Monday, 24 July 2017

Now Playing: Resident Evil 7

Resident Evil 7 AKA Resident Evil 7: Biohazard AKA Resident Evil 7 biohazard / Biohazard 7 resident evil (seriously, someone fix that on Steam it’s f**king up my library), is that latest game in the long running horror/action series. But in many ways, RE 7 feels more like a reboot of the series than a direct continuation as it strips the series back to its survival horror roots. In terms of gameplay, story and structure, RE 7 has far more in common with the original Resident Evil than any of its predecessors.

I played the original RE upon release. I then played RE 2, but RE 3 I’m not entirely sure about – I think I played it but didn’t finish it. I also played Code: Veronica, RE 4, the GameCube RE remaster and RE 0. I haven’t played 5, 6 or any of the spin-off titles. So it’s been a long time since I had any real interest in the series and I honestly wasn’t sure about RE 7 either. I played the demo they released, but was rather underwhelmed. But when the game went on sale recently, I decided to give it a go. And I’m glad I did, because it’s pretty damn good.

You play as Ethan, a man with a remarkable tolerance for pain and seeing crazy shit. It’s kind of funny how not bothered he is by everything that’s going on. Ethan is searching for his missing wife upon a rural estate in Louisiana. It’s the home of the Baker family who serve as antagonist ‘boss’ style characters throughout the game.

The Baker family and your interactions with them are the real highlight of RE 7. They’re not just mindless, violent beasts. They speak to you, taunt you and inject real personality into the experience. It’s notable that once you’ve effectively ‘dealt’ with the Bakers that the game gets far less interesting.

RE 7 is a tricky game to review, because I really don’t want to spoil anything. Finding your wife and dealing with the Bakers is a big part of the game, but it’s not all the game is about. As you progress, more of the story is revealed – how the Bakers came to be like they are, the truth about how your wife came to be there, and where the f**k all that black goo came from – are explored and explained. The game does rely a little too heavily on expository documents towards the end to fill in the blanks but overall, it’s a fun and engaging story that should hook you until the end.

Unlike previous RE games, RE 7 is a first person experience and the first person view is used very effectively. It can be played in VR, and if I ever did get a VR set it’s something I’d love to play it with. But despite the change of perspective, RE 7 does feel a lot like the original game. It’s more of a pure survival horror than an action title.

Weapons, ammunition, health and inventory space are all limited. There are ‘safe’ rooms where you can save and use an item chest to store gear. Some items can be combined to create new items or more potent variations. It plays just like the original RE, only in first person. The map is split between different areas of the estate, with different key types required to access new areas. There are also classic RE style puzzles required to progress.

The game gets off to a fantastic start which is both a good and a bad thing. Good in the sense that it draws you into the experience from the go, but bad in the sense that it can’t maintain that momentum all the way through. RE 7 isn’t a very long game. I cleared it on Normal difficulty (the highest available when you start) in just under 8 hours – although I didn’t find all the documents, coins or bobblehead collectibles.

Despite its short run time, some parts of the game do feel a little padded, and as I’ve already said, once you deal with the Bakers it does get a little less interesting to play. The last 2-3 hours or so of RE 7 are rather weak compared to what came before. It’s still engaging and enjoyable to play, but it’s a shame the game can’t maintain the same quality throughout.

I don’t really want to get into specifics, because I don’t want to spoil anything, but I was expecting a new environment with its own challenges and puzzles to be introduced towards the end, similar to the original RE. But instead, the game feels rather rushed at the end as you’re stuck traversing some unimaginative and cheap looking caves.

Outside of the Baker family, RE 7 doesn’t really have much in the way of interesting creatures to fight. There are these ‘black goo’ monsters that pop up and which are initially quite threatening. But aside from a couple of variations of these monsters, there’s really nothing else. And when you’re pretty much done with the Bakers, the game relies entirely upon them. But the game just throws more and more of them at you to the point that they lose all sense of menace and just become kind of an annoyance.

There’s some replay value, at least in the sense that it’s fun to play and there are collectibles to find if you like that sort of thing. But the game is pretty linear and overly scripted in places, so there won’t be any new surprises. Even when the game asks you to make a choice, a choice you might expect would vary the last couple of hours a little, it turns out almost immediately to be entirely worthless.

The game also has some performance issues, with the frame rate regularly tanking for a few seconds when entering new areas. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does it’s pretty irritating. Graphically it’s pretty good, but the exterior environments look a little shoddy. Sound design is great.

Despite my criticisms, Resident Evil 7 is a damn good game. Some parts of it are excellent, but it sadly runs out of steam before the end which feels hastily stitched together. It needed to be a little longer and offer more variety both in enemies and environments. It’s a little frustrating how close to great it is, but as a ‘reboot’ of the series, as a way of stripping RE back to its roots, I’d say it’s a massive success. Far from perfect, but well worth your time, and I’m certainly interested in what they’re going to do next.


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