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RPS discusses... the gruesome glories and nonsensical excesses of Resident Evil 7

The verdict - with full spoilers

Alec: Resident Evil 7 Biohazard Resident Evil 7 Biohazard Resident Evil 7 Biohazard Resident Evil 7 Biohazard Resident Evil 7 Biohazard Resident Evil 7 Biohazard [official site] is a new first person horror/action game that definitely has nothing whatsoever to do with anything else called Resident Evil, no siree. Definitely just some creepy people in a house. That’s all.

We’ve both played it now, Adam. Shall we throw all caution to the wind and go FULL SPOILERS as we discuss what works, what doesn't and how it does or does not tie into the rest of this stalwart survival horror series?

Adam: We have to, mainly because I’ve been wanting to talk about it with FULL SPOILERS since I finished it what seems like ages ago now. But first, let’s do a quick non-spoiler bit for anyone who hasn’t played yet and might be interested in a second opinion. If you want to avoid full spoilers, don’t read past “FULL SPOILER KLAXON”. Search for that phrase now if you don’t want to accidentally scroll into end-game stuff.

My review is over here and I was very cautious about spoiling things because one of the things that I like so much about Resident EVII: BioHazard is the pacing - it doesn’t stick with any of its several ideas for long enough to bore me, but I wouldn’t want to spoil what all of those ideas are. It’s a bit like flicking through someone’s VHS horror collection though and watching an hour of each, isn’t it? And some of those hours work better than others, for me, but I never felt it slumped for long.

Alec: Yeah, it’s definitely a slasher flick anthology, and I imagine the forthcoming DLC will explore new entries in the gris-o-spooks lexicon, which I’m very much looking forwards to. It’s not just the switching between genre styles and tropes though - it also understands when to let up on the almost excruciating tension and when to pump the anxiety back up.

Even as you gradually gain a little more freedom of movement and ability to deal with what it throws at you, it finds new ways to destabilise, or at least surprise. Even during the more action-centric final act - which we’ll get to later - there are a few effective psychological curveballs that kept me feeling deeply uncertain about what I could or should do.

I’ve seen people complain it’s too short, but it was bang on for me. There’s only so long that kind of atmosphere and the attendant guessing games can be sustained for. If anything, in the final stretch I was feeling ready for it to be over.

Adam: A thumbs up then? I’ve played it through twice now and it’s odd the second time around. Not as frightening, for obvious reasons, but there was a lot more about it that made me do little appreciative nods. It’s really smartly constructed.

Alec: Yeah, thumbs up. It’s the 2017 game I’ve had the best time with so far. I wish it had gone in a different direction in its final third, but I understand why it did it and don’t really begrudge it - particularly because the first two major sections were so strong. It’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre vs Evil Dead - the sheer menace of the former (pre-too-many-sequels) and the laughing-while-screaming gross-outs of the latter. It’s so unusual to have foes that recur in the way they do here. I know Resi 3 did it a bit, but that was always A Monster in scripted appearances, whereas this is ‘someone who is more or less a person is going to appear unexpectedly at any point, and seems to shrug off death as though it were dandruff.’ The game’s clearly made a decision to play pretty fast and loose with any concepts of mortality, and it suits it down to the ground - leaves it free to keep on pulling the rug in any way it chooses, which is why it’s brilliantly tense and menacing. Though the downside of this is that the apparent finality of the final encounters is hard to swallow.

Adam: Let’s move into full spoilers now.


Alec: Hear ye spoilers, hear ye spoilers.

So, in a nutshell: Resi 7 kicks off in a classic slasher flick murder house in which live an apparently cannibalistic, sadistic hick family, moves into making them Evil Deady undying mutants and then does trad Resi ‘evil corporation did bad science and created monsters’ shtick, by way of J/K-horror spooky little ghost-girls. It’s a mad grab-bag of horror that effectively defuses its early, terrifying brilliance by ultimately going too over the top. Thing is, I think it could have kept its Resi ties without going all the way into total overboard everything as it does in the climax.

Adam: The biggest surprise for me is that I found myself buying into the actual Resi parts of the plot, Umbrella Corp and all. There’s a major caveat to that, which is that if they follow up on any of this in a sequel they damn well better acknowledge that Mia, lead character Ethan’s wife, is a baddie. Because she’s totally a baddie. I can’t tell if the ending (and there are two possible endings, more on which in a moment) gets that and is playing with the apparent happy-joy-joy of husband and wife being reunited ironically, or if all is apparently forgiven because….love wins in the end?

Essentially, Mia works for what appears to be a biological weaponry outfit and is babysitting a little girl who is in fact a weaponised agent, to be inserted into a populated area so that it can infect and mutate everyone who comes into contact with it. SHE’S A BADDIE. I really find it hard to read the tone of the ending though. It is, on the surface, a happy ending, even though it absolutely shouldn’t be for many reasons.

But what I think it does really well is to re-humanise the Baker family. Those Texas Chainsaw cannibals who become Evil dead shrieking cackling killers were victims. I like that there are clues in the details of the house - big angry monstrous Jack has books on photojournalism and philosophy rather than “How to Kill a Dog and Cook Your Mum”. They aren’t monstrous humans become actual monsters because of the infection; they were probably a lovely family.

Alec: Sure, but I think perhaps that stuff depends too much on implication rather than statement. There’s a bit near the end where there’s some kind of fungus-fueled vision of the ‘real’ Jack, who’s all lovely and sympathetic, and we need to take that at face value at the same time as, as you say, wondering if heroising Mia is some kind of double-bluff. It’s confused. And we never get a chance to meet the real Marguerite or understand who Lucas really is what is going to happen to him - loose ends presumably left for DLC, although frankly much of the storytelling comes across as so arbitrary that they may simply have forgotten or sliced a part of the ending off without caring.

Re: Mia - I wasn’t 100% sure if she actually worked for Umbrella or was part of a group of people trying to spirit the bioweapon away from them. The guy working with her in the flashback sequence on the boat seems to be a decent, worried sort too. If they do work for Umbrella, they still have some kind of conscience. But yes, I was expecting a twist in the ending sequence, where she suddenly turned into Deadite Mia on the helicopter again. Apparently the ending with her we do get is considered the ‘good’ ending, whereas choosing to save the apparently innocent Zoe instead is the ‘bad’ ending. But this could be playing with expectations. It feels like a mess rather than smartness to me, though.

Adam: Yeah, I agree it’s messy. There’s only enough serum for either Mia, your wife, or Zoe Baker, who has guided you through the game via phone calls, and I did like that at the point you can choose who to save you don’t have enough information to make an informed decision. It’s only after the choice that you realise that Mia has been lying to you about her involvement (she doesn’t even remember any of it herself because of Convenient Plot Amnesia) in all of the nastiness.

From what I understand, Mia is working for a DIFFERENT bioterrorist corporation and Umbrella swoop in at the end, presumably to retrieve samples for their own nefarious purposes. Though there’s also speculation that Umbrella have reformed as the good guys now because Chris Redfield is apparently working for them, but that might not really be Chris Redfield, because clones, or something, and I have totally tapped out at this point and remembered why I don’t care about the Greater Resi Plot.

There’s one brutally efficient little piece of text though, late in the game, referring to usages for these new mutant child bioweapons. It talks about dropping them into “refugee populations” for maximum infection and terror. Ugh. There’s some astonishing cruelty on a global level in that there world, ain’t there?

Alec: Not just that there world, Adam. #littlebitofpolitics. But yeah, there’s also the stuff about how they made the bioweapon look like a little girl because people would try to help it even as everything turned to hell around them, which is potentially another nice, nasty detail, but I think the way it presents almost all of its dialogue and background info is too crude and broad to really push any buttons. It’s atmosphere - light, shadow, sound, unpredictability - that makes its first couple of acts so deft, nothing to do with the story it’s telling. Any plot stuff is just a sap to series fan-folk who might otherwise be outraged that a cool game about some murderers was waving a Resi banner.

Adam: I knew the bridge back into the main series would come at some point so I was just happy that it didn’t derail the game entirely. A little bit, but not entirely. And I liked the ‘reveal’ of Grandma Baker.

Let’s talk about the really good stuff though, and that’s the house(s), isn’t it? And the Bakers. There are three of them, in terms of actual threats. First up there’s Jack, who is a fairly traditional large angry man with chainsaw-scissors. Then there’s Marguerite, the matriarch, who is full of bugs and goes all spider-y when she mutates. And Lucas. I don’t really get Lucas. He grows bits back when he gets hurt, but he doesn’t do a big confrontation. He’s sort of Jigsaw from Saw, with his traps and his videotapes, but he also just seems like the person who pulls wings off flies.

I really liked him as an antagonist and it was only the second time through that my girlfriend who was watching said, “oh, so he’s like the Riddler but actually scary”. And, yeah, of course he is.

Alec: IMPORTANT INTERJECTION! I was just reading about the Dark Judges coming back to 2000AD and thought ‘Resident Evil 7 but with the Dark Judges!’ Amazing. Sorry.

Adam: Resident Evil 7 with all manner of things would be great. It’s a very good formula. But, yes, 2000AD 4 life. I was going to watch that Future Shock documentary last night but failed.

But back to Resi. Which member of the Baker Family would you most like to go on vacation with? Post-infection.

Alec: I guess I’d take Jack’s sporadic disinterest in killing me in favour of very slowly walking after me over having to repeatedly glimpse Marguerite’s wasp-nest-groin. That was a disturbing sight, and a disturbing thing to have to attack in order to defeat her. I dunno about Lucas. It felt like something might have been cut there - they build him up in a way they don’t really build up the others, then you never get to actually meet him. I’m going to guess that the first major DLC, which apparently stars ‘Redfield’, will be about hunting him down in the mines, but even so it’s a deflating conclusion to his main-game arc.

Some of the most effective terror of Resi 7 was worrying about what these guys were actually capable of, back when it was keeping cards close to its chest and only hinting at their true nature. When I knew I was going into the Lucas part of the map, all my old anxiety returned, even though I was carrying a flamethrower and a grenade launcher by that point, because I presumed he’d be given some kind of monstrous transformation or ability as Jack and Marguerite were. Disappointing that he was just a hillybilly Riddler, as you say. I also feel like Zoe should have gone somewhere - she needed the serum, so it would have been nice to see what her condition was, rather than Just A Bit Grumpy.

Adam: For all the Texas Chainsaws and Evil Deads we’ve mentioned, we haven’t actually used the term ‘body horror’ yet. It’s not particularly something I’d associate with either of those series, though Evil Dead creeps into it, but it’s on a different level with Marguerite in particular. The first time she grabbed me, after mutating, limbs all stretched out dangling through a window, I was properly terrified. And just before that you see her scuttling down a corridor on all fours. The tech helps, of course. I’ve seen lots of writing about the brilliant griminess of the house, all the little cruddy details that make it seem like a genuinely rotten place, but the visual detail on the wounds and the mutations is superb as well. I mean, what a sentence that is to write - true though. It does grotesque very well.

Let’s talk about what doesn’t work for a bit though, since we’re being mostly positive even through our gripes. Did you have the same complaint as me in that it’s really annoying to have a game that has so much creeping around and semi-stealth bits, but doesn’t let you lean around corners? And, if you did, was that complaint magnified when you realised that stuff is possible in the VR version which isn’t on PC yet, and which I’ll never play anyway? Because, damn, that annoyed me. The game has such a good sense of place and is mostly great at making me feel like the character is actually IN that space, with little details like putting up his hand to rest on walls when you’re standing against them, but JUST LET ME LEAN.

Is this a really minor quibble? Am I daft?

Alec: Not daft, but maybe a little myopic. For it's just a small part of a broader whinge that the stealth is, frankly, crap. Its sneaking element depends more on the big bads somehow not seeing or pursuing you unless you get right up in their grills than it does any concerted avoidance. I tested the limits of this stuff a bit and the fantasy broke down somewhat when I did - there are places they will simply not follow, or very obvious hiding places they will never check, or triggers where they will too abruptly give up the chase, and as such the inability to lean became only a minor element. It would be useful in terms of checking a corner or corridor out instead of getting jumped by a fungo-beast, but I don’t think it would meaningfully redeem what is an extremely perfunctory but realistically quite short-lived stealth element.

Adam: That’s interesting, in that I’d noticed a lot of the shoddiness myself but didn’t actually test its limits. Like anything else that relies on even rudimentary AI behaviour, there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors, and I think there’s a legitimate argument that Resi 7 has some of the best smoke and mirrors (and dirt and dust and mould) around, and that they’re concealing a fairly ordinary game. And of course the game is all of the smoke and the mirrors and everything else, but the initial feeling, from both the opening of the game and the demo, that Resi might be doing something new does fade away somewhat. It’s doing lots of old things, and it’s doing them with modern techniques and doing them incredibly well, but it’s a backward-looking game in many ways.

I don’t mean that as a criticism, but it’s not what I expected. Survival horror is an old-fashioned genre in many ways, with all that resource management and weirdly functional environmental design (I refer to This Sort of Thing, and as much as I love that old-fashioned stuff (Silent Hill 2 is my favourite game ever if you ask me on certain days), I’m still waiting for the game that kicks the whole genre up the backside. Resi pats it on the backside, but doesn’t move things along as much as I thought it might.

Alec: For me it’s most successful at two things. One is running away as opposed to hiding - all the issues with stealth and fake doors or contrived locks fade away because you’re just sprinting for your life in those earlier moments, desperate to find anywhere that Jack or Marguerite cannot find find you, and particularly so with Jack, whom you have little to no means of realistically fighting for many of the encounters. I don’t care about hiding or solving lock puzzles, I’m just looking for an opening to get the flip out of there, and that feels very true to a lot of those great 70s horror movies. The heroes/victims don’t spend twenty minutes hiding behind a box, but instead are constantly dashing somewhere, hoping to put enough ground between them and the baddie to have a chance of survival.

The second are the setpieces, which are when Resi 7 is at its most magnificent, its most graphic and its funniest. That first proper fight with Jack in the garage, where you’re trying to ram him with a car in an enclosed space, is gloriously ridiculous, and also spectacularly violent. He’s basically The Terminator or a middle-aged Deadpool in that sequence, constantly getting back up from awful things and not seeming to care. It’s madcap as well as tense.

The second major fight with him, in the chainsaw dungeon, is also a treat - it just keeps getting more and more icky. Braindead/Bad Taste sort of stuff, where you’re literally chainsawing into his brain and he’s all but laughing it off. Then the apparent coup de grace, when you just keep sawing and sawing and sawing into this infinite blob of bloody horror, followed by his severed legs chasing you - glorious. I laughed like hell, while still shaking uncontrollably. It’s diminishing returns from thereon in, but Marguerite does make for an extremely sinister figure in the initial encounters, when she’s this immortal infinite moth factory that you can’t do anything about.

There’s one last gasp of the killer setpiece when you get to reverse-engineer Lucas’ SAW escape room, which is a complex but fluid piece of puzzling, and then sadly it’s all trad. boss fights remaining. But when Resi 7 is smart at combining spectacle with situation, it’s really smart.

Adam: The reverse-engineering of the escape room is great because it ties back to the videotapes as well. I wish there’d been more of them, teasing what’s to come and showing what came before. By the time you get to the final one, which is a huge extended impossibly framed reveal section on a big tanker, starring Mia, the idea of them as grimy little found footage things is completely gone. It’s just flashback by a different name at that point.

And isn’t it odd that of all the films we’ve talked about the game referencing, we haven’t touched on found footage stuff at all? That seemed to be the game’s big idea at one point, with the demo built around a trio of doomed ghosthunters and the footage they left behind, but it’s a very small part of the actual game. I suppose Outlast got there first anyway, using its camera as a fundamental part of the game, with the nightvision and all.

I can now reveal, dirty platform traitor that I am, that I’ve played the first round of DLC. The Bedroom section is a splendid but short escape the room bit, much like Lucas’ Happy Birthday tape, though not as enjoyable. It’s got a neat little angle though - you have to keep putting all the puzzle parts back in place to avoid being caught trying to escape, so there’s a lovely little wrinkle to the tension. It feels like it could have been in the main game though; would have been a better use of half an hour than some of the stuff that’s already there, and would fit well enough.

What I want is a DLC where I control one of the Bakers just after the infection takes hold. See the family fall apart, start to disintegrate (literally) and lose themselves. It’d be horrid in a different way, but it really could be horrid. But, hey, if they want to do more puzzly bits and more action-y bits (as the other section of the first chunk is; wave-based shooty survival and not half bad for what it is) then that’d be fine too.

I definitely want more and I hope the eventual sequel doesn’t go full BIOCORPHAZARDBRELLA, though I suspect it will. Seven is fascinating because it feels like the side story, the human tragedy and horror happening off to the side of the main series, but I reckon normal service will resume. Everything drifts back toward the centre and the centre is a man called Wesker, punching a mutant forever. Probably.

Alec: Hopefully Capcom are asking themselves some serious questions about where they want the series to go now that it seems to have done pretty well. I mean, everyone’s talking about the Bakers and not about Eveline and the more direct ties to the wider Resi world - if the money lies in exploring new horror frontiers rather than appealing to fans, that’s surely where they’ll go. Then again, they followed up their last attempt at a sweeping rethink, Resi 4, with more of a back to basics (ill-judged setting aside) approach that they then doubled down on in 6, so perhaps they are too fearful to push this further.

I certainly want more superfiends and fewer bullets’n’disposable monsters, but I imagine the masses need to be able to let rip at some point, so we can’t escape that.

Adam: By the time the shooting came, in this one, I was glad to let rip as well. I’m sitting there in the early stages, hoping it doesn’t turn into a shooting gallery, and by the time it did, I was just about ready for a bit of payback. Well, payback isn’t really the right word because everything I shot felt like it was just sort of suffering and accidentally in my path, but…

What I’m saying is I enjoyed shooting all of those poor wretches because eight hours of being on the receiving end of all kinds of abuse left me itching for some kind of response. I do think the latter stages, on the ship and in the mines, drag a little, but I appreciate the pacing. It’s not just a bit of this and then a bit of that, it has great little swerves and crescendos. I think that’s my favourite thing about it, the pacing. It’s very good at getting out of the way when it needs to, knowing when to tighten the vice, and when to let you breathe a little easier, and then to get your adrenalin pumping again.

Alec: The ship’s the section I’d lose, where the game most threatened to fall into routine after all the unpredictability that had gone before. Partly it was the fairly straightforward monsters and door locks approach, partly it’s because their spooky little girl simply wasn’t spooky, and instead just A Sneering Baddie. Conversely, when we unknowingly met her in a different form earlier in the game, when the silent old woman in the wheelchair keeps appearing in unexpected places, that was when my heart came closest to stopping. It’s a shame they didn’t do more with that, really - or even the opposite, simply never addressed it and left her terrifying and unexplained.

The first three sections though - the repeat encounters with the initially immortal Mia, Jack and Marguerite - are simply brilliant, though. Best horror game I’ve played in ages, that. Though I could see through much of the AI/stealth smoke and mirrors, I was in a sustained state of fear that is deeply unusual for me. Almost to the point that I wanted to stop playing, but the setpieces gave me the catharsis I need. What a great reinvention this has been.

Adam: It’s my favourite horror game from the last few years as well. Probably just about beats Alien: Isolation. Direct comparison isn’t entirely useful, but Resi is much more energetic. It sprints forward where Alien creeps around for an eternity.

It’s a cracker. And what a lovely start to the year. On a final note, have you played the Remake of Resi 1? Because when I replayed that a couple of years back, I adored it, much more than I expected to, and a lot of its design does show itself in seven, in interesting ways.

Alec: I’ve not, but I’m tempted to - got a real appetite for more now. I remember the one on a train - Resi Zero was it it? - very fondly. Had some of the same claustrophobic, oh-god-what’s-behind-the-door thrills, even if the baddies themselves were nowhere near as effective.

I think I want them to remake the whole lot in first-person, mind you. Can’t imagine going back to shouldercam now.

Adam: Tanks, but no tanks.

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