Every time Capcom took a step forward, it made two steps backward over the past decade with its flagship horror franchise. Resident Evil 5 demonstrated a questionable turn toward action, but Resident Evil: Revelations steered back on course with its eerie, claustrophobic setting. The disastrous, confused sixth entry ruined this by capsizing the series. Revelations 2 made a valiant effort to tip it back over, but Resident Evil 7: Biohazard had the burden of expectation to see this through, which it miraculously managed to do while reinventing the franchise as we know it.
Limited supplies and abilities are back alongside heavy inventory management; there’s tasteful backtracking with semi-linear levels, enemies are few yet intimidating, thorough exploration and caution with encounters are deeply encouraged – this game has all the design tenets of bygone Resident Evil classics. However, it boldly revokes the standard fixed camera and third-person perspectives for first-person. Despite our initial concerns, this actually heightens the tension and scares with a more restricted, up-close perspective that the series should’ve adopted long ago in retrospect. It’s only more impressive that the controls are supremely satisfying, easily ranking among the best-feeling first-person shooters we’ve ever handled.
The story invokes a similarly narrowed approach by letting go of continuing Resident Evil’s convoluted, messy backstory with a soft reboot. We follow everyday man Ethan Winters as he searches for his missing wife in an eerie, dilapidated mansion on the bayou. You’re soon introduced to the disturbed Baker family. They wind up being the main stars with their fleshed-out personalities, which are made even more compelling and tragic with plenty of interactive objects and documents.
It helps that the settings in themselves are meticulously crafted in all their dingy, disgusting glory with a phenomenal engine that rivals the likes of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Cuts between cutscenes and gameplay are seamless, and the lighting, textures, and character models exhibit levels of polish and minor details that astound.
Even though the game falters with uninspiring puzzles and enemy diversity, it never outstays its welcome with a perfectly-paced, 14-hour campaign that has plenty of great surprises along the way. As if it wasn’t already complete like this, the VR mode warrants a second playthrough, which arguably remains the most substantial, immersive experience you can have with PlayStation VR. Even the season pass content contains wonderfully challenging modes like Nightmare and fun, experimental oddities like Zoe Must Die or Bedroom.
Resident Evil 7 is one of the greatest comebacks we’ve witnessed for a game series. It gets to the core of survival horror’s roots and masterfully readjusts them to the first-person perspective. With a stronger grasp on characterisation, environmental storytelling, and level design, Capcom has finally nailed how to meaningfully navigate Resident Evil forward. We couldn’t be more excited for whatever mansion, city, or village we're whisked away to next.
Were you a fan of this daring reinvention of Resident Evil, or would you have preferred the series stuck to its action sensibilities? Butcher a Baker in the comments section below.