The Resident Evil series has gone through plenty of changes as it’s grown throughout the years, it almost seems to have evolved with the home console since the first entry came way back in 1996. The past few entries in the series have each tried something new with varying effect, Capcom have been lambasted for getting further and further away from what made the original so good: the horror. The last release in the series took flack for it being too fractured, too unfocused, relying too much on explosive set piece tomfoolery. I guess what I’m try to say is that it just wasn’t scary.
This is where Resident Evil 7 biohazard comes in; the creators have made a distinct effort to get the brand back to it’s roots. The marketing machine surrounding the release has been focusing on the mystery of the Louisiana mansion in which the protagonist finds himself, and the interesting residents therein. It’s supposedly a callback to the feeling of entering the mansion in the first game, the unknown and the feeling of total vulnerability.
There are other ways in which the developers have attempted to promote a feeling of nostalgia; the menu items click with that classic typewriter sound and the opening cutscene are made to look like bad FMV (which is totally a good thing in my book). There are plenty of throwbacks like this, none of which I’ll ruin here, but they all resulted in a wry smile and a second of respite from what I’ll say is the creepiest game I’ve played in years.
Initially, the plot is fairly standard for the genre; Ethan (the protagonist) receives a message from his missing spouse and goes on the hunt to get her back. This leads him to a mansion in the middle of nowhere, Louisiana. It’s from here that everything starts to get a little weird. There’s a family of misfit country-folk who aren’t totally what they seem, with an agenda that isn’t totally clear.
When Capcom announced they were changing things up and making Resident Evil 7 biohazard first-person I was a little sceptical: everything that’s been out so far has been third-person, it was almost the calling card of the entire series – the first few entries are both loved and hated for their unwieldy tank controls. Turns out the first-person view is a masterstroke (albeit one that lends a lot from games like Outlast and Amnesia), being so close in on the action is both immersive and terrifying in equal amounts.
Capcom have developed their own graphics engine, aptly named the RE Engine, and it’s quite obvious they’ve tried to hone in on atmospheric lighting and detail in the small things. Items on shelves can be handled, picked up, spun around and examined. This can lead to advances in the story, a solution for a puzzle or just fleshing out people’s backstories.
It definitely sets the tone well, stalking through a dilapidated house never felt so close. It does a great job of portraying the heaviness in the air; you can almost feel someone breathing down your neck. The sound design weighs heavy at points; it manages to stay low key for the most part and does a great job of punctuating. The ambient soundtrack keeps everything on edge without being overwhelming. Hearing the slow drag of a shovel coupled with the pluck of a violin will stay with me for a while.
It’s a shame then that the fantastically atmospheric first few areas of the story give way to what I thought was a distinctly sub-par second act. Obviously I won’t give anything away, as I’m sure you’ll all want to discover the horrors yourselves, but it seems like the pull of over-writing has struck Capcom again. Time and again the devs have been accused of over-complicating things story wise and this seems to be no different. The deadly games of hide and seek in claustrophobic hallways give way to fetch quests and the unique figures of the Baker family become outnumbered by some of the blandest looking enemies I’ve ever seen.
It’s a shame, really. I’d come to fear every corner and crevice yet as the story wore on I found myself bouldering through areas with reckless abandon. I found myself with a quite a sizeable arsenal towards even the midpoint of the story. While there is an attempt to curb any sense of being overpowered by limiting resources, the fact that the enemies aren’t plentiful means that I never really felt under threat. There weren’t any times I felt under threat when in the wild of the main areas, in fact the only fatal encounters I had were insta-death games of hide and seek with foes I had no way of defeating.
Overall I’d say that the series has found limited success in the breaking down and simplifying what had become a convoluted mess. It almost seems like two separate games moulded in to one; the former of which I enjoyed immensely while the latter left me a little, well, bored. It’s definitely an A for effort; Resident Evil looks great, sounds great, and definitely scared the living crap out of me… for a while. A convoluted story that seems to lose it’s way is a definite shame but it’s definitely a sequel I would be keen to play if the narrative were to be tightened up. I’m sure this isn’t the last we’ve seen of the first person horror that waits within.