With Resident Evil VII: Biohazard (Capcom, 2017), I’ve finally reached the end of the big pile of Resident Evil ibid, 1996 to present) titles I got for Christmas. I was making decent progress in the game but kept getting distracted with life, work, and other games but, now that I’ve finally finished one of the most lauded Resident Evil titles ever made, the question is: does the game live up to the hype? After the absolute, balls-to-the-wall action-heavy approach they turned the franchise into in Resident Evil 6 (ibid, 2012), Capcom decided to answer their critics and bring the survival-horror aspects of Resident Evil back to the series but with a twist: this time, it’s in first-person!
This was a bit of a hurdle for me right off the bat as, traditionally, I don’t really get on too well with first-person videogames, primarily because I don’t like being attacked from behind and I find them to be uncomfortable to play at times. Like, I enjoy the dread and constant tension the perspective offers here and in other, similar games but, when you’re just trying to have a bit of a casual play, it can be draining to be constantly on edge and first-person perspective can hamper controls, combat, and camera angles at times.
However, Resident Evil VII: Biohazard utilises its new perspective to great effect as players take on the role of Ethan Winters; unlike other Resident Evil protagonists, Ethan’s just…a guy…nothing special. He’s been drawn to an abandoned house in search of his wife, Mia, who has apparently taken a bit of a turn for the worst. After he’s attacked and has his hand cut off, Ethan is left at the mercy of the mental Baker family, a bunch of messed up back-water hillbillies who make the Texas Chain Saw Massacre’s (Hooper, 1974) family look normal. With his hand reattached by staples (…just go with it) and forced to cobble together items to survive and find a way out of the booby-trapped house, Ethan is relentlessly pursued by Jack Baker, who smashes through walls and attacks without mercy, repeatedly coming back from severe trauma and injury to torment you again and again as he absorbs blows, shrugs off bullets, and your supplies dwindle away to nothing.
As Ethan progresses, solving puzzles, battling the bullet-sponge monstrosities known as the “Molded”, and exploring the Baker’s estate, he comes across Zoe Baker, who offers to help cure Mia by developing a serum to combat the infection that has warped her family. The source of the infection turns out to be a young girl, Eveline, who can control the minds of others, and Ethan is eventually forced to battle her in her monstrous final form. Resident Evil VII: Biohazard is unlike every other Resident Evil title before it. Sure, some tropes remain (Item Boxes, herbs, having to manually save (though using a cassette player rather than a typewriter), limited supplies, and a claustrophobic atmosphere) but, aside from some brief last minute (literally the very last minute) references to the previous titles, this looks and plays like an entirely different game. It’s a shocking departure, even more so than when the series switched to an over-the-shoulder, slightly more action-orientated approach in Resident Evil 4 (Capcom Production Studio 4, 2005); it seems that, every time Capcom wants to spice up their survival-horror franchise, a dramatic shift into another genre generally does the trick as long as there’s some restraint placed on the player to emphasise the survival aspects.
Resident Evil VII: Biohazard definitely emphasises this aspect as supplies are criminally low; it’s not really enough to have a herb anymore as it’s far more beneficial to also pick up some Chem Fluid to restore more health (as in other recent Resident Evil titles, this can be done with the touch of a button). This extends to ammo as well, as Ethan can combine different objects to create more, or new, ammo combinations. However, there’s never enough to truly feel comfortable in combat; the Molded take multiple shots (even from a good, old fashioned shotgun blast), forcing you to think strategically about when to fight, when to flee, and how to plan your route around enemies when a swarm turns up. Resident Evil VII: Biohazard’s bosses have quite a bit of variety; you start off desperately battling to survive as Jack Baker relentlessly attacks you with an axe or a chainsaw, progress to blasting a giant, slimy creature with the traditional giant red eyes, and end up blasting an enormous, pissed off woman right in the face. The first-person perspective makes these boss battles particularly intense as it doesn’t lend itself to the game’s limited combat; it’s tough to see where a boss is when its scurrying around you, even tougher to get a good shot off, and tricky to pull off sudden, quick-time event-like moments when you’re busy trying to get your vision lined up.
Once you’re made it through the main campaign, you can take on a variety of additional modes. Not A Hero follows series staple Chris Redfield (once again completely redesigned and working for the now-benevolent Umbrella Corporation) as he battles through the game’s last area to (what else!) a secret laboratory while End of Zoe follows Joe Baker, a slightly more hinged member of the Baker family who uses his apparently-superhuman strength to smash apart Molded and find a cure for Zoe. You can also race against the clock and blast the Molded to feed Jack in Jack’s 55th Birthday, face death again and again in the impossibly-difficult Ethan Must Die, and take on a few other similar survival modes. Despite its dramatically new approach, Resident Evil VII: Biohazard feels a lot like the original Resident Evil in many ways, mainly in its atmosphere and aesthetics. Like the original title, doors are arbitrarily locked by themed keys, Ethan must solve puzzles to open new areas (or to escape death traps set-up by Lucas Baker that more than resemble the Saw (Various, 2004 to present) films), and combat is an intense, strategic action.
It was an interesting experiment by Capcom to use the restrictive first-person perspective to enforce the survival-horror aspect in a new, exciting way; it’s not exactly unique, as there’s lots of first-person games that take a similar approach, but it definitely worked to shift the franchise back towards survival-horror. Having played this before and after Resident Evil 2 (Capcom R&D Division 1, 2019), it’s clear that Capcom took a lot of the lessons they learned in developing Resident Evil VII: Biohazard and applied them to their remake. While I doubt that Capcom would ever use them in a full game again, I actually wouldn’t be averse to seeing first-person sequences return in future Resident Evil titles (maybe as side quests similar to the videotape flashbacks seen in this game); however, the important thing here is that the tense, atmospheric horror is retained and, given how well Capcom did in applying this atmosphere to Resident Evil 2, we should hopefully be in for some gory, engaging, terrifying Resident Evil titles once more thanks, largely, to Resident Evil VII: Biohazard.