Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
Playstation 4, XBox One, PC
January 24, 2017
This article contains spoilers for Resident Evil 7 and other Resident Evil games.
When Capcom announced that Resident Evil 7: Biohazard was going to mimic the first Resident Evil game, fans rejoiced. After the mixed reception of Resident Evil 6, many were excited that the franchise was going back to its survival horror roots. A creepy house with puzzles? The possibility of awful puns? Yes, please! But as I was playing it, I was shocked at the positive reviews the game has gotten. Personally? I think Resident Evil 7 has failed its fans.
Critics hailed Resident Evil 7 as a fresh and terrifying return to the survival horror genre. In the game, you play as Ethan, who receives an email from his wife, Mia, who has been missing for three years and presumed dead. (This sounds… familiar.) Like every good husband, Ethan drives off to middle-of-nowhere Louisiana, where a giant, creepy house awaits him.
Of course, Mia isn’t waiting at the front door. Ethan enters an abandoned guest house, finds human body parts in the fridge, gets his hand chopped off by his chainsaw-wielding wife, and instead of running the eff away, stays around to figure out what’s going on. He meets Mia’s new “family,” the Bakers: the impossible-to-kill dad Jack, his creepy spider hybrid wife Marguerite, the “all I do is call you cryptically” daughter Zoe, the psychopathic brother Lucas, and the random grandmother. And Mia, who goes from whimpering pathetically to trying to kill you.
Okay. Being in a house with people reminiscent of the uroboros maybe, maybe, could be Resident Evil. But unlike the first one, the puzzles in Resident Evil 7 involved taking keys with certain animal symbols to the doors with those symbols. And that’s… really it. No “let’s rotate these mirrors and deflect the laser beam to open a door except OH CRAP IT’S A TRAP.” No “crap, if you open that door there’s a bunch of spider things that are hard to kill and you need to time it so the fire shoots out of that other one in order to key the necessary gun in that room.” The closest is when Jack chases you around the house, and you place a broken shotgun to weigh down a statue and remove the working shotgun from its place.
Yeah. Fantastic. What does this have to do with Resident Evil, again?
The other Resident Evil games are grounded in a larger lore. The original Resident Evil introduces us to the special terrorist-fighting units (STARS, which is later replaced by the BSAA), gives us the major characters (Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine), and sets up for Albert Wesker’s role in everything. RE2 introduces zombies into the wider world as well as giving us other characters (Claire Redfield, Leon S. Kennedy). Each of the other Resident Evils (and even Revelations!) builds off of this. RE3 happens as a direct result of RE2; Code Veronica gives us more background on the virus that the Umbrella Corporation/Spencer of mansion fame/the Birkins were working on. RE4 delves into Leon’s character and, arguably, is one of the most successful games ever created. It also gives us some clues into the relationship between people and the monsters that they become—a direct lead into Resident Evil 5, which reintroduces Wesker, Chris, and Jill, as well as expanding from zombies to “super humans” with the use of the virus we sort of learned about in RE3. RE6, which I very much loved (unlike everyone else), literally pulls these all together: one storyline features Chris, another Leon, and a third Wesker’s mysterious son and the daughter of one of the virus creators. And then there’s Revelations: the first one, set between RE4 and RE5, diving back into Jill; and the second one, set between RE5 and RE6, revisiting fan favorite Claire Redfield and my personal favorite, Barry Burton.
So yeah, Resident Evil 7 fits NOWHERE.
For the majority of the game, I was confused as to why this was even in the franchise and not just another first-person survival horror game. I had no idea what was going on, but rather than intriguing me, it frustrated me. I wanted to pick up my PlayStation and throw it away because what the mother eff was going on. Until the last two or so hours of the game—basically, until you play as Mia herself, for all of an hour—here’s what you know:
- There’s a creepy family living in this house
- They have killed at least some people
- They are ridiculously difficult to kill
- Mia is somehow involved
- Have I mentioned the family is creepy?
- Mia is either possessed by a demon or is perpetuating the stigma that people with personality disorders are totally unhinged
I was so frustrated by the lack of an overarching story—and the apparent lack of connection to the rest of the franchise—that I looked up the storyline. Apparently, Mia was a secret agent that was supposed to transport the latest bioweapon in the form of a genetically engineered little girl named Eveline, except Eveline decided that everyone who isn’t in her “family” should die. After brainwashing the Bakers with mold (…), she has them kill people if they don’t satisfy her. But for some reason, her genetics speed up her aging, and she turns into an old lady in a wheelchair who follows you around and sends you creepy visions of her as a little girl.
So besides the fact that there’s a bioweapon that gives people superhuman strength, regenerative abilities, and creepy eating habits, there is no connection between Resident Evil 7 and the rest of the franchise. Unless the cameo at the end by “Redfield,” who sort of looks like Chris, counts. (Although apparently, the “Not A Hero” DLC slated out in December confirms that this is our very own Chris.)
So let’s back up, here. Not only is RE7 the first first-person shooter in the RE franchise—which would have annoyed me a lot less if I didn’t feel so damn motion sick during the whole experience—but it also doesn’t continue the overall story at all. It’s not a matter of a frivolous addition but of not adding at all, period. None of our favorite characters are involved, and—to make matters worse!—it introduces an uninteresting and unresponsive protagonist and not one but two damsels-in-distress (at least one of whom dies). And, of course, all the characters are white. This isn’t too surprising, but with the introduction of Sheva in Resident Evil 5 (COME BACK SHEVA but not in your racist-as-all-hells tribal outfit, thanks) and the reintroduction of Ava in Resident Evil 6, I’d hoped for more.
What was the point of Resident Evil 7? Was it for the player to feel like they’re the ones in the house instead of Ethan? Is Capcom hoping that Sony’s virtual reality will boost the experience and therefore, sales? I beat the game in about 11 hours, a shocking disappointment. Sure, Resident Evil 6‘s individual chapters were short, but at least they were interesting.
I wonder if I would have found the game more exciting if it wasn’t branded as part of the Resident Evil franchise. As a survival horror, it hits many of the benchmarks: the ambience was tense, with dark lighting and mood music; the characters were creepy and mostly unexplained; the resources you were given limited. But as a protagonist, Ethan was uninteresting and flat, seemingly unworried about his wife or even the weird stuff going around him (except for the few times he goes WTF). The puzzles, an aforementioned hallmark of Resident Evil, were scarce and boring. The lack of knowledge about what was going on wasn’t scary, it was frustrating. Having limited resources was stressful, but with so few enemies roaming around, it was hardly a concern.
I understand that fans of the original survivor horror of Resident Evil came into this game excited. I understand that many finally got what they were waiting for. But honestly, I would never have picked up the game if it wasn’t part of the franchise. The truth is, franchises change, and with Resident Evil 5 and 6—and even, to some extent, 4—it has shifted away from pure survival horror to a hybrid with action/adventure. I’d argue that the latest Resident Evils reflect the popularity and success of games like Last of Us: there are plenty of horrifying elements, but not at the cost of a good storyline and strong characters. I was driven to care about the story and characters in previous Resident Evils, but not in this one.
Instead, going through Resident Evil 7 was a test of patience. Was it scary? Absol-freaking-lutely. It was terrifying. Was it worth playing? I am disappointed to say that I will not be revisiting the game, except perhaps as Chris Redfield, if I haven’t already traded my copy back into GameStop by then.