a win for me. If the classics in the series were a love letter to all things George A. Romero (on steroids, of course) then this is a love letter to the Tobe Hooper classic, "Texas Chainsaw Massacre". It is heavily cliched in that regard, but at least it has the good sense to get it right and not fuck around when it comes to dirty, trashy, inbred, & batshit crazy. The Baker Family are one whacked out bunch of bayou assholes, but as you get more of the story you understand that it's not all their fault. This is still a Resident Evil game, after all. There has to be some kind of evil conglomerate at work, right? Right?
The bayou setting and the Dulvey Mansion in particular are rapturous to behold, decrepit and still possessed of waterlogged beauty in equal measure. You can smell the mold in the place through the screen. Speaking of mold.........
If I have a gripe with this game it comes in regards to The Molded, the game's main enemies. They come in 3 varieties (Tyrant Arm, Crawler, Fat and Barfing), but they are all basically the same damn thing and you know exactly when they are coming. They're usually a bitch to deal with, and that does ratchet up the tension, but they are it on the baddie front (save some bugs in the swampy guest house run). A little variety would've been nice. It is the spice of life, you know.
It's the only MAJOR gripe that I have with this fine entry in the series. The puzzles were definitely too easy and infrequent, but I can live with that failure because of all of the successes.
The music is more nuanced and used more effectively than any other game in the series that I can remember (and I've played them all). Ditto for the lighting. The change in setting and tone makes it feel like a completely different game until you have to manage that meticulous inventory or ration that ammo. It's nice to see the hallmarks of what makes a good RE game so challenging are still front and center.
And we all love that Save Room music, don't we?
Speaking of rooms and doors............they don't save you anymore. You'd better learn to shut them now, as there are no load screens to bail you out. The unintelligent creatures may stay out, but the people will bust right the fuck on in. Thankfully. Even the holy protection of a Save Room can be violated under the right (i.e. wrong) circumstances.
There were twists in the story that I saw coming and a couple that I didn't. Additionally, the ones that were predictable had more to do with being a very "RE thing to do" than being a product of bad writing. You will get to make a decision late in the game that will decide which way your story ends. I can't wait to play it through and go the other direction to see how much replay value that adds to the story, too.
All in all I logged a little less than 15 hours of gameplay for the basic playthrough on Normal difficulty. Sadly, I missed one lone secret statue (good old Mr. Everywhere). I saved a lot, but that's just my style. I healed less than 15 times and, believe me, that ain't bad. This one gets pretty nasty in some places. Gone are the letter grades of previous RE games; it's more of a GTA-style statistical rundown. I'm cool with that.
Winning in that fashion unlocked some nastier difficulty levels and bonuses (weapons, items, etc). There are certainly more rounds to be played on this game. And there is that bonus content on the horizon...........
The wrap-up will give you a nice "FUCK YEAH" moment and (of course) the promise of a sequel to come. That's good because they've opened up a pretty virulent new Pandora's Box of terror.
I'm giving it a very solid 8.75/10. It's not perfect, but it IS classic Resident Evil. It dares to do new things without trying to reinvent wheel, and there is something to be said for that kind of intelligent design. Thank you, video game Gods!!