Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
Four hours inside Capcom’s firstperson reinvention cranks up the nostalgia factor
PC, PS4, PSVR, Xbox One
Jill sandwiches might not be on the menu during the Baker family’s mealtime, but it’s one of only a few ingredients from the first Resident Evil that haven’t been brought back for the series’ latest makeover. As we’re let loose inside the game for an entire afternoon, it’s hard to decide whether the biggest shocks come from some fine-tuned jump scares or the sensation that Resident
Evil 7 is simply a modern-day remake of the original with zombies traded out for Nemesis-like menaces.
Familiar items, weapons and even puzzles are riddled throughout, and the structure of the world is too similar to Chris and Jill’s Spencer Mansion episode to be accidental: early hours are spent clearing out the rooms of a large house harbouring secret passages to hunt down a trio of emblems in order to unlock the exit. It’s a doorway that leads not to safety, but a path winding to a second, smaller building. That the route takes us to a dilapidated swamp house rather than a guardhouse, or that the main area’s a dingy, unkempt Louisianan manor instead of a gleaming stone mansion high up in the mountains, does little to mask the similarities; the switch to firstperson might once have sounded like a drastic step into new territory for the mainline series, but this is the closest Capcom has come to recapturing the atmosphere of the 1996 original since the 2002 GameCube remake.
Cast as the vulnerable Ethan Winters, we pick up the story approximately 45 minutes into the game as the entire Baker family – father Jack, mother Marguerite, son Lucas and a wheelchair-bound grandma – sits around an offal-laden table. When arguments and phone calls tempt the family into other rooms, Ethan topples his chair, frees his legs and we begin our escape attempt.
We get no farther than the hallway outside the opening kitchen/dining area before Jack reappears, armed with a shovel. We can either run or hide, but as we zero in on a key that could help us escape, Jack bursts through the wall and gives chase. Careful peering around corners and creeping at the right time lets us snatch up the key and scrabble towards the temporary safety of a save room to record progress with a cassette recorder, but not before a hefty whack from the spade covers our screen in blood spatters.
The save room presents us, weaponless, cornered and wounded, with an opportunity to take stock. A smartwatch called a Codex is strapped to our left wrist, and in one of many nods back to the ’96 outing it displays our health as a coloured ECG readout whenever we check the inventory screen. Currently
amber, we top it up by combining a herb and a bag of yellow Chem fluid in the Quick Combine menu to create a medium first-aid kit. Health items are mapped to R1, and pressing it sees Ethan take out a jar and splash healing tonic all over his left hand to patch up his wounds. Later on, we find more potent red Chem packs that can be combined with herbs for strong first-aid kits, while mixing gunpowder with the liquid produces regular and stronger handgun bullets, depending on the Chem fluid’s strength.
Our first taste of combat is just around the corner. Having now scooped up both a penknife and a pistol and used the first to slice open the tape that bound the casing of an electronic door-panel switch, we find ourselves trapped inside the Baker’s small garage with Jack. Though Ethan can move while aiming, Jack’s speed combined with an alarming ability to soak up bullets puts us on the back foot. Helpfully, a blocking move on L1 reduces damage from blows and leaves our quarry momentarily stunned. Still, Jack’s ability to absorb bullets means guns won’t get us very far here, but grabbing keys from a workbench and jumping into Ethan’s sports car for a spot of close-quarters road rage does the trick. Speaking later with the development team, it transpires that crunching Poppa Baker’s body against the garage’s breeze blocks isn’t the only way to end this fight.
With Jack beaten, we can begin exploring our surroundings at a slightly more measured clip. The house is full of objects to pick up and inspect: tins to pry open, pictures to analyse, nodding bobbleheads to shoot, and VHS tapes to insert into VCRs in order to trigger playable flashback chapters from the viewpoints of other characters tortured by the Bakers. Manually interacting with a nut on the back of a picture frame lets us unscrew a bronze ox statuette, which neatly slots into a plaque on a grand set of double doors and opens up the mansion’s main hall.
Again, nostalgia takes hold as the grand balconied entrance splinters off into different passageways and rooms; some open, many secreted away behind doors with animals inscribed on the locks. Helpfully, these
discoveries are jotted down on the map, which becomes a point of reference while exploring and backtracking through the vast plantation and a trusty guide as to where to explore next whenever a new type of key is unearthed.
Combat again comes to the fore down in the labyrinthine basement. In a moment neatly foreshadowed by ominous notes about kidnapped strangers being transformed by the Bakers, we come face-to-maw with the Molded. A combination of Resident Evil 4’ s Regenerators and Revelations’ Ooze, they’re tall, toothy golems birthed out of clumps of black ichor pasted onto every surface. With the shotgun not appearing until later, even one-on-one fights with these brutes prove tough, with multiple headshots required to kill them. Multiple deaths occur when three attack at once, booting us back to a nearby save room, but in a controversial move, copping it in other areas, such as during boss battles, will trigger checkpointed reloads. “We’re trying to smooth the process of getting back into the game after dying, rather than limit the possibility of dying,” explains executive producer Jun Takeuchi regarding this softening of the classic save-system rules.
Despite the game favouring puzzles and exploration over combat, after four hours we’ve stockpiled a flamethrower, a grenade launcher and a .44 Magnum revolver – and encountered ample reasons to use them. Pulsating hives of giant, killer hornets in the swamp house, patrolling family members, and a static encounter with Marguerite in which we’re trapped in a hole all do their part to burn through our supplies. All the while, plentiful backtracking to open up fresh areas with new items gives rise to fresh shocks, as tense games of hide-and-seek with the deranged family contrast nicely against the all-out horror of Molded dropping through ceiling vents mere centimetres from your face.
Cutscenes, QTEs and overblown heroics have been well and truly exorcised, leaving a considered horror that cleverly borrows concepts from the likes of PT and Outlast without feeling overly derivative. Knowingly cheesy dialogue and scenes spanning bathtubdraining right through to enemies bursting through windows (this time it’s hornets, not ravenous dogs, responsible for our yelps) reinforce the series’ ’90s values at every available opportunity, softening the impact felt by the change in location and cast. The result is a shift every bit as daring as the jump from Resident Evil Zero to Resident Evil
– and one that might yet be every bit as successful, too.
Plentiful backtracking to open up fresh areas with new items gives rise to fresh shocks
Chest shots do little damage to the gelatinous Molded creatures – you’ll need to remove their limbs or pop their heads to keep them down. Alternatively, shutting doors can trap them in certain rooms
To help survive the tougher areas with health and ammo supplies intact, it pays to abuse the infinite save system and sacrifice yourself to work out enemy behaviour loops. The Molded, for instance, can’t stray too far from their spawn points
TOP LEFT The knife is handy during the frequent moments of ammunition depletion, but it won’t help you clear away the masses of killer bugs that block certain doorways or cupboards: you’ll need the flamethrower for those.
ABOVE New weapons and character upgrades such as permanent health boosts and quicker reload speeds are found inside birdcages. Collect hidden antique coins to go on a shopping spree
LEFT One new item among the familiar herbs, emblems and cranks is the Psychostimulant pack. Chugging these temporarily highlights every nearby object with a marker, helping you to sniff out valuable ammo and health deviously hidden in the shadows