Res­i­dent Evil VII: Bio­haz­ard

EDGE - - STUDIO PROFILE - De­vel­oper/pub­lisher Cap­com For­mat PC, PSVR, PS4 (tested), Xbox One Re­lease Out now

PC, PS4, Xbox One

Like one of the un­for­tu­nates in­fected by the T-virus, Cap­com’s long-run­ning se­ries has un­der­gone a pro­found mu­ta­tion for its lat­est it­er­a­tion. The con­tam­i­nate in Res­i­dent Evil VII: Bio­haz­ard’s sys­tem isn’t a lab-en­gi­neered mu­ta­gen, but rather the sur­pris­ing in­flu­ence of Kon­ami’s Silent Hill se­ries, and a not in­con­sid­er­able dose of some of the ideas Red Bar­rels in­tro­duced in its de­but hor­ror ef­fort Out­last (a game that’s it­self heav­ily in­debted to Cap­com’s early work).

In fact, Bio­haz­ard im­me­di­ately in­vites di­rect com­par­i­son with Out­last by start­ing in a fa­mil­iar man­ner. The game opens as pro­tag­o­nist Ethan Win­ters comes to the end of a long drive through des­o­late coun­try­side and pulls up just out­side the grounds of a di­lap­i­dated old build­ing. Af­ter han­dling Win­ters’ dis­em­barka­tion with a short an­i­ma­tion, Cap­com du­ti­fully hands over first­per­son con­trol to the player and tasks them with find­ing a way into the build­ing. Win­ters’ mo­ti­va­tion to put him­self in ob­vi­ous dan­ger runs a lit­tle deeper than jour­nal­is­tic cu­rios­ity, how­ever, as he’s here af­ter re­ceiv­ing a mes­sage from his late wife.

While there are plenty of jump scares and out­landish mon­sters along the way, Bio­haz­ard breaks with se­ries tra­di­tion to keep the player in a near-con­tin­ual state of psy­cho­log­i­cal un­ease that makes this en­try one of the most ex­haust­ing, and bril­liant, sur­vival-hor­ror games in years. Sure, the se­ries has dab­bled with other gen­res in the past – most re­cently in the rot­ten Um­brella Corps – but in ev­ery case the end re­sult has been like a brit­tle, crooked branch sprout­ing from an oth­er­wise ro­bust trunk. Bio­haz­ard is a num­bered se­quel, of course, but it rep­re­sents an in­no­va­tive, bench­mark-set­ting tem­plate that breathes new life into a se­ries that hasn’t felt truly pro­gres­sive since its fourth in­stal­ment – a high point that’s now more than a decade old.

Such a far-reach­ing over­haul was al­ways go­ing to per­turb tra­di­tion­al­ists, of course. Many voiced their dis­ap­point­ment in fo­rum posts and on so­cial me­dia af­ter the game’s re­veal in June last year, ac­cus­ing Cap­com’s designers of stray­ing too far from the com­pany’s orig­i­nal vi­sion, dis­grun­tled purists self­de­feat­ingly la­belling the game a ‘triple-A Out­last’. But while there are ab­so­lutely com­par­isons to be drawn, such re­duc­tive clas­si­fi­ca­tion fails to take into ac­count the gen­er­ous list of Cap­com’s own ideas that set Bio­haz­ard apart from other first­per­son hor­ror games.

Un­for­tu­nately, not all of them are good ones. As much a prod­uct of the game’s VR lean­ings as its se­ries’ legacy, de­fault walk­ing speed is some­what slug­gish and lacks any sense of dy­namism. Things can be im­proved by spend­ing a lit­tle time with the game’s ex­ten­sive se­lec­tion of slid­ers, and the abil­ity to quick-turn helps, but even with ev­ery­thing di­alled up as far as it will go, the sense per­sists that you’re wrestling with the ves­ti­gial re­mains of tank-con­trol DNA.

The setup does its job in­so­far as it glee­fully in­tro­duces mo­ments of sticky panic while you des­per­ately try to get through a door and close it be­fore what­ever is be­hind you gets any closer, but it needs space to func­tion at its best. When you’re hemmed into smaller ar­eas with fast-mov­ing en­e­mies, or those with ranged at­tacks, it can frus­trate. Two claus­tro­pho­bic boss fights early on – one which takes place in a garage, and an­other in a macabre stor­age cage – suf­fer as a re­sult, and end up be­ing more ir­ri­tat­ing than tense. Some ill-con­sid­ered check­point place­ment that fails to take into ac­count drawn-out, un­skip­pable cutscenes (ex­cel­lent the first time, but quickly frus­trat­ing there­after) and ini­tially poorly tele­graphed rules of en­gage­ment con­spire with Win­ters’ lumpen re­ac­tion speeds to tar­nish what is oth­er­wise a mem­o­rable open­ing hour. Tackle the same en­coun­ters in VR, how­ever, and it’s clear that they’ve been bal­anced for play­ers who have the abil­ity to look over their shoul­ders while keep­ing on the move. Both are sig­nif­i­cantly im­proved with the PSVR head­set, but it’s a pity that a mid­dle ground couldn’t be found in these in­stances. And it’s all the more frus­trat­ing when Cap­com hits its stride shortly there­after and de­liv­ers a num­ber of ex­cep­tional boss en­coun­ters that ex­cel in ei­ther mode.

But it’s in be­tween these fights that Cap­com re­ally flexes its sur­vival-hor­ror mus­cles. The game takes place across lo­ca­tions that are parts of a grad­u­ally ex­pand­ing, tightly packed map, which un­furls as you un­lock smart – and of­ten sur­pris­ing – short­cuts. This, to­gether with some puz­zles whose con­stituent parts are spread out across con­sid­er­able dis­tances, makes back­track­ing a plea­sure. You’ll rarely have the run of the place, how­ever, as there’s usu­ally some­thing – or some­one – in each area with you. In many cases you sim­ply need to avoid be­ing spot­ted by a crea­ture that doesn’t know you’re there, and can’t open doors any­way. But on other oc­ca­sions you’ll find your­self stalked by the house’s vi­o­lent oc­cu­pants, or hunted down by sham­bling but re­lent­less crea­tures in dark­ened cor­ri­dors.

At least the Molded, the catch-all term given to a host of grim mutants that look like they’re made of tar, can be downed with a close-prox­im­ity shot­gun blast to the head – or, at least, a pro­por­tion of lucky hits from the dozens of poorly aimed pis­tol shots you loosed in panic. How­ever, many of the hu­mans you’ll en­counter are ca­pa­ble of re­gen­er­at­ing them­selves (for plot rea­sons we won’t spoil here) and im­pos­si­ble to kill out­right. You can down them tem­po­rar­ily, but it’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore they get back up again – a lit­tle more an­gry than be­fore – while you des­per­ately search for the items you need in or­der to pro­ceed and try to fig­ure out how they must be used.

Bio­haz­ard breaks with se­ries tra­di­tion to keep the player in a near-con­tin­ual state of psy­cho­log­i­cal un­ease

Some of Bio­haz­ard’s most mem­o­rable puz­zles span time as well as phys­i­cal dis­tance. You’ll ac­quire sev­eral video cas­settes dur­ing the game which, when played in any of the VCRs dot­ted about the world, put you in con­trol of other char­ac­ters at some point in the past. Bril­liantly, these se­quences are used to fore­shadow ar­eas that you’re about to visit, pre­sent­ing them in a dif­fer­ent con­text and pro­vid­ing clues as to how they can be reached in your own time­line. Rather than make tackling them a se­cond time around eas­ier, how­ever, Cap­com in­stead takes the op­por­tu­nity to lean on your nerves a lit­tle harder than might be con­sid­ered sport­ing had you not al­ready mapped out the ter­ri­tory, and toys with your ex­pec­ta­tions.

It’s also one of many tools the stu­dio uses to tell its sur­pris­ingly well-writ­ten – and per­formed – story. By Res­i­dent Evil stan­dards at least, Bio­haz­ard’s nar­ra­tive is a pleas­antly re­strained yarn that is of­ten as rich as it is terrifying. Cap­com hasn’t blithely aban­doned the ab­strac­tions and camp ex­cesses of Res­i­dent Evil’s uni­verse – you still con­sume herbs to fix any ail­ment, even chain­saw wounds; chests in save rooms hap­pily ig­nore the laws of physics and of­fer up their con­tents in ev­ery lo­ca­tion; and the game’s mawk­ish end­ing feels anachro­nis­tic in its new con­text – but the stu­dio has em­braced a more con­vinc­ing tone that ex­ac­er­bates the ter­ror, and frames each set-piece and pe­riod of ex­plo­ration with a greater sever­ity than the game’s pre­de­ces­sors ever set out to.

One se­quence in par­tic­u­lar, in­volv­ing a child’s bed­room, will stay with us for a long time. But a par­tic­u­larly creepy boss fight prior to it – tack­led dur­ing the day, in a well-lit, busy of­fice – elicited in­vol­un­tary ex­cla­ma­tions from two Edge staffers that nei­ther is proud of.

Bio­haz­ard’s down­beat, at­mo­spheric squalor and gloom is ren­dered all the more po­tent by Cap­com’s new RE En­gine. The Molded glis­ten like Giger-es­que night­mares as they loom out of the dark­ness. Steam bil­lows and swirls in be­liev­able pat­terns across the floor of damp cor­ri­dors. Cap­com lav­ishes par­tic­u­larly ex­trav­a­gant de­tail on de­cay­ing food and flesh. The game’s hu­man char­ac­ter mod­els are also strik­ing, the com­bi­na­tion of their eerily con­vinc­ing pres­ence and ex­cep­tional light­ing ef­fects mak­ing the prospect of be­ing caught all the more un­bear­able.

While the vi­su­als take an ex­pected hit in VR mode, par­tic­u­larly de­tailed ar­eas – not least the dense fo­liage in out­door sec­tions – re­ally suf­fer at PSVR’s res­o­lu­tion. There are some odd quirks, too, such as the way that items you pick up to ex­am­ine feel slightly too far away, and that a por­tion of your drive at the be­gin­ning of the game plays out on a vir­tual screen be­fore dump­ing you into the interior of a 3D car at the last mo­ment so that you can get out of it. For the most part, how­ever, Bio­haz­ard makes ex­cel­lent use of VR to make an al­ready alarm­ing game all the more hideous (see Post Script).

With Bio­haz­ard Cap­com might’ve taken lib­er­ties with a much-cher­ished for­mat, but it does so with such bravado that it’s hard to imag­ine the sev­enth in­stal­ment com­ing to­gether in any other way. And while it’s un­likely to win as many hearts as Res­i­dent Evil 4 did, it’s an equally im­por­tant and re­mark­able en­try in the se­ries’ tu­mul­tuous time­line.

While the Baker prop­erty is made up of sev­eral dis­crete build­ings, they’re all linked by a web of se­cret pas­sage­ways and rick­ety walk­ways. The co­her­ence of the en­vi­ron­ment evokes mem­o­ries of early Resi games

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