Horror Hybridization at its Horrific Best
Platform: Xbox One
Available On: Microsoft Windows/Xbox One/PlayStation 4
Genre: Survival Horror
Release Date: January 24th 2017
The Resident Evil franchise was one of my earliest forays into the genre of horror on a gaming level, it always held a special place for me as one of the most fear-inducing series that has ever graced the small screens. It has this innate ability to press on all of our buttons, creating fear in a truly unique way even though it uses well played out tropes it breathes new life into them, allowing those very same tropes to be realized in a whole new way, a way that is truly terrifying.
This terror-filled trait is something that the franchise as a whole has become not only known for but also a benchmark to judge others by. It has scared us all as we grew with the series, and in turn, it grew with us, always looking for ways to branch out and evolve the franchise in many iterations. Albeit some are more successful than others it has always tried to change with the times, which undoubtedly is one of the main causes for the longevity of the Resident Evil brand.
This continual evolution came to find its way to the home of the Baker's in Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. The latest entry into the series saw a return to form whilst at the same time the game took on a very different guise from the previous iterations, gone was the age old 3rd person style of gameplay with a 1st person perspective taking its place, and it wasn't only the style of gameplay that had changed.
Instead of a zombie-laden cityscape like the one from Racoon City, the franchise decided it was time to return to its roots with a single household and the surrounding area chosen as the setting, ala Resident Evil 1. These changes made for powerful and unnerving storytelling, showing us once again that oftentimes less is more, that simple stories can satiate one's hunger for gore and mayhem in the same way as intricate but sometimes over complicated narratives can.
This is the bedrock behind the story of Resident Evil 7, the tale of a husband going to rescue his wife from a place of unimaginable danger is a story as old as time but the trope of the damsel in distress has never taken on a more frightful form than the way it is manifested into existence within this outing of the Resident Evil franchise. You take on the role of Ethan as he goes about saving the aforementioned damsel, his wife Mia from the clutches of the Baker family and the swampy bayou they call home.
The setting and the family that inhabit it are both more than a little reminiscent of the Sawyer/Hewitt family from the legendary Texas Chainsaw Massacre films, both familial groups share a similar manic bond which seems to be fueled by their inherent need to maim/kill each and every visitor that happens upon their horrific households. As I mentioned the tropes here are nothing new but the way they are implemented is not just incredibly effective but they are used to a petrifying perfection.
The Baker family is as scary as they come, and the trek through their home is nothing short of the most brutal wars of attrition. The antagonists of this piece are ruthless, non-compromising misfits that take the greatest of pleasures inflicting pain on their victims. They use a myriad of maniacal ways to twist and torment you into submission as you search for Mia, who too has been contorted by her surroundings. The not so easily saveable damsel welcomes your search for her by severing your arm with a chainsaw, which really sets the tone for what is to come.
The Not So Welcoming Hosts
From the get-go you are made strikingly aware of how unforgiving your hosts will be for the duration of your stay here, within the opening salvo into the Baker home you are besieged from all sides, the assault is as much psychological as it is physical, the sense of claustrophobia is turned all the way the up to eleven when you realize that around every corner lay an unspeakable horror just waiting to jump out at you.
This fear of what lay in wait can really weigh you down as you make yourself familiar with the Baker household, this is a home that you will never feel at home in, your surroundings and the ones that fill it will keep you on edge, one light touch away from plummeting into the deep dark abyss. One of those who fills the Baker house comes in the form of the patriarch of the Baker family, that being Jack Baker, who begins his twisted game of cat and mouse with you by sitting you down for a not so friendly family dinner.
At the dinner is where you will get to meet some of the other members of the Baker family, including Jack's wife Marguerite and their son Lucas, and a wheelchair-bound old lady who you know is just cooking up something horrific for you later on as you continually find her empty wheelchair throughout the home, but that's another issue altogether. The dinner scene is once again pulled straight from the Tobe Hooper horror classic the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Once again the first person viewpoint enhances the terror that you are feeling and gives you a real sense of helplessness until you manage to escape due to a well timed house call by the local police. Now you will make an ill fated attempt to get some much needed aid, but you will fall short as Jack introduces his shovel to the backside of your would be rescuers head. This is where you will pick up your first firearm in Resident Evil 7, and next you will have to survive your first real head to head encounter with Jack.
This scene is excellently done, and is another one chalked off under tone setting for what lay ahead for you as you traverse this deadly place. This is the first of 3 boss fights with Jack and each time the ante will be upped from an insane chainsaw battle in the basement of the Baker house to a duel to the death against Jack when he becomes mutated in the game's final act.
These fights are brutal but they fall under the realm of darkly comedic, don't get me wrong, Jack is terrifying but in an exaggerated, over the top manner. This style of horror deployed here doesn't take away from the tone of Resident Evil 7, it actually adds another layer to it because each family member is used to implement a different style of horror which gives the game a real hybrid feel that wears its influences like a badge of horror.
As the game progresses the hybridization of horror subgenres really becomes apparent in how Resident Evil 7 tells its torrid tale, it pays homage to the over the top almost comedic nature of the Evil Dead franchise, with a hint of the Saw movies by deploying twisted games for you to earn your advancement through the home when you encounter Lucas but before Resident Evil gets to turning those psychological screws it uses the found footage subgenre to tell Mia's story with old video tapes that lay scattered around the house.
Afterward you will retrace Mia's steps, this is where you will come up against the real scare monger of the residence, Marguerite Baker, true the mold creatures that pop up every now and again are the stuff of nightmares but they can be put down pretty quickly with the right set of tools, on the other hand Marguerite with her maniacal laugh, and just all round creepiness really sets the bar in terms of nightmarish offerings, she is as villainous as horror villains come and the boss fight against her, with her elongated limbs is not just one of the more difficult of the game but also one of the scariest.
In not just one but all instances, the homage it pays to these movies, doing so to maximum effect, each corner of the Baker home is filled with the echoes of the lamentations from other legendary horror franchises. It tells its story using the classics to guide it on its way, but it never gives into the temptation of imitation, it walks the tightrope expertly, filling its narrative with engrossing easter eggs that hide amongst the horrors. Resident Evil 7 tells a brutal tale but with an unexpected humanity to its climax, The story it tells is not just about brutality, it is about how that brutality can affect good people, how they become infected by it every bit as much as the sickness Eveline is spreading throughout their home.
The story behind Resident Evil 7 is intense, gory, filled with mayhem and yet still somehow it never loses its humanity, and when you add up all of these ingredients it is no wonder why it turned out as a ruggedly enthralling story that is refined in its rawness, which is amplified time and time again by the different elements that are contained within the style of gameplay that was chosen to bring this story to life. I previously touched upon the 1st person aspect of the game, but that is not the only weapon that Resident Evil 7 uses to enhance the feeling of sheer terror.
When it comes to the weaponry side of things, just like every other game in the Resident Evil franchise apart from maybe Operation Raccoon City the weapons are hard to come by and the ammo even harder, so when coming face to face with the horrors from the Baker house one has to not only ration but also go into every confrontation with a strategy, which is not always easy, due to the unpredictability of the enemies you will be facing.
It is not just the weapons and ammo that are scarce so too is the health, herbs and chem fluid can be combined to make med kits that can also be found throughout the home, but it is never wise to rely on your supplies because the enemies can deal maximum damage and eat through health reserves rapidly. This lack of resources has always been a landmark of the Resident Evil franchise and Biohazard is no different, this makes the night you spend in the Baker home even more treacherous.
When you take all of these things into account and the different layers that Resident Evil 7 has within its narrative and the way it uses every aspect of its gameplay to make your stay in the bayou a living nightmare it is no wonder that it has received such a positive reaction since its release, and it looks to be just the first entry into a new brutally bright future for the franchise with Resident Evil 8: Village laying just over the horror-filled horizon. I guess we all have that test of endurance to look forward to but if it is as remarkably ruthless in its storytelling I’m sure it is a test we will all take before too long.
Play this game if...
You want to bear witness to the new age of the Resident Evil franchise
You have a longing for an original take on classic horror
You have an appreciation for up close and personal storytelling
You have the capacity to be scared witless for 10 hours
You’re a fan of survival horror
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