Resident Evil 7: Biohazard Review

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Resident Evil is a series that, much like the undead themselves, refuses to die. It’s a series with a lot of baggage- for every amazing game with memorable characters, enemies and a decent story there are several titles that vary from bland with forgettable cardboard cutout casts or absolute dreck best forgotten, and yet so much of it is canon. Until last year I maintained that it needed to be rebooted or killed off for good. Capcom instead released a P.T-esque free trial that updated with new content over time, and announced Resident Evil 7.

Resident Evil 7 Biohazard, or “Resident EVII. biohazard” as it calls itself has been heralded by many as a return to the series’ old school survival horror roots. People said that about The Evil Within too though, so I was skeptical of this whole enterprise. For those unaware of Resi’s trajectory it started off with limited ammo, lots of puzzles and tank controls, moved on to horror action with Resi 4, then became far too actiony and completely fell apart. In short it would take something huge to get things back on track. Does it pay off? Or is it the final nail in the coffin?

You are Ethan Winters, faceless white man and a hardline opponent to the classic “Don’t go in there/touch that” school of horror thought, who after thinking his wife Mia has been dead for three years receives an email (a lot less flowery than the letter James Sunderland got) telling him to go get her from a farm in rural Louisiana. Turns out that was a bad move, and he ends up deep in True Detective country and at the mercy of the violent, cannibalistic and seemingly invincible Baker family, who are really annoyed at him not eating the plate of guts they made specially. Giving any further details on the story would spoil it, though I can say that everything in the plot that isn’t Ethan, Mia and the Bakers is weak. Not terrible, but boring, a tad cliched and generally not as good as the core dynamic between mad Hillbilly and captive; the third act sticks out like a sore thumb and has you running around a new area for about an hour learning a bit about the plot only for the game to tell you that now it’s time to go back to the Baker mansion and fight the final boss, who I actually quite like, so at least it ends well. The game makes good use of its influences and inspirations; the Texas Chainsaw Massacre connection is well established, but I was surprised how much parts of the game felt like the first two Evil Dead films (much to the game’s benefit- the opening twenty minutes or so make up the best Evil Dead game ever made), and the game has a touch of True Detective about it- in particular the opening shot of Ethan driving past a huge swamp, showing that Louisiana is a beautiful but haunting place with a whole lot of room for horrible people to do horrible things and never be found.

As I said earlier people have touted Resi 7 as a return to its roots, and I can confirm that for the most part that is accurate. Themed keys, puzzles based on eccentric architecture (The Bakers are fond of doors that are opened with shadows, of all things), enemies that are often better avoided than fought and limited inventory space return. The first person view definitely makes the game more tense, but personally I didn’t find it particularly scary at all, though not for lack of trying, and the horror here is strong. Fears that it would play like Outlast and Alien Isolation are assuaged; there are no hiding spots, and running from enemies is a strategic manoeuvre rather than your only survival option, and you’ll often be running past them rather than away from them. For the most part it really does feel like classic Resi, particularly the Baker estate’s main house and the dilapidated “Old House” which are reminiscent of REmake’s Spencer mansion and residence. You can defend yourself but sometimes it’s best to run. There are puzzles and exploration, and boss fights that for the most part are really rather good, apart from one later on that’s a pain in the arse. The improved combat makes it feel like Resi 4 through the lens of REmake. The shooting is solid and fighting off the Bakers is fun, but attention must be drawn to the games more expendable enemy: The Moulded. Simply put The Moulded are sludge monsters. They shamble like the Regeneradors from Resi 4, they look a bit like the leech man from Resi Outbreak, and apart from their initial appearance in the main house they’re boring and fighting them is no fun. Personally I would have preferred zombies or something similar, but things certainly could have been worse, and there are aspects of The Moulded I like; their ability to suddenly materialise from ooze covering the walls is both thematically relevant to where they come from and makes it seem like they’re almost a virus infecting the house itself, one that the Bakers aren’t aware of or don’t care about.

It’s quite a short game; it took me just over six and a half hours to beat on normal difficulty, and unfortunately due to the weak third act it feels like all the great stuff rushes by and just as you realise it you’re stuck with mediocrity and sludge monsters, pottering about until the admittedly good final boss and an ending revelation tied into the series as a whole that I would like if this was a reboot but apparently it’s set after Resi 6, so it’ll need some explaining. Fortunately as the game advertised just after its own ending credits there’s FREE ADDITIONAL CONTENT COMING SOON so that should clear things up.

Overall Resident Evil 7 is a treat. It’s quite a short journey and the third act feels like it belongs in a different, much less interesting Resi game but the majority of it is genuinely fantastic, and as a whole it’s the best game in the series since Resi 4, which came out twelve years ago. Somehow, miraculously Capcom managed to save the series, making a game that’s part Texas Chainsaw Massacre, part Evil Dead and a whole lot of classic, good Resi. A proper return to form for the series and a great way to start 2017.

By James Lambert

@jameslambert18

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You Died or: How I stopped worrying and learned to praise the sun

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Pictured: Bastards

I was wrong about Dark Souls. To a degree, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. In my review of Dark Souls 3 and its honourable mentions entry in my Game of the Year 2016 list I stated that it is the only good Dark Souls game. Well, I’m here to correct myself, for the record if nothing else. For the record: the original Dark Souls is excellent, but it still has problems. Obviously I’m not going to do a review of Dark Souls at this point, but I am going to give some thoughts on it both good and bad, because it does still have problems, and I can’t ignore them. Let the meeting halfway begin!

First of all I’m going to talk about difficulty. Yeah, Dark Souls and Bloodborne are hard, I’m not talking about that, everyone knows that already and general difficulty has never been my problem with these games. My problem is when it gets cheap, and regardless of what the Git Gud crowd well tell you this game can be incredibly cheap. Attacks that go through walls, bizarre hit boxes, making you drop into boss arenas and take damage even though there’s literally no other way down, these things are a problem. Having now finished the original game I have finally killed Fatman and Little Boy (seen in the picture above, real names (from right to left) Dragonslayer Ornstein and Executioner Smough)- a boss that stopped progress dead on every one of my previous playthroughs. Maybe it’s because I insist on playing the game by myself with only NPC summons but that should be a viable way to play the game, and indeed it is on every other part of the game. Also, to briefly stray off topic the one time I did try to beat OnS online I was invaded by another player and killed, therefore losing the limited item I required to summon NPCs. Personally I think if you’re going to invade and be invaded you should give permission or be on a separate server, or at least have an offline/online option on the main menu like in Bloodborne. Anyway to return to my previous point there are bosses and fights that aren’t fair in a way that goes deeper than “your sword takes a second or two to start swinging”. Ornstein and Smough are bullshit- it’s two on one, that’s the very definition of an unfair fight, and you have to fight a super powered one of whichever you don’t kill first. The Bed of Chaos, a later boss, is borderline broken- a platforming boss in a game with shit platforming controls. My point is the game isn’t the perfect, “every death is your fault” masterpiece people say it is, but that’s okay. This may seem like a redundant point but it matters to me; when I started the game for the first time I was one of the people that spouted the “every death is your fault” line because I was scared to criticise the game, then had an epiphany and went aggressively in the other direction. Now I’ve found a pleasant middle ground- Dark Souls is fantastic and I love it; Solaire, Siegmeyer and Sieglinde, New Londo; a bleak, flooded nightmare vault filled with Darkwraiths, ghosts and the Four Kings. Blight Town, Quelaag and The Fair Lady and the haunting, ash desert of The Kiln of the First Flame. Knight Artorias, Manus in the world’s most nightmarish archeological site, and Sif the Great Grey Wolf; these are all things that will stay with me- these are a what make the game great. It’s just that for all of those there’s two re-skins of the tutorial boss, the Bed of Chaos, curse build-up, getting magic’d through the wall by Dark Sun Gwyndolin, sniped off the ledge by the Anor Londo archers and killed by something that brushed gently past you because it counts as you taking an attack. New Londo and The Kiln are good, but the Demon Ruins and Lost Izalith are slogs through shit bosses, eye-ruiningly bright lava and boring enemies. The pleasant middle ground I mentioned is that I love the game, but acknowledge that it has problems- it’s flawed but still good. I’ve beaten the game twice now, killed all the bosses and done the DLC. So to sum this whole thing up I’ve made a transition: from bootlicking hyperbole to disdain, to a middle ground when I can admit that I was wrong and that it is a very good game but with flaws. You have to discover things on your own terms, as I’ve become increasingly aware of. Anyway, as I said this is more for the record than anything. I’m away. Don’t you dare go hollow.

By James Lambert

@jameslambert18

Death is no Disgrace : Thoughts on Call of Duty Infinite Warfare

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I love Call of Duty. Apparently I’m some kind of freakish anomaly though, because I literally only play them for the campaign, but I do love me a COD campaign. Since the original Modern Warfare I’ve beaten them all with the exception of World at War and Black Ops 3- I point this out to give context to what I’m about to write, and so you know that I know a thing or two about these games. When Infinite Warfare was announced I wasn’t particularly interested, but I didn’t get all the flak it was taking. Sure, Battlefield 1 looked better but this looked fine, certainly better than Ghosts, which of the ones I’ve played remains the absolute worst by a considerable margin. I played and finished IW’s campaign over Christmas, and while I don’t feel like I can review a COD game without playing the multiplayer, I do want to talk about the campaign. Spoilers to follow

The Cast

Apart from the player character being voiced and portrayed by Brian Bloom (BJ Blazkowicz and Kane from Kane and Lynch) the cast is nicely diverse. A Black, English Staff  Sergeant and his Irish and Canadian marines accompany you on most missions, and the player character’s closest friend and colleague is a Female Lebanese Lieutenant, who does everything you do and more. The characters never reach the heights of say, Soap, Price and Gaz/Ghost but they’re a likeable bunch, and player character Nick Reyes is full voiced and gets to have a personality both during and in-between missions. The primary conflict from a character point of view is Reyes’ overly close attachment to his men and women- he’s made Commander and Captain of the Space Ship hub level you inhabit early on in the game and so has to put people in harm’s way when that’s the last thing he wants to do. But it has to be done, because…

The Villains

…the enemies this time around are a hardcore death cult based on Mars that force twelve year old boys to undergo fifteen years of military service, consider suicide missions part of the job and treat the very act of not handing yourself over to them for execution baffling. Kit Harrington’s character Admirial Salen Kotch (pictured above) is in the game for about two minutes before he shoots one of his own men just to show that he’s completely unattached and therefore has the resolve to win. This article’s name; “Death is no Disgrace” is his catchphrase, and in context is basically means “let us execute you, it’s no big deal.” What’s weird is despite using tactics that make them look like some desperate, last-gasp resistance they outnumber the protagonists’ faction by a considerable margin, and are basically the empire to your revel alliance. Reyes and co are part of the UN and represent Earth as a whole, whereas the Settlement Defence Force hate everything even tangentially related to Earth and actively seek to destroy it, being based on Mars in an undisclosed year where travelling through and living in space and on different planets is commonplace.

Space

This is the aspect most people seemed worried about or disdainful about on the run up to its release, but for me Infinity Ward pulled it off, especially when you compare it to the missions in Ghosts where you went into space. It’s much less cluttered, enemies are clearly marked on your HUD, and the way you actually move through space is smooth and easy. A combination of boosting up and down with free 3-D movement, a grappling hook used for both quickly travelling directly to a single point or CQC killing enemies and the ability to spin your entire body left or right for a different angle of fire make being in Space enjoyable, which is good because you spend a fair bit of time there. The missions set on planets are largely standard COD fare but there are unique standouts, like one where you have to stay out of direct sunlight, as its proximity powers the killer robots you’re trapped with, and will cook you to death. There’s also a fair bit of spaceship combat, in which you stay in one area and manoeuvre around it shooting small fighters and big warships. It’s fine, but nothing special at all.

Sidemissions and load outs

With the exception of one mission, every mission once Reyes is Captain of The Retribution lets you pick what weapons and gear you take in with you, which hasn’t happened since Black Ops 2. It might not seem like much but it adds a personal layer to every mission, which I always like. Also it has side missions worth playing. Unlike the out of place tower defence shite in Black Ops 2 that were directly linked to important story events that would change if you failed them, these side missions focus on the almost pirate-esque, guerrilla raids conducted by the UNSA- sneak aboard an SDF ship, kill high value targets/rescue hostages/steal a weapon or piece of tech and get the hell out again, blowing up the ship behind you if possible. Only one of these missions is mandatory (as in doing one is mandatory, not one specific mission), but with the exception of the ones centred on space combat I gladly did them all.

The Conflict

The guerrilla tactics play into the larger conflict depicted in the story; you are the underdogs, and the Goliath you’re fighting is more than happy to send waves of waves of themselves at you on suicide missions without batting an eye, because that’s just how they fight. It all comes to a head during the game’s final mission, when almost the entire named cast dies in a suicide mission of your own, because as far as they’re concerned that’s the only way you can win. At one point the super weapon you’ve commandeered to destroy the AA guns protecting the SDF’s base stops working, and the fighter pilot you order to destroy the final gun tells you he’s out of ammo. So Commander Reyes tells him that it’s really important that gun go away, and the fighter pilot kamikazes into it. The very last thing to happen to Reyes is being blown out a window and, as his helmet breaks, dying in the cold, heartless vacuum of space. Now, killing the protagonists of Call of Duty games is nothing new- Infinity Ward use it a lot in the CODs they helm, but the way it happens here is emblematic of the tone and narrative in this game, and what marks it as an evolutionary step for the series. Whereas in, for example, Modern Warfare 2 you play as a voiceless, faceless soldier named Gary “Roach” Sanderson who dies to reveal the twist identity of a hitherto unknown villain, Commander Nick Reyes spends the whole game with a prominently displayed voice and face, doing everything he can to prevent as many deaths and injuries to his subordinates as he can until, in his mind at least, he has no choice other than to send the majority of them to their deaths and die himself.

For or better or worse (entirely dependent on personal opinion) Infinite Warfare’s campaign is a big step forward into new territory for this series. Ever since Modern Warfare 3 Infinity Ward’s been floundering while Treyarch and newcomers Sledgehammer have made solid games that kept the fire alight without doing anything particularly spectacular or new. It makes sense Infinity Ward bundled this with Modern Warfare because they’ve had a similar effect on the series. It’s just a shame they had to hold it ransom in what will always be an incredibly scummy business decision. Infinite Warfare’s really good though, and I do recommend it. Well, the campaign at least.

By James Lambert

@jameslambert18