“Resident Evil 7: Biohazard” may be the most unsettling mainstream game of this generation. It seems like every step the player takes into the dark and rundown mansion estate offers some new variety of creative horror that can get under the skin of the player right as their on-screen avatar is losing an appendage. While the violence is often shockingly brutal, even painful to watch at some points, the fact that the game still remains fun and engrossing is attributed to a less-is-more approach to game design and storytelling.
The story revolves around Ethan Winters, a man who goes out into swamplands to save his wife who had left a cryptic message implying that she was in great danger. What he finds when he gets there is a murderous family, clearly drawn from the same creative fabric as “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” The majority of the game is spent surviving inside a mansion as a number of murderous men and women hunt Winters.
It’s a basic survival-horror set up, but where the game goes with it is equally surprising and startling. These are some of the best jump scares seen in an AAA game of this generation. The 10-hour campaign is packed with both subtle and extreme creeps.
“Resident Evil 7” is a prime example of why video games are such an excellent format for telling basic scary stories while giving them a new interactive lease on life. Instead of passively reading or watching someone survive an encounter, the gamer is the one who is surviving. Every room in this game is littered with little details and history that allow the player to be absorbed in the environments even as they are being chased by a chainsaw-wielding mad person.
The sound of creaking floorboards, the slick of a body sliding across walls of black slime and the buzzing of abnormally large bugs are only a few examples of how the game’s sound design creates a consistently tense world. This is helped by a first-person camera that constrains the player’s focal point, meaning that the mansion’s most dangerous fiends are always just out of sight.
What the player hears is just as unsettling as what they see but there is beauty in the game’s grizzly visuals.
In the game’s opening sequence, Winter’s wife Mia comes across as so lifelike that some may even question if what they’re watching is a live-action clip and not a game. However, once the initial shock of the moment’s detail dies down, character models frequently dip into what is known as the uncanny valley. They are just close enough to looking real that they often come across as unsettling, something that could have been avoided with a more stylized approach to graphic design.
This is not so much a criticism of the game’s graphics as it is an observation of how far technology has come. Both major motion pictures and interactive media are getting closer to creating convincingly real people with computer-generated graphics with every passing year, but they just need a final push to get through the valley. It is quite an accomplishment for a video game.
Homages come fast and heavy throughout the game, but don’t detract from a surprisingly sharp and clever narrative. Fans of horror cinema will find something to nod knowingly about, whether they grew up on the original “The Evil Dead” or “Saw.”
Perhaps most clever is how these homages are reflected in entire sections of the game’s level design. Every new area feels as though it were derived from a new genre, meaning that if at one point in the game doesn’t frighten gamers, there will be a few more just around the corner.
Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the game is how it turns an often exploitative experience into something emotionally tangible by the last hour. It features the kinds of reveals that, upon replaying, changes the way the player looks at the whole experience. Moments that were once just disgusting have a tinge of melancholy that is uncommon for the franchise and the genre as a whole.
“Resident Evil 7” is the best revitalization of a classic series since “Tomb Raider” in 2013. It’s bloody fantastic.