Turning on all the lights in the Ballpark in Arlington wouldn’t lessen the horrific heights of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, the latest entry in Capcom’s 20-year-old survival-horror video game series. Fans and critics saw 2012’s Resident Evil 6 straying too far from the games’ roots and turning gameplay into a more action-packed affair. RE7 not only corrects course back to straight horror, but it also raises things to frightening new levels.
You play Ethan Winters (voiced by Todd Soley), a man who receives a mysterious message leading him to believe that his wife Mia (voiced by Katie O’Hagan) is still alive three years after she disappeared. His search brings him to a derelict mansion in the Louisiana swamp occupied by the Bakers, a nice family more than happy to help Ethan out and … haha, I’m kidding. They’re mutant cannibals who are holding Mia hostage and want Ethan for dinner.
RE7 is the kind of game whose experiences can be distilled to terse sentence fragments: “Go? In there? Hell no! Fine. Dark. Creepy. I’m fine. What was …? Oh, God! No! Run! Chainsaw!” Its best moments are intense, primal, and memorable. It eschews many series tropes and takes inspiration from other recent horror games to mutate into a terrifying new beast. The previous games’ third-person POV is replaced with an intimately limiting first-person one, à la the Amnesia series and Alien: Isolation. Instead of playing as seasoned monster fighters, your Ethan is just an everyman whose lack of skills makes you feel all the more vulnerable. Rather than the likes of Night of the Living Dead, this game takes its cues from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and even some of the visual aesthetic from the rival Silent Hill series.
Though played from the first person, this is no FPS like Call of Duty. Ammo and health are scarce, so Ethan’s story is a thrilling fight-or-flight for survival. Too bad Ethan himself isn’t more interesting. Thought he’s not silent, he doesn’t say much that’s interesting, and he even underreacts to a few events. He’s there as an audience avatar for the scares the game has in store, and in that manner, he suffices. No, the real stars of the game are the Bakers. Jack, Marguerite, and their son Lucas are as entertaining as monstrous, man-eating southern folk get. Determined and nigh-invulnerable, they stalk the player throughout their dilapidated manor, and they are a hoot! Equal parts terrifying and fun, if they can’t kill you with a shovel or deadly booby traps, they’ll taunt you, shouting, “Where is my little Ethan?” or call you a “fucking shitcock,” which makes it all the more disappointing whenever the game shifts focus away from them onto more typically monstrous, yet far less captivating, creatures. They’re not terrible –– they get the job done of reducing your health and ammo and offering some jump scares –– but that’s it.
But the game’s flaws are small, and the frights the game elicits are thrilling, from running from killer cannibals to something as simple as walking down an unfamiliar hallway. Early on, Jack tries to slice up Ethan while laughing, “Ain’t this fun?” Yes, Jack. It is.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, Voices by Todd Soley and Katie O’Hagan. PS4, Xbox One, and MS Windows. Rated M.