Resident Evil VII: Biohazard

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Resident Evil VII: Biohazard

Postby IamLEAM1983 » Mon Jan 30, 2017 3:05 pm

Have you ever watched a loved one falter for a few years, sink time into bad decision after bad decision, and turn increasingly away from their offered promise - only to suddenly make a stunning return to form? If so, then you know exactly how a lot of the series' fans are feeling today. RE7 is the result of Capcom admitting that the franchise was in dire need of assistance, desperately required that one miraculous shot in the arm after over a decade's worth of paltry entries - and delivering it. It understandably isn't perfect, but what's on offer remains compelling and unique. There's an ugly beauty to RE7's decayed Louisiana, a greater focus on realism that only makes the series' typical drops into Body Horror all the more arresting. The tone feels grounded, your protagonists' exuded sense of vulnerability serves a clear purpose, and everything largely comes together in a deliberately grotesque tableau. Right off the bat, this is something any serious horror fan should seriously consider purchasing.

Resident Evil 7 opens on sweeping pre-rendered shots of a Louisiana bayou, and of a car sliding down a narrow stretch of road. That's Ethan's car, and Ethan's travelled to the Dulvey parrish of Louisiana after receiving news from his missing wife, Mia. She's seemingly resurfaced there after three years of absence. Ethan, upon hearing this, has thrown caution to the wind, packed his bags and elected to go look for her on his own. His road ends in front of a crumbling plantation house with a locked gate and a busted intercom, as well as the remains of a ghost-hunting show's video recording gear. The receding daylight gives a gorgeous look of decay and encroaching wilderness to the forest, and a few ominous signs are thrown along the side path Ethan chooses to follow to the guesthouse.

As could be expected, the guesthouse is darkened, also in severe disrepair, and covered in all manner of filth. Long-neglected meals adorn the dining room table, cockroaches happily flitting around the mouldy and decaying patches of food left in the plates. Open the fridge and mouldy strands of goop connect the door to the storage compartment. The plumbing gurgles and then dies if you so much as touch at the sink's knobs. Of course, the front door's also closed and locked itself behind you for unexplained reasons. Your only means out of the house is forward.

In true RE fashion, even the comparatively small guesthouse is locked off into various sections, each of them requiring a bit of snooping-around and adventuring off the beaten path to find items needed to progress. Your inventory is pitifully small - again, according to the series' typical mechanics - so you'll need to pick and choose what to carry, what to store and what to leave behind. The house, mansion and other areas are littered with safe rooms to be used to save your game, as well as with interconnected storage bins that allow you to easily access items left behind. You'll also find video tapes scattered throughout that, when played in any of the game's VHS players, will allow you to switch perspectives for a bit. These extra segments might allow you to play as Mia or the ghosthunting crew's cameraman, and provide useful clues regarding puzzles Ethan will face at a later time. They also introduce tension in generally placid stretches of Ethan's adventure, preventing the game from devolving into prolonged fetch-quests.

Speaking of tension, you'll owe yours to the degenerate Baker family. Scattered throughout are signs that this used to be a family of well-to-do and properly-educated good ol' boys, but something unforeseen has plunged the trio into nadirs of squalor and insanity. Jack is now the gleefully murderous patriarch of the bunch who revels in his invulnerability and relishes the violence he spreads, while Marguerite Baker is seemingly obsessed with broadening her family ties and interprets her husband's preying on Ethan as being his attempts to "welcome" him into the fold. Motherhood is an especially murderous and gleeful endeavour for her; her similarly twisted nature being presented as a gift received from some other wretched source, insanity and a ridiculously effective healing factor being presented as examples of love and devotion. Lucas Baker, on the other hand, doesn't quite have Momma or Poppa's sheer physical dedication to the cause, but is largely unkillable, at the very least. What he lacks in strength or tactical wherewithal, he makes up for in deviousness, having turned the family's barn into a SAW-esque deathtrap you'll have to push through.

Then, there's Mia. Wifey is indeed there to be found, but something seems to be holding her hostage, forcing her to remain with the Bakers - to the extent where her features will warp and turn utterly murderous if Ethan so much as insists on needing to escape the plantation. She's seemingly found a wretched sense of place here, and will fight to preserve it. It also doesn't help that she's turned into every bit the juggernaut that Jack Baker can be. You'll have to kill her - multiple times, at that - before getting at the root cause of the horrors plaguing Dulvey and maybe, possibly saving your wife.

Not that Ethan'll have it easy, though. He's no Leon Kennedy and especially no Chris Redfield, moving along at a plodding pace that's necessary to keep the Bakers' Jason Voorhees-worthy stalking sufficiently effective. Injured from very early on, Ethan can't exactly sprint reliably and will quickly rely on nondescript chemicals in green bottles in order to heal his injuries. The Bakers' regenerative capabilities can seemingly be bottled up and used to reattach severed limbs or regrow lost legs - in one of the grodier "healing" animations I've seen in a long while - and anabolics designed to boost your health can be picked up in a few locations. As deliberate as his pace is, Ethan is forced to play keep-away with the Bakers and the less-fortunate would-be inductees into the family. The Molded are fungoid monstrosities on two legs best handled by employing Dead Space's "tactical dismemberment", so the more tense parts of the game revolve around running circles in the mansion or elsewhere, occasionally stopping to pop a few caps in Daddy Baker's noggin. Thankfully, ammunition isn't so much scarce as it can be a little hard to find - with a few puzzles requiring difficult sacrifices. Will you sacrifice your swanky new shotgun for the sake of adding weight to a pressure plate, or will you wait until you find something that's appropriately shotgun-sized to open that secret passage?

This results in an engrossing, multi-tiered and engaging experience, while the Horror aspects are largely subjective. Are you the type to be keyed off by jump scares or who reacts with physical revulsion at the sight of particularly disgusting enemy designs? If so, you're likely to be scared. If you're more the type to hate oppressive atmosphere, poor lighting, mouldy beams and crawling bugs, you might also get the creeps. That's admittedly where I sit, as atmosphere matters more to me than execution. The Moulded don't scare me, but the cramped secret passages that litter the Baker estate do. Brightly-lit areas offer a false sense of security I've learned to hate, to the point where seeing a blackened and pulsating humanoid mass creep out of a basement room's gloom is oddly comforting to me.

Notably, however, RE7 is the first game of the series to be penned by Western hands. The result is dialog that fits the tone, Southern Gothic accompanied with sufficiently realistic sadistic yeehaws from Jack Baker and his using affectionate epithets to suitably unnerve you. He's not quite Foghorn Leghorn gone homicidal, but the very fact that this comparison came to mind should indicate that there's attention placed in what amounts to a slight parody of Southern linguistic and cultural notions. Compare and contrast with the Sawyer family of Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame, and you'll see what I mean. The only exception is Texas-born Mia, who sounds unaccented except when her inherited superhuman properties take over. Then, the same voice actress leaves the "distraught meek spouse" chirping behind and almost goes for her best Death Growls. It's jarring, but effective. Personally, I can appreciate this kind of effort a lot more than the Hideki Kamiya era's lot of inexplicably Baroque Midwestern small-town police precincts, Resident Evil 4's hilariously poorly researched take on rural Spain, or the Ashford family's weird insistence on wearing Rococco outfits in the midst of a modern zombie outbreak.

I guess what I'm saying is that RE7 feels more naturalistic to me, oddly truer-to-life, considering how medically and conceptually impossible its entire premise is. It's the first entry of the series which I found to not only be set in America, but to at least try and fit with American and Western conceptions of realism. If the earlier entries featured about 70% Japanese Body Horror nonsense and 20% technical realism, I get the sense that the split has been reversed entirely. We don't need ornate costume designs or ridiculous boss fights involving a dude with a giant eyeball protruding out of his right shoulder using it to shoot lasers at us - all we need is a basic perversion of the human form - something the Moulded deliver amply - and characters that appear human, only to behave in ways that challenge our expectations.

The first time I killed Mia, she came at me with a chainsaw, demanding that I leave her on the plantation to die. I couldn't so much as argue with her, couldn't so much as leave, either, her invading presence pushing her to handle the problem my presence posed in an excessively proactive way. She'd just cut off my left hand, adrenaline forcing me to soldier on as I clumsily tried to fire a pilfered nine-mil her way. Reloading with a single hand was a pain in the ass, and it earned me more than a few nasty surface cuts from her chainsaw's blade. What finally did her in - for the moment - was an axe I desperately reached for. I plunged the blade into the crook of her neck, had to watch as inhuman rage vacated her features and shock replaced it.

"I love you," she said, which chilled me to the bone. Somewhere underneath that undying juggernaut which inexplicably resented my presence, my wife needed my help. I couldn't leave her, regardless of how Jack Baker jumped me from behind and unceremoniously "welcomed" me to the family with a right cross to the jaw. You could argue the game tries to debate on the importance of belonging to a group, on the sense of fulfillment some experience in mindlessly expanding it. It reminded me of the Quiverfull movement, a group of religious zealots claiming that the Bible orders families to have as many kids as possible. The Bakers seemed intent on welcoming one and all into their freakish group of regenerating degenerates - at the increasing cost of what had once been. The shades of a once-normal and happy family are everywhere in the estate, and they offer plenty to think about.

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard marks a true return to form for the franchise and one that, hopefully, will propel the lore in new directions.
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