Review: Resident Evil VII

Biohazard goes back to the basics but in terrifying first person

Resident Evil
The switch to first person brings a terrifying, visceral element to Resident Evil VII - especially in VR

For the first time in a Resident Evil title, the player experiences the action in first person. This can instil a sense of primal terror, particularly when you’re defenceless, hiding and running through claustrophobic halls from a shovel-wielding madman. With their emphasis on stealth and speed over combat (you could be unarmed), these sections of REVII are inspired by games such as Outlast.

Resident Evil
“STAY AWAY!”

Fight well or you’re dead meat

Guns and combat do play a role though. The zombies in REVII are vile – developer Capcom scanned real cuts of rotten meat to add to the sense of degradation seen in the Molded. These creatures are susceptible to head shots, but their swaying movement and sudden bursts forward make it disorienting to take quick aim – and one headshot is never enough. Scarce ammo makes every round count. You can’t dodge attacks à la Resident Evil 3, but you can reduce damage taken by parrying. Playing in VR adds yet another layer of immersiveness to proceedings, but the control scheme feels impractical for combat.

Resident Evil VII
The Molded are disgusting and hit pretty hard, but it’s possible to parry their attacks and reduce damage taken

This wouldn’t be a Resident Evil game without epic boss battles and Biohazard features its fair share. They vary from visceral close-quarter melees to tests of observation, patience and accuracy. It typically requires a bit more strategy to prevail than simply blasting away. RE VII becomes less horror and more action as you progress, thanks to health upgrades, an improved arsenal, bigger inventory and the player’s own confidence growing in line with Ethan’s (your character). However, it’s unwise to empty clips with abandon as it’s possible you’ll end up facing five monsters with only a knife – management of your stocks is a crucial element of the game.

Resident Evil
Some boss fights are unexpected, but Biohazard also features its fair share of telegraphed encounters

Inventory management is half the battle

Chemical fluids can be combined with herbs and gunpowder to craft first aid and ammunition. Unfortunately, each bag of fluid takes up a valuable slot so you’ll need to take a number of mental notes on locations of important items you can’t fit. Survival or death often hinges on making the right decisions at the right time – should I make a first-aid kit or some bullets? Do I need ten enhanced bullets or two flame grenade rounds? Is it wiser to use this recently acquired lock pick now or later?

Resident Evil
Chemical fluids can be combined with various ingredients to craft ammunition and first aid. The classic ECG-style health graph returns, this time via what looks like an Apple Watch

In classic RE logic, a photograph and a key take up the same room in Ethan’s pockets as a shotgun. Thankfully, the lockers of the old games make a return – store an item in one and it can be collected from any other. Another classic element players will be grateful to see return is the safe room. Step inside and you’re greeted by calming music, there’s usually ammo, health and other useful items, a locker and most importantly, a save point. The typewriters of old have been replaced with mildly superior tech: cassette recorders. We’re relieved there’s no need to carry an ink ribbon around this time.

Puzzles are a classic part of the RE experience, and you’ll find them in abundance throughout the old Louisiana mansion in Biohazard. You’ll need to revisit places, clues and objects as there’s a heavy amount of backtracking and inventory prioritisation needed. There are a number of 3D shadow-play puzzles similar to those found on smartphones in The Room series.

Resident Evil
There are a few simple shadow puzzles, similar to those found in The Room

Biohazard repeats a trick of the old games, which is making a relatively small area feel much bigger through complicated systems of keys that unlock areas containing other keys, ad infinitum.

Narratively, the story has a setting inspired by the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, spiced up with a bit of Evil Dead and cooked in an older Resident Evil flavour. There aren’t many cutscenes, but the backstory is revealed through documents and video tapes scattered across the decrepit mansion. Pop these into a VCR to step into another character’s shoes, playing through their experience in old-school VHS quality.

Resident Evil
Traversing the Louisiana mansion requires courage, logic and good aim…

Banned Footage

Four tapes are available in the Banned Footage DLC accessible via the title screen’s extra content section: A fiendish twist sees you relying on probability, wits and logic to survive round after round in a classic eponymous card game in 21; Nightmare is an all-action arcade mode focused on gun play and resource management where you need to gather scrap materials to craft guns, ammo, first aid and upgrades while staving off waves of increasingly difficult Molded; Bedroom is a test of puzzle-solving under pressure, where you need to figure out a way to escape the master bedroom while hiding any changes you make from Marguerite; and Daughters is a shocking narrative prequel to the main game as you experience the tragedy of the Baker family through the eyes of one of their own.

Resident Evil
Daughters, one of four tapes in the Banned Footage DLC, offers players tragic insight into the events leading up to Biohazard

After a decade of seeing the survival-horror Resident Evil franchise morph into a tactical third-person action title, Biohazard takes the series back to its terrifying, puzzle-solving roots. We welcome the change.