Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
Xbox One/PlayStation 4/PC
One of my favorite gaming memories came by way of Resident Evil 2. Originally released in 1998, my adolescent friends and I huddled around the ol’ television for a night of spooky puzzle-solving, zombie-blasting fun. There is a scene during which you have to traverse a narrow hallway, with windows that are covered by boards to your left. The scene is eerily quiet — and nothing happens when you pass by the first time.
On the second time, however, in the presence of the same eerie silence, zombie arms burst through the windows and grab the hero, Leon Kennedy. This scene caused me to break a Nintendo 64 controller on the ceiling, and cemented my love affair with the series.
Well, that is, until the fourth installment, when it all went horribly off the rails. With Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, the long-running franchise has returned to its break-a-controller-out-of-terror roots, and praise Umbrella for that.
Resident Evil is a series of many iterations. The first through third were well-known for their so-called “tank” controls. Characters moved awkwardly on a pivot to turn and run or shoot. The goal of the initial trilogy wasn’t to be the fastest gun in the zombie apocalypse, but instead to use your noggin to solve rudimentary puzzles in old mansions, cultish police stations and international prisons.
In particular, the horror came from the knowledge that you were seriously outgunned and your only hope for survival was to, well, survive by any means necessary — hiding, running or otherwise. You were chased by mutated zombies — Mr. X, a hulking brute in a trench coat, would literally burst through walls at inopportune times, forcing you to run for your life. In the third, Nemesis, a similar baddie, uttered your team’s name before decimating them in a pursuit that only ended with the death of yourself or of it.
Resident Evil 4 changed all that. Developer Capcom saw that the series was growing a bit stale and so injected it with a new concept: Leon Kennedy, protagonist from the second game, could now run and shoot, movement was fluid, the game was more action-y than puzzle-y. Oh, and there were no zombies. Rather, the iconic zombie as presented in the original trilogy and created by the evil corporation Umbrella was no longer the threat. Rather, infected villagers were the enemy – and the gore was off the charts.
Leon became the subject of brutal chainsaw decapitations that were shown in all of their grizzly horror. He could be pushed into a spinning fan blade and chopped to bits; he could take a spike to the head; a parasitic creature could bite his face off. Gone were the days of atmospheric horror, replaced by the unfortunate gore-porn made popular by the likes of Saw.
The story took a turn for the worse as well, becoming more convoluted than doing your taxes, through Resident Evil 6. And then, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard.
The seventh installment features none of the series’ iconic protagonists. Rather, you’re just a dude trying to escape a house wherein a family of horrific, cannibalistic psychopaths reside along with their pets, the so-called “molded” — Lovecraftian creatures born of, well, mold.
This is the reboot the series needed, desperately, to pique the interest of fans of the original. More hide-and-seek than shoot-your-way-out, Biohazard (which is actually what the series goes by in its native Japan) is freaking terrifying at times, a bit ridiculous at others, but completely fun. Sure, the gore still remains, which is something I’ve never personally been a fan of, but returning is the idea that to be scary, the monsters need to feel like an actual threat — and a threat they are, as the Baker family, as they are known, stalk you in familiar form as once did Mr. X and Nemesis.
Who’s to say if Resident Evil 8 won’t thrust us back into the mess that was 4 through 6, but until then, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard will continue to make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, as if I, too, am a part of the moldy Baker family.