Few things are more emasculating than shrieking like a frightened child in front of your fiancée. And yet, that’s exactly what I did this week while playing Capcom’s new “Resident Evil 7: Biohazard.” She hasn’t looked at me the same way since. So, thanks for that, Capcom.
The good news is that the latest entry in the 20-year-old franchise is a return to form for a series that has fallen off significantly since the excellent “Resident Evil 4” was released 12 years ago.
But unlike “Resident Evil 4,” which was more of an action game than anything scary, “Resident Evil 7” plants its flag firmly in the survival-horror genre the series helped define with the very first “Resident Evil.”
Home is where the horror is
“Resident Evil 7” puts you in the shoes of Ethan Winters, A.K.A. Joe Everyman. Your wife Mia has been missing for three years, when you suddenly receive a message asking you to meet her at the ramshackle home of the Baker family in the remote swamps of Louisiana.
There you run into the insane Baker clan, which includes the seemingly un-killable patriarch, Jack, his wife Marguerite, their son Lucas and a seemingly mute, old woman in a wheelchair.
The Baker compound is made up of a small collection of buildings: a main house, a guesthouse, several smaller rundown structures. Beneath it all, though, is a labyrinthine system of cramped basements and tunnels that leave you feeling claustrophobic and vulnerable.
Capcom has done a wonderful job bringing this twisted world to life. The graphics are absolutely beautiful. I’ve never been more in awe of a pile of human viscera left to rot in a hallway. (I have also never actually seen a pile of human viscera rotting in a hallway.)
All in the family
The Bakers are certainly the most interesting part of the game. You’re first introduced to the clan in a dinner scene straight out of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Jack is basically a walking “Deliverance” meme, Marguerite is responsible for some of the most creative profanity I’ve heard in quite a while and Lucas seems to have patterned his skills after Jigsaw from the “Saw” movies.
Jack, in particular, is a beast of a man, smashing through walls and heckling you as you try to escape his grasp. Get caught, and my God, do things get bloody. ”Resident Evil 7” is a gore fest to the extreme. Things get nasty, and they stay that way.
Outside of the Bakers, though, “Resident Evil 7’s” enemies are a bit stale. The humanoid muck monsters that make up the bulk of the game’s antagonists are certainly creepy, but they’re far from the smartest enemies, and you can usually deduce where they’ll likely try to sneak up on you.
Fight for your life
Regardless of which enemy you run across, “Resident Evil 7’s” fights are a lot of fun. The controls are smooth and aiming is spot on. Your weapons have the right amount of heft to give you a proper sense of their power. Your pistol packs a decent punch, but the shotgun is an absolute monster, with enough recoil to make it feel like your shoulder might get blown out of its socket.
True to the franchise’s classic formula, “Resident Evil 7” puts a premium on ammo. You could be walking around with 30 handgun rounds and think you’re ready to take on anything the game throws at you, only to run into a new gross swamp monster that soaks up bullets like a slimy sponge.
As is often the case with “Resident Evil” games, however, boss fights throw everything out of whack. The fights usually require you to grab an item in the environment and use it to your advantage, but when the entire fight hinges on your having a free inventory spot and you can’t pause the game to clear one out, you’re basically being set up to die.
“Resident Evil 7’s” puzzles are also a bit of a letdown. They’re surprisingly easy, and if you happen to get stuck and die, you’ll receive hints on the loading screen. I do, however, love the little nod Capcom makes to players about how ridiculous it is to have a house occupied by weird swamp people filled with strange puzzles.
Unlike most games, “Resident Evil 7” doesn’t include any multiplayer options. But that’s totally fine by me, because it does come with a virtual reality component. PlayStation 4 owners can fire it up in PlayStation VR, and if you happen to have the hardware, you have to give it a try. “Resident Evil 7’s” VR mode is a fully-realized experience that uses the tech brilliantly.
I strapped the headset on and played through a few hours of the game, which was when I ended up screaming in front of my fiancée. Everything in the game is much more intimate when you’re wearing the headset. When an enemy jumps out in front of you or comes rushing at you from the darkness, there’s no escape. You can close your eyes, but you can’t look away.
There are some technical issues with the VR experience, though. On-screen subtitles float in and out of the scenery and the graphics take a definite hit due to the fact that the PSVR’s display has a lower resolution than your average 1080p TV.
Despite its few flaws, though, “Resident Evil 7” is a terrific, terrifying experience with sickening visuals and wonderful gunplay. It’s the best entry in the series in more than a decade and a must-play for anyone who’s ever loved the franchise. No matter how scared the game made me while playing alone at 2 a.m., I always wanted to keep moving forward, which is exactly what you want from a survival-horror game.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4
What’s hot: Gorgeous graphics; fully-realized world; tight gunplay; a reason to use your PSVR headset
What’s not: Annoying boss fights; some dull enemies; puzzles are too easy
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Email Daniel at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.