Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is the first main entry in the celebrated franchise since 2012’s Resident Evil 6, and promises a return to the survival horror roots of the first games in the series. Let’s see how scared we ended up getting while playing with the PS4 version of the game.
For a long time, not too much was known about how Resident Evil 7 would turn out. Demos were released and we even got some hands on time with Capcom at E3 and Gamescom, but what we saw were always playable ‘found footage’ segments and Capcom kept saying they weren’t revealing much about the main game yet – sticking to the virtual contents of virtual in-game VHS tapes instead. The demos were great, and luckily it turns out that they weren’t trying to hide a merely so-so main game with them – let’s just assume it was a way to build up suspense.
It would be fitting if that were Capcom’s tactic, because suspense is definitely a key ingredient in Resident Evil 7. There is a constant dark and brooding atmosphere, which makes the game scary even when there’s nothing directly going on. Of course there are sections where you’re being hunted and those are heart-pounding in and of themselves, but the real brilliance lies in portions where you stare at an open door or down a staircase and feel afraid to step forward. That’s the kind of experience that Resident Evil 7 delivers.
This is of course especially true when playing the game using Playstation VR. Resident Evil 7 plays out in a first person perspective, and VR is the difference between telling a character to go into a dark room and venturing there yourself. Playing with a regular TV allows you to detach yourself from the protagonist somewhat, but in virtual reality that detachment fades away and it feels like it’s YOU who will suffer the consequences. The game offers a variety of control methods to accommodate VR as well, including step-based turning as well as smooth turning – I recommend the latter, although I have to admit I have a very high tolerance for VR-induced motion sickness. Needless to say at this point, VR is the best way to play Resident Evil 7 – it’s a landmark achievement for Playstation VR and exactly what the platform needed now that the initial wave of VR titles is behind us.
The game itself – which content-wise is the same no matter how you play it – starts off in a very cinematic manner. The first hour or so is meant to draw you in, set the stage and make you familiar with the game’s controls. Even though it’s a tutorial of sorts, the game definitely doesn’t ease you into the horrors that will come later – Resident Evil 7 provides an unsettling atmosphere from the get-go. After a while, you’ll see more and more ‘traditional’ aspects of a Resident Evil game come up – collecting and managing herbs in your inventory to help you heal, and making sure you have plenty of ammo and don’t run out of space in your (current) backpack. This aspect is much more prominent here than it has been in the past few games, where plenty of ammo was nearly always available. Limited ammo just reinforces the shift from an emphasis on action and firefights to an emphasis on imminent danger and an eerie and foreboding atmosphere.
Aside from creeping around dark places, Resident Evil 7 also features a healthy dose of puzzles – often revolving around doing things in a specific order or through specific timing. These puzzles are frequently part of a situation where time is of the essence as well, because you’re also trying to not get caught or at least get the sensation that you’re not alone. To help with puzzle solutions you can also refer to the aforementioned VHS tapes that were used in Capcom’s demos as well. These “found footage” fragments are fully playable, and represent flashbacks of what happened in the past. Aside from being very well done and a must-play (even though they are optional), they very often also reveal more about the situation you’re currently in – and might give you a clue as to a means of moving forward.
Resident Evil 7 is a wonderful first person horror adventure. There are jump scares to be found, but the real terror lies in the atmosphere that has been expertly crafted through a stellar audiovisual package that holds up really well when playing in VR mode as well. Once you complete the story you can go back for collectibles or play a “madhouse” version of the game that shifts different portions of the story around as well, though the experience will of course be less scary the more you play it. There is more DLC coming in a season pass, but I’m never a fan of that format for a game like this. DLC for a game you’re still actively playing after a few months is wonderful, but a story-driven campaign just isn’t that kind of game. It almost makes me wish I had waited for the full package instead, but at the same time I’m glad I got to play this excellent re-imagining of Resident Evil – one of the more memorable experiences in years and an absolute must-have for anyone with a Playstation VR headset.