Scary movies not doing it for you anymore? Are the days of peeking through your fingers or cowering under a blanket long behind you? Are you worried that you’ve become so desensitized to horror films that you can’t enjoy the genre like you used to? These are the fears of the horror movie veteran — sometimes the only fears left after watching hundreds and hundreds of horror films.
Well, might I suggest a game?
Resident Evil is the videogame series that won’t die. There are two main reasons for that. One is that when games in the series get it right, they are among the best releases in any given year. The other is that Capcom, the series’ creator, pivots gameplay and reinvents the series just as soon as they’ve beaten all their good ideas to death in lackluster sequels.
The first Resident Evil game begat a pair of numbered sequels that expanded on the original, but did not change core gameplay elements. After this, Capcom released a pile of unnumbered, subtitled sequels that, at best, would keep a player busy, but the shine had long since worn off. Capcom appeared to be flailing. Then, with Resident Evil 4, core gameplay was changed, and the series was revived. Capcom then did all they could to make gamers sick of this in that game’s sequels, until it was time for another reinvention. Enter Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, the most cinematic, and most frightening, game in the series to date.
From 2017, Resident Evil 7 does all it can to separate itself from the games that came before. Most prominently, there is no mention (until the very, very end of the main story) of the omnipresent Umbrella Corporation, the evil entity that sets the events of every other game in motion. The sense of global conspiracy and pending catastrophe that hovers over previous games is gone. The fat has been cut, helping to focus the player on what’s happening in front of them and nothing else. That’s a good thing, as games from Japan tend to rely heavily on complicated backstory.
The player takes on the role of Ethan Winters. Unlike previous installments, this game is entirely in first person.
Ethan arrives at a dilapidated home in the Louisiana bayou, after receiving a mysterious email from his missing wife, Mia. It’s up to Ethan, and the player, to explore the house and find Mia. If only things were so simple.
The house is a disgusting place. Not only is it rundown to the point where it should be abandoned, it’s full of grossness. One of the first stops is the kitchen, and it’s very much kin to the sets from a Texas Chainsaw or Saw movie. That general aesthetic is consistent until the final act.
There are occasional enemies to combat, but the focus of the game is exploration and problem solving. This is a deliberate choice by the developers. Gone are the long waves of enemies that a player shoots and kills. What weapons there are in the game are underpowered on the higher difficulties, and ammo is scarce. Even playing on easy difficulty, a player will need to be deliberate with their shots. This is not an unfamiliar mechanic in the series, but the lack of ammo is taken to an extreme with this entry. This is compensated for by long stretches when the player is in no immediate danger from bad guys.
The general mood of the game is oppressive. A player won’t know how long those safe stretches are until they eventually run across a monster. Boss fights, while not that difficult, sometimes come up unexpectedly, adding to the tension.
The Texas Chainsaw vibe dominates for the first five of the game’s seven chapters. The house, besides being home to slimy monsters called ‘moldeds,’ is also home to the Baker family. They are a group of sadists who seem to live on kidnapping and cannibalism, but there is more to them than that. The family patriarch, Jack, takes particular joy in making Ethan’s life miserable.
The main campaign is not that long. I completed it in a little over eight hours. If a player gets into a rut of dying and having to repeat sequences over and over again, this will lengthen somewhat, but this is still a short game.
But a player shouldn’t notice that all that much. This is not an open world game. This game tells a story, and the player is locked into that, without the distraction of side quests or treasure hunts. Again, the fat has been cut.
As for the frights, the first chapter of the game makes it clear that the main aim of this game is to scare the bejesus out of the player. And it does that. There’s no way to hide from the scary stuff in this game, unlike in a movie. It is happening to the player’s avatar, raising the emotional stakes. Sure, we’re still all safe and cozy in our living rooms, but having control over the character brings us closer to the frights in a way that a movie cannot.
Resident Evil 7 cribs from horror cinema every chance it gets, including introducing segments that can best be described as ‘participatory found footage.’ It’s the closest thing to a gimmick that this game has, but it doesn’t feel alien to the game at all. The only thing off about these sequences is that they involve VHS tapes. This game takes place in the 2010s, so that, and the cassette tape recorders scattered throughout the house, are beyond anachronistic. They make little sense. Then again, it is a fictional game.
The environment of the game is near perfect. The house is great, while the sixth and seventh chapters’ locations aren’t nearly as compelling. Unlike previous games, there are only a couple of different enemies to deal with, but this is mitigated by their being so few of them. The graphics would be good in the previous generation of gaming consoles, but outstanding graphics are not necessary for a good gaming experience. They do their job just fine in this game.
So, this game is short, it could look better, and the enemies are few and repetitive. It’s clearly the other stuff, then, that makes this such a good game. The setting, the gameplay, the storytelling, the other cinematic aspects, and the frights are what this game thrives on. I defy anyone to play this game the first time through and not suffer from a severe case of the heebie-jeebies.
Even the jump scares are good, handled in a way that proves movie jump scares are a pale imitation of true shock and surprise. Movie jump scares rely on quick cuts, trick photography, and musical cues to get their effect. In this game, bad things happen and the player gets an unwelcome jolt of fear and adrenaline.
The game can also be played in VR. I don’t have a VR set, but I can see how being surrounded by this game would make it more terrifying. I was plenty scared looking at this game in the confines of a regular TV.
For some people, scary games are just too scary to finish. If that is the case for you, potential player, I suggest finding a walkthrough online, and following that. Foresight does much to lift unbearable tension in a game such as this. Because it relies on scaring the player so much, there isn’t as much replay potential as in other games, after the player knows what to expect, but that first playthrough is a whopper.
Horror aficionados, check this game out.