Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is described as a survival horror game, but it’s really an interactive horror puzzler in which you unravel compelling mysteries in creepy settings, and with sporadic action sequences.
In other words, I can’t sell you on this thing. You either like this sort of game or you don’t.
(If you’re unsure if an interactive horror puzzler is your thing, be sure to check out Layers of Fear for Xbox One. It’s free right now to Xbox Live Gold subscribers as part of this month’s Games with Gold promotion, and offers the same basic experience, if not the AAA presentation, of RS7.)
Curiously, I fall right in the middle. That is, I enjoy RS7 quite a bit on a number of levels. But I also find it incredibly tedious.
The key to my enjoyment of this game, I think, is that I’m a huge fan of horror entertainment, from the books of Stephen King to even the most inept B-level horror movies imaginable.
But of course, this familiarity with the genre helps me easily identify the many ways in which this game borrows, if not outright steals, past ideas. This is most obvious with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre-like hillbilly family that is central to the story so far. (I’m only about 25 percent of the way through the story.)
But there are many other examples which may be less obvious. For example, the game steals the signature scene from the Spanish zombie classic [REC], in which a main character is suddenly pulled backward into the dark.
Whether you feel these moments are homage or theft is, I guess, is worthy of debate. But there’s no debate about his game’s moody and creepy settings, and its legitimate scares and gross-outs. I’ve jumped out of my seat, so to speak, a number of times already. And that’s notable.
Unfortunately, these scary moments are interspersed with standard-fare puzzler mumbo-jumbo. If you look past the horror setting and the underlying mystery—which, to be fair, is all quite well done—this is just one of those “find the key to open the door”-type games. Meaning that you spend a lot of time wandering around trying to find an item you can use—or combine with other items and then use—to open up locked parts of the map.
We’ve all done this sort of thing, and like the in-your-face horror aspects of the game, you either enjoy it or you don’t. I don’t. In fact, I find this stuff tedious, and I continue only because I want to see where the story goes next.
Adding to the tedium is the game’s save system, which involves both manual saves via the tape recorders that are interspersed throughout the game, and via too-infrequent auto-saves before key moments. Thanks to this terrible system, I’ve had to retrace my steps multiple times over three floors of a house, re-find the same damn key items, re-open the same doors, and re-try the same sequences. Multiple times. And don’t get me started on the terrible boss battle I’m currently stuck on. Yes. There are boss battles too.
But again, it’s still compelling. I really enjoy the legit scares and the story, while not fully fleshed out yet for me because of my early position in the game, is mysterious enough that I want to know more.
It’s not clear to me yet how this game factors into the broader Resident Evil series, but some fans of the games assured me on Twitter that it does. This game is, so far at least, basically a lengthy exploration of a haunted house (or, a haunted house and a few out buildings). But of course, the Resident Evil series encompasses a very broad set of events.
In fact, the original Resident Evil is now over 20 years old, having debuted on the original Sony PlayStation. And of course these games are the loose material for a series of movies. The first Resident Evil movie is actually a decent zombie movie, but the others are mostly dreck.
So what does RS7 have to do with the broader series of games? At its most basic level, this game marks a return to the series’ roots in a way, as it plays down the action and brings back some nice stealthy—and nerve-wracking—game play. That was a smart move. But this game is also the first Resident Evil game to utilize a first-person (vs. third-person) view, which I prefer. That was also smart.
Speaking of smart, Resident Evil 7 is the first major third-party Xbox Play Anywhere title. So when you buy it on Xbox One, you get the game for free on Windows 10, and vice versa. I’ve been switching off between my Xbox One S (where it supports HDR graphics) and the Dell XPS 15 review laptop, and it’s been a seamless experience. (Yes, I’m using an Xbox Wireless Controller on the PC too.) The game is particularly gorgeous on the PC if you can hit higher resolutions and graphics quality.
I’m going to soldier on. But my early experiences are that curious mix of horror, which I’ve enjoyed, and tedium, which I experience far too often with puzzlers. But that’s just me, and time spent in fast-action shooters no doubt colors things a bit.
Recommended for those who already know they love survival horror.