Capcom's veteran survival-horror series, Resident Evil, has suffered form a bit of an identity crisis of late. In substituting atmosphere and genuine horror for action and gore, the series has somewhat lost its direction.
Resident Evil VII Biohazard seeks to address this. At its very black heart this outing is a back-to-basics survival horror game. When I say back-to-basics, Capcom have taken this opportunity to effectively perform a soft reboot of the series. The visuals, presentation and game have all been cleaned up for a more sophisticated modern audience with higher expectations.
The first major difference is the first-person view. You are no longer just a spectator, Resident Evil VII puts your right into the horror.
Next, Capcom have polished up the dialogue. There's no more of those awkward, Japanese-style, lost in translation conversations.
There's also no reference to Racoon City, S.T.A.R.S or the Umbrella Corporation. This is like a new chapter in the in a Resident Evil anthology.
The game swaps usual the zombie outbreak narrative for a more intimate and horrifying yarn. You are Ethan Winters. After receiving a message, supposably from your wife, Mia, who has been missing for three years, you set off to find her in the Louisiana Bayou.
The setting is a derelict mansion- a tip of the hat to the original Resident Evil. The house is the home of the Baker family, and something awful seems to have happened there.
The creaky mansion has a haunted house feel about it that's truly spine-chilling. Exploring the place with just the light from a torch, is very unnerving. Add to that the bags of rotting god-knows-what littering the rooms and hall, topped off with a psycho family running around, and you've one of the most disturbing games in the series.
The gameplay is a healthy mix of exploration, puzzles and combat. The pacing is spot on, allowing you to recover from some of the more intense sequences before plunging you into the next (especially useful if playing in VR- more on that later). You'll need your wits about you as some the set-pieces require a fair amount of stealth in order to avoid a sticky end.
Rather than fill the game with cut scenes or lengthy exposition, you get to play through flashbacks via video cassette recordings. The first of these sequences occurs early on in the game, whilst you are still exploring a small part of the house. It offers some fantastic foreshadowing as you follow a camera crew investigating the haunted Baker house. It doesn't end well for the investigators, making your further exploration of the house even more nerve-racking.
The visuals are phenomenal, especially on PC, and packed with detail. Subtle additions, like the strings of puss/gore as you open the fridge, add to the horrific ambience.
If you really want to be scared out of your wits, though, you need to play the game in VR. PlayStation 4 owners can play the entire game in VR on PSVR. That's the entire game, not just a sample or a special demo, it's the entire game. And that's a really big deal.
Instead of playing the game, PlayStation VR puts you in the game. You are in that terrifying house, those maggots are there, writhing around in front of you. You are at the mercy of the Baker family. It's an experience that I'll admit to finding very disturbing, and one that I believe will be too much for many. Thankfully, that pacing I mentioned earlier gives your heart the break that it needs to stop it from exploding in your chest. But you still get taken unawares, and the sight of a six-foot-tall lunatic coming at you, for “real”, wielding a shovel is an absolutely pant-wetting experience.
This is the future of horror games and exactly what VR gaming is all about.
Resident Evil VII Biohazard is a turning point for the series and horror games, in general. The implementation of VR out of the box is absolute genius. The maturity of the graphics, the atmosphere and the plot makes this a proper new-gen entry in the classic franchise. By going back to Resident Evil's survival-horror roots, but this time with photo-real visuals, Capcom have assured the series' future and I, for one, am looking forward to the next one!