Origins of Resident Evil can be traced to the first three entries, which were indicative of classic horror gaming conventions. Third person orientation with a high angle, frustratingly rigid character control, limited resources, puzzles-a-plenty, and so forth. Despite the shared similarities, the consensus critical response generally put these releases within a higher echelon. 2005 saw the release of RE4, a watershed moment for frightening ilk. Heather Alexandra of Kotaku put together a wonderful article illustrating its importance and specifics of what produced constructive changes. An emphasis on more accessible/salient action elements with checks and balances to reserve the eminent threat of adversaries. 2nd person viewing angle with stop-and-shoot firing lock increased lethality while maintaining a miasmal aura of danger. With this near perfect gameplay yield, the result is a defining experience of the last decade and one of the best games I’ve every played. Capcom adjusted the recipe for the next two installments with middling results. RE5 and RE6 tilted more towards the action/shooter side, causing them to seem more like overzealous over-the-shoulder shooters with horror components modulated. Said change elicited a sheen of insipidity.
Goodbye, Raccoon City; Adios, Spain; See ya, Africa. Welcome to Dulvey, Louisiana, home of the Baker Farm. You play as Ethan, a gentleman whose wife Mia has been missing for three years. Mysteriously, he receives an email from his absent love detailing her whereabouts. From here, you’re tasked with unraveling the shrouded circumstances within the Baker Estate and surviving inevitable perils that lay ahead. This edition is built on new tech called RE Engine. I wasn’t able to find too much information, but an interview on GameReactor with director Koshi Nakanishi shed some (moon)light on the subject, saying it allowed the dev team to capture “photorealistic graphics” and lowered design time. Being the first project based on these new tools, one major difference is observable immediately.
Biohazard is enlisting a different approach with retro appeal. First person camera perspective sets a much more intimate tone. We’re talking immersion to a heightened degree. Those that have played older survival horrors will be familiar with “cheating” a bit by placing the character right behind an object, then panning the camera to get a little peek around a corner without aggro-ing enemies or tripping a spawn event. None of that this time. You’ll have to stick Ethan’s neck out with no knowledge of what may be awaiting. Talk about a charged experience! Being afforded such a limited view in comparison to other series’ chapters injects a fearful interactive environment. You don’t realize how much information you were able to glean from those camera angles. Just having to trust that nothing is directly behind you becomes a constantly milling worry. From an awareness standpoint, the necessity to expose most, if not all, of Ethan’s model to peer inside rooms is hair raising each and every time you find a new area. The limited HUD lends to the anxious treble. Unless you are brandishing a weapon, nothing else of Ethan’s person is in the field of view. To check health, you’re given a tracker watch that is presented when you open the inventory. Speaking of which, you aren’t removed from the game world when accessing it, same with maps. “On-the-fly” use and management of this type heightens tension and makes committing regularly used paths to memory quite helpful.
In the beginning stages, a few gameplay aspects become apparent. In terms of combat, expect a quality over quantity approach. RE7 may not overwhelm you with crazy enemy numbers (often), but they will be rather tough to take down with finality. Under predictably scant resources such as ammo and first aid, getting affluent with melee weapon attacking/blocking rhythm is crucial early foundation. Adversary pace and gait is the stuff of virtual nightmares. The assortment of foes walk you down in a lethargically direct and intrepid manner. Sometimes, engagement entices you turn and run a little to regain distance and bearing. Again, in the lens of first person, those few seconds of being completely blind to the thing(s) that want to kill you are agonizing and reorienting on the target(s) when turning back around can be a treacherous exercise. Patented puzzle elements return. Some have you needing to find things like keys and statues in obscure locations to unlock doors and hidden paths. Others are based on conventions like pattern recognition. Predictably, tasks vary in complexity and difficulty, but do afford a necessary change of pace from fighting things that go bump in the night.
As Biohazard progresses, finer points of management become an important aspect to resource upkeep. Staying with series convention, inventory space is limited. To make matters “worse,” there are certain items like keys and puzzle objects that you’ll have to carry for extended amounts of time when accomplishing a particular goal. Another hold over is combining. Be prepared to collect herbs and gunpowder and such mesh with “Chem Fluid” packs to create essentials like bullets. Fortunately, items are grouped together within the slot(s) they exist. So all shotgun shells will appear in one block. While the auto save feature will spare you from having to repeat several steps before a big moment, you will find manual locations scattered about the farm. Walk up to a cassette recorder and bookmark to your fluttered heart’s content. These spots also garner access to your cache, where you can store any and all gear that you’ll need later but just don’t want to dedicate “pack” room to at a given time. One section you’ll probably want to keep open are for Antique Coins. Like Easter eggs hidden in places like drawers and shelves, they unlock swag locked in birdcages, of all things. Ranging from stat boosts to high powered guns, attaining said stuff could be a major help when the going gets tough.
And by tough I mean boss fights. To spare spoilers, I won’t speak specifics about what/who you’ll be going against and exactly how those moments will play out. I’ll wager a guess and say that within the first couple of hours, you’ll probably be able to assess those that will play the role of antagonist in the bouts. Within the handful of these events, parameters can vary quite a bit. Some will lock you in to cramped corridors; others are more wide open having you scramble to find items and combine on the run. You may be offered one-off weapons to handle the threat(s), but just be prepared to expunge just about all your gear to exorcise what aims to kill you. On Normal difficulty, there will probably be some trial and error. And given the nature of the genre, this is a bit of a sore spot. Unpredictability is scary. Fear of the unknown is the main boon of creepy games. After however many attempts it may require to move forward, spooky ceases to be prominent. Loading screens between deaths, or “Restarts” as they’re called in the stats page, often offer hints accorded whatever might have caused your misfortune. It’s definitely a clever way to have tutorial instruction without crowding the screen with these bits in-game. Of which, I’ll offer one of my own: aim for the head. For the love of all that is unholy, target upstairs to baddies of any real size. Hitbox code seems to subtract much more damage for confirmed bullets and melee swipes to the noggin. Eventually, you’ll get to a “tipping point” with regards to inventory. Diligent sleuthing should net bigger backpacks, offering expanded room for resources and weapons. The dearth of ammo is a constant from start to finish, but having several weapon options affords better armament, in essence.
Sights and sounds do much to exude a stomach-in-knots effect in harmony with jittery gameplay tempo. By comparison to the other RE games mentioned, the “set piece” range is much more confined. A few buildings amidst the sticks of bayou backwoods is reminiscent of films with similar aspirations in surroundings. There was a point during my play test that I thought the same hallways and rooms may become too redundant for their own good. But like an epiphany, the proceedings shifted to some not yet seen locations, which alleviated that concern. Details up close and from afar on inanimate objects are stellar. A musty, dingy quality pervades surface design, on point artistry considering theme. Lighting is superb. Bright enough to not be a hindrance, but absence of illumination looms heavy in key areas. Not having a clue as to what lies just beyond a fingertip’s reach in basements and crawl spaces are the times RE7 is at its most poignant. What isn’t all the way tight about the visuals are people close up. Things that are, well, not so human look fantastic at any distance or angle. But in moments of narrative “lock” when conversations become ad hoc cutscenes, verisimilitude takes a bit of a hit. Small things like jaw movement and follicle response don’t show enough consistency to keep you 100% enthralled with the conversation. This is a minor complaint and the aforementioned scenario happens rarely, but it’s a negative nonetheless. Getting back to good, sound. Oh, glorious auditory composure. Biohazard‘s track is wondrous. From effects to voice acting to musical score, all the elements coalesce in adroit and dramatic fashion. Bravo, Capcom! Wearing my Astros opposed to when I just used my TV cans, there wasn’t an advantage per se, as threats present themselves clearly with blatant forward movement. But the increased “spatial awareness” of digital 7.1 did layer on a swell amount of anxiety, as every minuscule creak, whine, and groan became staunchly apparent.
After being lauded (fairly or unfairly) for the past two entries, the Resident Evil team have concocted a very strong product from their motherboard based cauldron. Focusing solely on a one player experience from first person employs a lofty level of singularity, producing genuine creep routinely. Gameplay is restricting without feeling restrictive. You’ll definitely be in tight spots in terms of ammo and health, but the control scheme and mechanics are fluid and natural. Nothing about playing the game feels “cheap;” something that can’t be said of many in this categorical sector. Boss fights are generally designed well, but getting “stuck” is frustrating and can chip at the unnerving-ness of it all. And outside of a few minor hiccups, presentation is outstanding. Should you buy this game? If you like scary stuff, absolutely. If not, no. This isn’t in the vein of Doom or Gears featuring a kernel of action ensconced with fractals of the frightening, the demonic, and the macabre. Biohazard is full fledged, honest-to-goodness survival horror.