Resident Evil 7: Biohazard Review
A Needed Return to Survival Horror
I came out of Resident Evil 6 with one feeling – regret. Why had I suffered through three pointless campaigns filled with bland set pieces and monotonous firefights? What was so important about watching Leon Kennedy turn into an action hero or seeing Chris Redfield’s spiral into alcoholism? It took a second dreaded playthrough for me to realize it was all nostalgia-fueled hope that Capcom was ready to deliver Resident Evil in the way I had remembered it from umpteen years prior.
We all clambered for Resident Evil 4, praising it for effectively changing the survival horror model. Then came the fifth entry, flanked by two action-packed light-gun shooters. The series was changing, and it was clear that Capcom was looking to speed gameplay up by injecting adrenaline-filled moments. The fifth title was polarizing and while I initially accepted it, subsequent playthroughs had me pining for those slow-paced days of yore. I wanted to return to zombies, eerie mansions, tight hallways – all of the charming aspects of the original trilogy that slowly started to fade away with Resident Evil 4.
Filling the shoes of Biohazard’s protagonist is Ethan Winters, a system engineer and loving husband that gets tangled up in his wife’s misadventures. A first for the core Resident Evil series, Ethan is a nobody. He’s not an officer of the RPD or trained in military tactics. He’s not a biohazard expert or the child of an Umbrella agent. Ethan is just a guy that wants to rescue his wife, Mia, who he’s spent the past three years assuming to be dead.
With one e-mailed cry for help, Mia sinks Ethan into a horrid experience through the Baker family estate in Dulvey, LA. Replacing a large cast of nefarious characters are the Bakers – Jack, Marguerite, and Lucas – a family fit for a Rob Zombie movie. The Baker family members are their own version of demented, which helps to build up feelings of unease as they stalk you through cramped environments. If you hated Nemesis, you’re going to loath the persistence of Jack and Marguerite and how helpless they make you feel.
More than just deranged, however, the Bakers are infected with The Mold, a product of further B.O.W. research done by H.C.F. (Host Capture Force), formerly under the direction of the late Albert Wesker, and new organization, The Connections. The deadly organism works as a hive mind, which leads to a rather tragic reveal that gives Biohazard more heart than much of the series.
Biohazard ditches the long list of different B.O.Ws. for one main enemy type – the Molded. These gooey creatures are reminiscent of Resident Evil 4’s Regeneradros as they’re tall, lumbering, and tough to kill. The overall design lacks inspiration, but the Molded – and the various subtypes – fit perfectly into the series' rogue’s gallery of twisted weirdos and laboratory creations.
One of my biggest concerns when I first saw footage from Biohazard was the backwoods setting and the trio of familial antagonists. It felt too familiar, not as a fan of the series, but as a horror fan in general. Familiar isn’t scary and I wanted nothing more than to be terrified. Making my way through the Dulvey, LA abode, however, wound up being all but usual. The home felt organic, like every inch of it was watching and listening to me. The only moments of ease came with the scattered save rooms, a la typical Resident Evil style.
Though the Baker residence was considerably smaller and more claustrophobic than the Spencer mansion of the original – or maybe because it felt this way – it was more effective in setting a very grim tone. The sound design team deserves a hefty kudos for bringing the Baker’s rotting estate to life with creeks, groans, and knocking. Playing Biohazard on full volume elicited more than just a few moments of wide-eyed fear, something that hasn’t happened since I first popped in Alien: Isolation and, before that, Dead Space.
Biohazard’s mix of settings were grimy and disgusting in their own way. Even segments that took place in more sterile, laboratorial environments. In prior entries, once the protagonists entered Umbrella’s staple underground lab, the fear element subsided, and it became more about rushing to that final, mutated boss. Biohazard’s creative team clearly wanted gamers to feel terror right until the end credits while still going through the motions expected from a true Resident Evil game. From the wooden abode and murky swamps to decrepit tankers and underground caverns, world design was spot on and easily the best of the series.
I’m not a huge fan of first-person gameplay and moments of Biohazard solidified what I dislike most about it. Getting backed into a corner without realizing often spelled imminent death and, at times, enemies were too bulky to make heads or tails of. Most enemies, especially bosses, are bullet sponges if you’re not careful with placing your shots. Though enemies react to limb damage and Molded can be brought to the floor by taking out their legs, well-placed headshots are the quickest way to clear a room. Aiming in Biohazard is smooth and each weapon serves its own purpose, which lends to a well-rounded survival horror experience.
To my delight, Biohazard was a success, revitalizing my trust in Capcom’s judgment. As much as I spoke ill of the game’s concepts before getting my hands on it – a practice I need to cease as it also got me in trouble with the Nintendo Switch – Resident Evil 7: Biohazard easily tops 2017’s long list of new releases.