Friday, 17 February 2017

Evil goes back to the residence

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

Platform tested: Xbox One

When you start playing Resident Evil 7 and actually become scared senseless, I realise how completely off course the series had previously become. Moved far away from it's horror roots. One can praise RE4 for it's originality and large influence on the games industry in general, but it destroyed the RE franchise as a horror series and set it on a path of becoming an action fest. Luckily, Capcom have done a complete 180 turn with RE7, fundamentally changing the formula once again. Somehow it manages to feel incredible innovative, yet it goes all the way back to what made the Spencer Mansion so creepy back in 1996. For this newborn horror focus alone, I decided to purchase RE7 at launch.

In a weekend sprint I finished the game and I'm here to say that I'm incredibly impressed how Capcom have turned the series around. Not only has it been influenced from Konami's Hideo Kojima produced P.T. demo, Alien Isolation and other first person horror franchises like Amnesia. It also retains many traditional Resident Evil elements. The return to horror is not only what makes RE7 so great, but it does so in a brilliant and innovative manner. RE4, 5 and 6 fans please leave the room and shut the door behind you, forever. Mansion survival horror is back!

One might think the RE concept is lost in a first person game, but RE7 proves that this angle works just fine for the franchise. Like many other popular horror games in the recent years, the first person perspective adds a new dimension of depth and a immersive feeling of actually being in a creepy place. Sounds make you turn to look, turning corners gives you a limited view before actually going around them and there's a constant fear of something creeping up behind you. I love that we finally get to play a RE game that's very much how they intended to have the very first game, but opted out of due to hardware limitations back in the 90's with a first person view.

RE7 isn't just devoted to horror, it's probably scarier than the RE series ever has been. Sure, you can fire a gun like any other first person shooter, but the sparse ammo and claustrophobic areas leaves you vulnerable. Simply obtaining a gun doesn't give you the safe haven you hoped for. RE7 throws you into gritty fights and the enemies fight dirty, often resulting in desperate melee brawls as you're hanging on for your dear life. The franchise once again awards you for actually avoiding fights, saving you precious ammo and healing items. It's about surviving and escaping, not slaughtering enemies.

The slower, more haunting parts, remind me of the short but sweet P.T. demo, while the sneaking about, trying to avoid some of the powerful evil inhabitants of RE7's mansion, feels like the intensity of being chased in Alien Isolation. While RE7 never reaches the pure fear heights of Alien Isolation, or it's consistency of doing so over longer periods of time, it recreates some of those horrendous moments of spotting an enemy turning the corner far away. Leaving you wondering if you are spotted and need to run or simply can pull back and hide unnoticed.

This feeling of being chased give some of the best and most intense adrenaline moments of the game. Though I would have even enjoyed these scenarios more if there were far more hiding places scattered about. These horrifying chase moments are fairly sparse and short lived, Alien Isolation did a far better job of letting you linger on and break your down with nervousness over longer periods of time. However, the shorter lifespan of RE7 (we're talking 9-10 hours compared to 20+ in Isolation) keeps the game at a higher pace, mixing up new locations and scenarios consistently along the way. It never lets you tediously roam areas over long periods of time, resulting in some dull hours along the way. It's a short, but sweet experience.

"RE7 isn't just devoted to horror, it's probably scarier than the RE series ever has been."

Much like the traditional RE games, exploring and solving puzzles is a key part of the experience. Right from the beginning of the game you are introduced to a worn down kitchen, picking up and checking items to find out what's going on. Slowly you're introduced to a mechanic A that requires part B etc. It's familiar and welcome return for RE veterans, even more so when the game at a later stage introduces locked doors that require certain physical keys to unlock them. This curiosity for exploring the mansion pushes you through the horrifying discoveries and tons of jump scares the game throws at you. Sure, some of these scares are a bit cheap and clearly built for showing off the VR hype, but they work. Guaranteeing you a skipped heart beat here and there.

Shooting and surviving brutal close combat fights is also key to completing the game. Herein lies perhaps the largest difference from Alien and Amnesia, if comparisons are to be made: you can shoot down enemies. The combat difficulty feels right for a survival horror game; it's often difficult to get shots in as enemies rush at you from close encounters. The ammo is incredibly limited too, so using a pistol or shotgun combined with knife attacks is advised. Some of the later parts of the game even reminds me of how the stressing feeling of the corridors at end of the first Alien movie are; red alarm lights spinning, steaming industrial pipes and metal corridors combined with a sub-machine gun and quite a few enemies. It's another example of how this game mixes things up in just the right amount of doses; it focuses heavily on slow paced and atmospheric horror, sure, but it dares to throw in a few more higher paced, stressing and more action like sequences without going anywhere near overboard like RE4-6.

This balance in gameplay variation combined with the neat visuals running at 60 fps with tons of worn down and highly detailed interiors make way for a game that looks pretty and plays smooth. Sure, some of the texture choices and more finer details close up look grainy at times, but visually it's a highly appealing and unique looking game. It's visual strength lies it's it's detailed and well designed mansion setting. It really looks like a nasty and horrible place to explore all by yourself in fear.

I have my complaints though. Some of the enemy encounters, be it the ones occurring in more trivial areas to more forced boss-like battles can feel a bit over-scripted in my book. The point were you wonder if you have to do something exactly how the game dictates or you're wondering if you're actually dealing out damage at all. Sure it looks cinematic when the camera is being thrown around by an attack animation, but it also leaves you wondering if you're in control or not. As such I felt the blocking move seemed slow and unresponsive, making me wonder if I really should use it or not. The combat could feel quicker and the later "molded" enemies have a really boring design to them sadly. If you've seen one, you've seen them all. Where are the varied and unique creatures and enemies from the original RE trilogy? It's also a fairly short lifespan of roughly 9-10 hours, though it was not an issue for me as a horror titles can often outstay they're welcome if they last too long. 

RE7 is an incredible turn around for the series. Reinventing itself on so many areas, delivering an entirely new gameplay type, yet going completely back to it's eerie mansion setting from the very first game. Capcom really should be praised for this game, finally leaving the action RE behind. Sure, it's fairly short game, but it compensates by constantly delivering new areas and elements. Resident Evil is definitely back and I've never felt so optimistic for the series since it's glory days back in the 90's. I've never been so scared of a RE game before either! An excellent horror game choice for the early and cold months of 2017, just missing slightly on topping Alien Isolation for me. Alien is still the better game overall, but RE7 will appeal to a larger audience. 



    + Plus points

    • The setting is back in an eerie mansion and more horrifying than ever!
    • High framerate, good controls and a new FPS angle that fits RE incredibly well.
    • Tense atmosphere with lots of variation, introducing something new all the time.

    - Minus points

    • At times it's unclear if you're in an animated scene or actually controlling anything.
    • A fairly short game, though it's without long drawn dull areas.
    • The "molded" enemies just look plain boring.