Title: Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed copy), Xbox One, PC, PSVR compatible
Release Date: January 24, 2017
Rating: PEGI 18
Resident Evil 7, at first glance, is almost unrecognisable to anyone that has played previous entries in the series.
Not only changing your perspective from third person to first person, but also by taking huge inspiration from modern survival horror classics, such as Outcast and Amnesia.
Gone are the heavy action focuses of more recent entries in the series, in favour of making a more vulnerable and nerve-wracking experience. Slinking past your enemies and using the environment to hide, rather than shooting down hordes and hordes of zombies.
When the game starts, protagonist Ethan Winter is watching a video emailed to him from his estranged wife, whom he presumed dead, after going missing three years ago.
Ethan's wife, Mia, can be seen in the video looking very distressed, confessing to lying to him (about what, we do not know) and telling him to "stay away" from whatever trouble she appears to be in.
Little else is known about Ethan other than this, which makes him somewhat of a blank canvas with a relatable goal in mind. Save his loved one.
The game takes us to the fictional town of Dulvey, Louisiana, and an abandoned house, previously belonging to the Baker family. Or so we think.
It doesn't take long to figure out that not everything is as it seems and the Baker residents might not be as abandoned as we once thought. Crashed out vans and dissected animals cover the lead up to the ominous looking building and creates a scene of horror that will have players on edge for the vast majority of the game.
The atmosphere in Resident Evil 7 is haunting and rarely do you ever feel safe. This is thanks to the real stars of the game, Jack and Marguerite Baker.
The husband and wife duo of said Baker family feel like they have been ripped straight out of the Texas Chainsaw massacre, appearing dirty and menacing.
These two characters hunt you through large portions of the game, like some unstoppable evil force, who you will have to outwit, rather than fight to survive. Confronting them only at certain sections of the game in memorable and terrifying boss fights.
The houses in which you are hunted are fantastically realistic and reflect certain aspects of the family member guarding them.
Where you might be in one room exploring and scavenging with little threat, the next time you enter that same room, you might have Jack waiting for you with a giant axe, screaming "It's over boy".
The constant uncertainty of what's around the next corner is what Resident Evil 7 bases most of its scares on. Thankfully not relying too much on jump scares to shock it's audience as so many games and movies of the genre do.
The slow build-up sets the scene brilliantly and the sound design constantly has you looking over your shoulder, with creaks and bangs being heard throughout the home.
After playing through the introduction, things will become familiar for long-time fans of the franchise, as very intricate door and weight puzzles will start to block your path.
Back tracking and hunting down three Cerberus heads in order to unlock a door will no doubt bring nostalgia for gamers who remember hunting down jewels in the Spencer mansion of the first game, for similar reasons.
Also returning to the series are safe rooms that offer a welcome break from the tension, which is constant throughout the game.
Here you can save your game on a tape recorder (similar to the typewriter of past games) and manage your resources for the next venture out in the house.
These areas can also be used to play VHS tapes that you find dotted throughout the game. The VHS tapes aren't just for watching, and actually are a game mechanic for some of the puzzles you encounter later on. Putting you in the shoes of other unlucky souls that have been subjected to the terror of what you are experiencing before you.
One puzzle in particular, entitled "Happy Birthday" is one of my favourites in the game, where you will play as the victim of one of Lucas' (the son) twisted puzzle games.
By experiencing this through the failed eyes of someone before him, Ethan is able to circumvent the same pit falls and successfully navigate himself out of trouble.
These puzzles, coupled with the horror of a fantastic setting, is what the franchise was built upon and it is fantastic to see Capcom (game developers) return to what made the original 90s games so great.
The first half of the game might just be my favourite experience in a Resident Evil. Unfortunately, the latter half does fall a little flat at times, as it tries to ramp things up by throwing generic looking monsters, known as the Mold, at you one after the other.
After fighting against them a few times, these slow bumbling enemies become predictable quite quickly and act as little more than bullet sponges for the array of weapons you amass during the game. We also say goodbye to the Baker house in favour of mines and grey corridors of a test centre, which is littered with enemies.
These areas aren't necessarily terrible sections to play through, but by no means are they anywhere near the level of excellence presented to us in the first portion.
The game tends to pull you through these areas using narrative to keep you interested, rather than weapon finding and puzzle solving.
The story, however, isn't bad; given the almost hilariously convoluted stories of the last handful of games. But the '7' in the title is not just for show, and this IS a sequel and not a reboot.
At the end of the game, you find out that this story is part of the overarching universe, and perhaps that is why they needed to put a few more sections in that weren't so heavily related to only what Ethan and Mia were experiencing in this eight to 10 hour adventure.
Overall, Resident Evil hits the right notes to make this one of the most scary experiences of this generation, especially if you are playing on PSVR.
The puzzles and terrific Baker family make for an exhilarating experience that will have you thankful for the end credits, for all the right reasons.
It's a welcome return to form for one of gaming’s favourite franchises, and should entertain veterans and new gamers alike.
For fans of: Outlast, Resident Evil HD Remaster