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Franchise In Need Of A Refresh Goes Back To Its Roots

By Brittany Vincent | Shacknews.com

“RESIDENT EVIL 7: BIOHAZARD
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Survival horror
Mode: Single-player
Developer: Capcom
ESRB rating: M, for Mature

It seems almost surreal to finally be writing a “Resident Evil 7” review, but here we are. Ever since the “Resident Evil” franchise strayed from the well-worn path of survival horror around “Resident Evil 4’s” debut, series purists have practically begged Capcom to return to the game’s roots. The slow and silent survival horror of “Resident Evil 1-3” veered off into more action-oriented gameplay for “Resident Evil 4” and “Resident Evil 5,” which were generally well-received by critics and fans alike. “Resident Evil 6” was admittedly awful and hit quite the snag when it attempted to meld classic survival horror and shooter mechanics into one, and ended up panned by both the media and fans alike. This meant any game that was unfortunate enough to follow it had some very high standards to live up to.

“Resident Evil 7” is a swift return to form that fans will absolutely appreciate. It couldn’t have come at a better time. With the 20th anniversary of one of the greatest survival horror series of all time, something had to give. With both the game’s reputation and ability to move units on the line, Capcom obviously had to do something to ensure fans weren’t left out in the cold once more. The result is one of “Resident Evil’s” best, with enough blood, guts and gore to attract any self-respecting fan, puzzles to delight classic “Resident Evil” fans everywhere, and enough connections to the previous titles to both stir up new questions and put to rest some of the old. This is pure, uncut “Resident Evil,” delivered at high-octane speeds viewed through the lens of the Louisiana bayou with a sprinkling of bizarre bioweapon testing.

KEEPING IT IN THE FAMILY

Players take up the role of Ethan Winters, an average man who’s lead on an investigation to figure out exactly what happened to his wife Mia after she went missing for three whole years. Though long since presumed dead, Ethan receives a short message from Mia inviting him to come pick her up from a plot of land in the Louisiana bayou. While on Mia’s trail he finds himself face to face with the certifiably insane and outwardly repugnant Baker family, who made several appearances in the marketing materials and demos showing off what fans could experience from “RE7.”

If you’ve ever watched a horror movie before, namely something that involves inbred rednecks or backwater country folk, the Bakers will seem inherently familiar as they babble about making you part of the family or the “gift” they want to bestow on you. Matron Marguerite, terrifying Jack (“Daddy” to you), and scarily intelligent and vindictive Lucas are nothing to sneeze at as they relentlessly pursue you during your time at their home. You can scramble to escape before they can get their grubby hands on you, but they have no qualms with letting you scurry about under the house as they’re secure in the knowledge that there’s just nowhere for you to go. It’s a decadently evil game of cat and mouse as you uncover secrets placed throughout the house and desperately try to piece together the obvious puzzle before you.

Nothing is off-limits. It’s a no-holds-barred chase as you face off against each member of the family and struggle to unravel the secrets behind their home, their supernatural powers and eerie regenerative powers, and the part your wife plays in it all. Once it all comes together, which it won’t completely until you’ve completed a good portion of the game, there’s a satisfying payoff that comes, especially if you stopped to read the files, documents, scraps of paper and other tidbits of information scattered throughout the game.

While traveling from tunnels below the house to trails throughout the woods it’s simple to lose your way, but Mia acts as a driving force to keep you pushing through even as you edge through tight spaces crawling with centipedes, find your own limbs in peril, and stave off gooey, oozing monsters spawned from a mold-like substance growing over nearly every inch of the Baker place and surrounding areas. These are the Molded, and you’ll become very well acquainted with them as “RE7” wears on. Some might say too acquainted.

There are four variations of the Molded, which end up being the main enemy you’ll face throughout the entire game aside from some extremely cinematic and wholly disturbing boss encounters. If you completed the PlayStation 4 demo before the game released proper you might remember seeing an upright Molded in the basement, but if you’re unfamiliar with them think of an abnormally tall, slimy creature that slithers around like a fountain of molasses come to life.

If you’re good with your weapons and able to navigate the game’s twisting labyrinths in a competent manner, the Molded soon become less of a terrifying roadblock and more of an annoyance as you make your way through. I was a bit disappointed to see such a small variety of B.O.W. creatures (bio-organic weapons), especially with so many opportunities to spawn stomach-churning and disgusting beings, but they served their purpose well enough, especially on higher difficulties when you must utilize cassettes to save your game rather than simply saving as many times as you’d like. Once you’re familiar with how best to dispatch them, however, they’re a bit weakened as a terror device.

BACK TO BASICS

Despite the deviations from the classic “Resident Evil” formula such as a first-person perspective and an overall lack of overt callbacks to the previous games (you can play this game without having ever played one before) there are several ideas that recall the classics. First and foremost, item management is back. You’ll need to be careful about what you carry with you at all times, lest you be unable to pick up important story items.

There are plenty of collectibles to find as well, which you’ll see scattered throughout the world from diminutive statues to coins and the ever-present files that offer additional peeks into the story. You’ll also find VHS tapes that unlock special vignettes that you can actually explore. For instance, one particular tape documents part of Mia’s experience with the Bakers, giving you a better look into the horror that actually plagued your missing wife during the time she was gone. These are absolute musts if you want to fully experience everything “Resident Evil 7” has to offer and I encourage you to spend the extra time to uncover them.

As far as plot elements go, if you’re going into the game looking for ways to connect this entry to the past “Resident Evil” games, you will find sprinkles here and there and small callbacks that veterans will absolutely recognize, but they’ll slip by unnoticed if you don’t explore every nook and cranny. However, if you’re going into the game hoping to see a deluge of flagship characters, you will come out sorely disappointed. You’ll see a few extremely palatable surprises here and there, but overall this is a game that carves its own path and dances to the beat of its own drum. At some points, however, it’s content to hum the same melody as prior games.

VIRTUAL INSANITY

“Resident Evil” was in dire need of fresh characters, ideas and mechanics to ensure we’d see additional numbered entries in the future, and this was one of the best ways to breathe new life into a franchise that’s been mistreated a bit in the past. From top to bottom it’s clear this was a project that was handled with great care, with excellent voice acting, gruesome surprises, and scenes you’ll be scratching your head about for days to come. To all “Resident Evil” fans out there, I say welcome home. You’re going to enjoy your stay with the Bakers.