31 Days of Horror – visiting the house of horrors of Resident Evil: Biohazard

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to sit at the Sawyer family dinner table in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or stare across from one of the Firefly Family from Rob Zombie’s House of 1,000 Corpses, look no further than Resident Evil: Biohazard.

The Capcom franchise, which made its debut on the original PlayStation console all the way back in 1996, was an originator of the survival horror genre of gaming in addition to spawning several sequels and a hugely successful movie series that released its concluding entry this past January.  Each Resident Evil spin-off has had their fair share of lovers and haters, but following the muted response to Resident Evil 6’s shifted focus towards action gaming tropes rather than horror, it was clear to Capcom that a new Resident Evil installment would need to up the scare factor.

In Resident Evil: Biohazard, players take control of Ethan Winters, whose wife, Mia, has been missing for three years. Having received a mysterious message that she’s still alive, Ethan’s search leads him to a deserted house in Louisiana, where Ethan meets the twisted Baker Family, led by the patriarch, Jack. Ethan must fight to save himself and Mia, while uncovering the secrets contained in the house.

With Resident Evil: Biohazard, the developers have managed to simultaneously innovate the franchise, while also bringing it back to its survival horror roots. Action sequences from more recent installments have been replaced with a focus on exploration, searching and scoping out environments, a welcome return to the earliest Resident Evil games. In some sequences, the smart move is to actually turn tail and run rather than facing off with a monster head-on. When it’s not scaring the shit out of you, the game is asking you to think about your movement and manage your resources wisely.

The most obvious and highly anticipated change from previous instalments is that Resident Evil: Biohazard is the first of the franchise to adopt a first-person perspective, allowing players to feel more immersed in the story. This immersion factor can be heightened still by those players who own the console’s new VR technology as the game includes a special mode for this, allowing players to be able to take a full 360-degree view of the abandoned house, creating a genuinely tense and terrifying gaming experience.

The old stand-byes from previous Resident Evil installments are present and instantly familiar  – there are herbs to find and combine to restore health, you’re always on the lookout for weapons and ammunition, while solving puzzles are a means to enter locked rooms. Familiar doesn’t mean boring though; in the first person, though, everything you do in Resident Evil: Biohazard becomes that much more visceral and personal, including boss battles that are right in your face. Don’t expect zombie hordes this time around though. Mutating, seemingly unkillable humans like Jack Baker and his son Lucas, along with various, viscous creatures are the core baddies this time around, though as the game progresses and the story is revealed, it doesn’t take much of a leap to discover what corporation is behind all the goings on.

While playing in VR significantly enhances the Resident Evil: Biohazard experience, it is by no means essential; gameplay is still effective without entering the matrix, as it were, thanks to the genuinely oppressive vibe of the creepy plantation.

For gamers looking for unrelenting horror action, Resident Evil: Biohazard may not be the game for you; this is an experience that takes its time delivering its scares and ratcheting up the tension, which ultimately makes reaching the end all the more rewarding.  It is, hands down, the scariest video game I have ever played.

This review originally appeared in Rue Morgue Magazine #176, May/June 2017.

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