“The Mummy” Review

the-mummy-2017-after-credits-hqDirected by: Alex Kurtzman
Starring: Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Russell Crowe, Jake Johnson
Plot: Thought safely entombed in a crypt deep beneath the unforgiving desert, an ancient princess, whose destiny was unjustly taken from her, is awakened in our current day bringing with her malevolence grown over millennia, and terrors that defy human comprehension.

It seems everyone and their mother wants a cinematic universe these days. With Marvel’s cinematic universe breaking box office records with every entry, all the studio wants a piece of that box office pie. And that means making a cinematic universe out of anything and everything. Disney has Star Wars alongside Marvel, Warner Bros have their DC Universe, The Conjuring universe and their upcoming Hanna-Barbera Universe, Paramount is desperately trying to make a Transformers universe a thing while Sony tries to make a Spider-Man universe… without Spider-Man.

Universal meanwhile are planning their own universe. Titled Dark Universe, this universe will bring together all of the classic Universal Monsters from Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolfman, The Mummy, The Creature From The Black Lagoon and even The Phantom of the Opera. The Dark Universe kicks off with The Mummy, hoping to get us all excited for this ultimate monster mash. So how does it fare?

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Well, as the launching pad to a new cinematic universe, The Mummy certainly hits all the right beats. It introduces the universe, introduces several key characters and sets up the franchise going forward. However, it never exactly quite comes together.

It’s hard to pin exactly what went wrong. Was it the script? Was it director Alex Kurtzman? There’s just something about The Mummy that stops it from stepping out of the “passable entertainment” barrier. It’s a shame, as there’s plenty of good ideas on show but none of it ever really connects in the way the filmmakers seem to want it to. In fact most of the film’s second act, which is where most of the world building for the Dark Universe takes place, feels oddly out of place and seems to be at odds with the first and third acts. Having the film completely stop so Russell Crowe’s Dr Jekyll can give us a guided tour of what we can expect in future movies just doesn’t seem to fit naturally into the film. It’s a longer equivalent of Batman sending Wonder Woman an email filled with teaser trailers for future movies in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It just doesn’t fit naturally into the current narrative. An Easter egg during this segment, implying this film is also set in the same continuity as the Brendan Fraser Mummy movies, only complicates matters further.

Tonally the movie is all over the place, suffering from apparently not knowing what sort of movie it wants to be.  Is it a horror movie, an action movie, a tongue in cheek adventure movie or a direct lead in to a Monster mash up film? The movie can’t seem to decide and jumps between each one on a scene by scene basis. It does each genre well while it’s doing them, but the jumping between them leads to it being very hard for any form of engagement to occur during them. Scary moments are suddenly undercut by a comedic moment, action moments are suddenly waylaid so exposition for future movies can be spouted and so on and so forth. It leads to a very tonally disconnected experience. The movie would have been better served by sticking to just one or two of these elements and doing those well rather than all of them. A slightly tongue in cheek horror-action movie, with slightly more focus on the horror, like the first Brendan Fraser Mummy movie was the perfect tone for this reboot yet the movie seems to show an aversion to having a consistent tone.

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This tonal inconsistency also leads to the film’s lack of scares. While a definite attempt has been made to try and add some scares to the movie, at least those of the jump scare variety, none of it really makes an impact due to comedic moments always undercutting or interrupting scary scenes. Perhaps this was an attempt to lighten the tone by the studio in order to get a 12a rating, an attempt that failed since the film has got a 15, but it raises the question as to why a movie universe theming itself around monsters would be afraid of being scary. Warner Bros’s The Conjuring universe is doing just fine at the box office and those movies are all out horror films so it’s not a matter of Box office.

But there are some good ideas here. The mythology created for the film is particularly well done. The backstory for the Mummy herself Ahmanet is actually pretty great and makes me wonder how good a movie would have been that was more focused on her.

For indeed the star here is Tom Cruise. For better or for worse, this is his movie. And that’s ultimately all there is to say here. Cruise is a divisive actor and if Cruise has yet to win you over, then he certainly won’t here. While Cruise does a decent job in the role, you can’t shake the feeling that he’s oddly out of place and very miscast. The role itself feels much more suited to a younger actor (with Chris Pine feeling like a better fit for the character). The Mummy may have been better served by having Tom Cruise take another role in the Dark Universe, one more suited to his talents. Seeing Cruise as Dracula (to harken back to his An Interview with a Vampire days) or as Johnathan Harker or Quincey Morris in the upcoming Dracula movie may have been a better place for his talents. Which isn’t to say Cruise is bad in The Mummy, but he feels incredibly miscast.

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As for the rest of the cast everyone does a fine job with one notable exception. Annabelle Wallis lets the film down by delivering a very flat performance. While this could be an issue with the writing (about 40% or more of the character’s lines are just her shouting the male lead’s name), it’s a crying shame to see that while female characters are getting more and more well written in movies like Wonder Woman, we’re still seeing the decades old “blonde damsel in distress” continue to make appearances.

Sofia Boutella however does an excellent job as the titular Mummy herself. While she doesn’t get a lot of screen time to truly make an impact, she does leave a good impression making me hopeful she’ll return in future instalments to flesh out the character more. Russell Crowe also makes a good impression as Dr Jekyll and his sinister counterpart Mr Hyde, serving very well as the “Nick Fury” of the Dark Universe.

In terms of visuals the movie is… fine I guess. There’s a few nice shots here and there, some cool visual touches but nothing that particularly wows. It all feels very machine like in a way, there’s no real invention here and instead it all feels a little too like Kurtzman is trying to emulate other directors rather than find his own style.

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But there is good points to The Mummy. It’s enjoyable mostly, there’s a few good jokes and a few good scares here and there with enough entertaining aspects for it not to feel like a waste of money. There was never a moment where I felt bored or unentertained so the movie has to be given some credit for that. And the movie certainly succeeded in its job in making me excited for the rest of the universe. But there’s the problem. The Mummy made me want to see other movies more than the movie I was watching, which doesn’t bode well.

The Mummy is just another entry in the finely tuned Hollywood reboot machine. Recognisable actor + Beloved franchise + lots of sequel and spin-off set ups. This leaves the film being an enjoyable way to pass two hours, but ultimately unremarkable on its own. More obsessed with setting up the Dark Universe than standing on its own two feet, The Mummy is fine on the surface but underneath the bandages it’s the hollow and tonally confused corpse of a franchise that once was. But despite that, there’s still fun to be had here.

5.5/10

“Prey” Game Review

Released: Out Now
Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Platform Reviewed On: PS4 Pro

The Prey brand has had a lot of trouble over the years. After the first well received entry, the franchise immediately fell into trouble and it would look like Prey 2 would never arrive. That sadly turned out to be the case. Now, years later, Arkane Studios (behind the incredibly popular Dishonored series) have revived the series. But instead of being a remake/sequel to the original Prey, this game is more a reinvention, bearing very little similarities to the original and, if rumours are to be believed, the game was not originally intended to use the Prey name at all. But ignoring all that, how does the game fare?

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Well ultimately the game is a success. Its fun, it’s thrilling, it’s scary. In short it’s everything a horror game should strive to be. Taking place aboard the space station Talos I, the game finds players waking up as amnesiac Morgan Yu and finding out their entire life as they know it has been a lie. With Talos I currently suffering an outbreak of a strange alien race known as the Typhon, it’s up to the player to figure out what to do, where to go and who to trust. And that’s all I’ll say about the plot. Because the best thing about Prey is the real sense of being at a disadvantage. Due to the player’s amnesia, there’s the overwhelming paranoia that every other character in the game is taking advantage of it. As many you encounter claim they are the only one you can trust, it’s up to the player to decide who is lying and who isn’t. For this is one of the most peculiar things about Prey. It’s sense of total freedom. While the game is ultimately a very linear game, it is still incredibly open for players to do what they like. Feel a certain character could betray you? Go ahead and kill them. There’s no repercussions. While the story itself is ultimately very shallow (much of the depth to the story is found through optional material), it’s still engaging enough that you want to see it through to the end. Especially since it’s probably one of the few times where it’s true that the story is truly your story.

This openness also extends to the game world itself. While some areas are locked away for story purposes, there’s nearly always a way around it. A way to open a door before it should be. This amount of total freedom that Prey offers players is almost unprecedented in today’s gaming world. Even games that promise to let players do what they like often make it impossible for certain characters to be killed or certain areas to be accessed before they can be. So this amount of freedom is a welcome one.

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Prey’s freedom also extends to the gameplay. Arkane are big promoters of the “play your way” style and Prey is no different. Abilities are numerous and varied with one to suit every playstyle. Favour stealth over direct confrontation? You can upgrade your character to move quicker and quieter and hit harder with stealth attacks. Favour going in all guns blazing? Upgrades to health and weapon power are available. Favour using telepathic powers? Yep. Upgrades for that too. There’s enough upgrades to suit every player’s playstyle. I still find myself amazed how many options I have. I ultimately favoured a more balanced playstyle (in order to sample as many of the abilities as I could) and found the game allowed me to explore any ability path I chose that, by game’s end, I felt my Morgan Yu was utterly unique. Depending on playstyle, it’s very likely no two players will have the same experience. One player may find Prey a fun, all guns blazing action game while the other may find it a slow, tense horror thriller. This sort of style also makes Prey an immensely repayable game.

Prey’s enemies, the Typhon, are just as varied. While there are only a limited amount of enemies (there are only about 10 different enemy types from memory), the game mixes them up enough that no two encounters ever feel quite the same. From smaller enemies, Mimics, that can take the appearance of everyday objects to hide and to larger enemies who will actively seek you out, there’s enough variety that the game never feels unbalanced. Perhaps the best enemy type is the “Nightmare”, introduced once the player either reaches a certain point in the story or purchases too many upgrades. The Nightmare actively hunts players down for a limited period of 2-3 minutes. The player must then make a decision; kill it or run. Neither option is a permanent solution, because it will always be back. The sense of paranoia created here is amazing for the Nightmare’s appearances are truly unpredictable. Recalling memories of Nemesis from Resident Evil 3, the fear of always being hunted is amazing.

The game’s soundtrack is amazing as well. Apart from a few niggles (some sound effects are a little too loud, making for quite an uneven mix at times) everything sounds great. Mick Gordon (who did the score for the Doom reboot last year) does an excellent job here with a very electronic sounding score that, at times, manages to be more unsettling at times than the game itself.

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Plus something has to be said about the scares. While the game does overdo “jump scares” at first, when an object you think is safe suddenly turns out to be Mimic accompanied by a loud musical sting, the game levels out after a while and while such sequences are still scary, the mix is a lot better. Likewise this adds to a lot of paranoia throughout the game; did that chair just move?

Combat is fast, fun and fluid. With a host of weapons and abilities on offer, there’s enough to suit every playstyle. A great mixture of guns, powers and other weapons gives you a large armament to face off against your foes with. While ammo can be limited at first which is frustrating, you can quickly find fabrication plans allowing you to craft as much ammo as you need. Requiring you have enough material that is. Being able to craft ammo is a bonus as some enemies are bullet sponges and will take a lot to put down.

The game also mixes things up by introducing Zero-Gravity. The outside of the station is free to explore, acting as a “fast-travel” system of sorts. The Zero-Gravity is a fun addition that is frustrating and awkward to use at first, but after a while it quickly becomes second nature and is preferable to trekking through the entire station (and all the enemies within) just to reach a certain area.

Perhaps the game owes more to System Shock than the original Prey, indeed the developers themselves have called the game a love letter to System Shock. Prey then, feels like a successful successor to the series. To sum up Prey, it’s a successful blend of System Shock, Bioshock and Alien: Isolation.

In a year that has already provided strong competition in the horror genre with Resident Evil VII: Biohazard, it’s hard to believe that a game has already come along that is better. Offering a longer story (if one chooses to seek out optional objectives like I did, the game can take over 18 hours to beat), addictive gameplay, lots of freedom and endless replayability; the Prey reboot more than lives up to its name and emerges as, not just a great game in its own right, but one of the best games, if not the best, of 2017 overall so far. An early Game of the Year contender? I’d argue that is very possible.

9/10

 

“Alien: Covenant” Review

Directed by: Ridley Scott
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Cudrup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz
Plot: The crew of the colony ship Covenant, bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, discovers what they think is an uncharted paradise, but it’s actually a dark, dangerous world. When they uncover a threat beyond their imagination, they must attempt a harrowing escape. The crew encounter the planet’s lone inhabitant, the android David (Fassbender) sole survivor of the Prometheus expedition. But is he a friend? Or could he be worse than the horrors they are escaping?

Alien: Covenant is a strangely titled film. Its title seems to suggest this film will adhere closer to the franchise roots yet in practice the film is more a sequel to prequel/spin-off Prometheus than anything else. While this isn’t inherently a bad thing, it might be best for one to temper their expectations when embarking on this entry. Not to say there isn’t lots of Xenomorph action, there’s plenty, but the film does also continue the story Ridley Scott began back in 2012.

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But that doesn’t mean to say the film answers all of Prometheus’s lingering questions. The true motives of the Engineers are, for now, still a mystery. The answer of what happened to Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) is shocking and horrific, yet also serves as a way to close the book on that story. For now at least, the mystery of the Engineers will remain just that. Instead, Covenant feels more like a course alteration; for the first time in decades, it feels there’s a definite plan for the future of the franchise. With Scott planning at least two more films (with Scott confirming one of them will lead directly into Alien), perhaps it’s a good thing the answers aren’t coming now. For only an unskilled storyteller would reveal all their mysteries in one go. This film is content with peeling back the layer of mystery just a little, to give us a glimpse of how horror’s most iconic intergalactic killers came to be.

Various Alien sequels all attempted to do various things with the creatures, yet if Covenant proves one thing it’s that no one tops the master. The Xenomorphs, here with several new variants such as Neomorphs, are once again frightening. Teaching a lesson to all the Alien wannabes out there (such as Life released a few months back), Scott takes a masterful touch to the body horror we all know and love. For without a doubt this is the goriest of the Alien films. From a scene early one where one of the creatures decides to burst from the host’s back rather than the chest, you know this is going to be something different.

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So it’s in fact surprising the creatures don’t get as much screen time as you’d think. Not to say the creatures feel underused, but they play second fiddle to various other aspects of the film. But when the creatures are the focus, they’re a joy to watch on screen. It’s been so long since we’ve seen the Xenomorphs in action on the big screen (not counting the dismal Alien vs Predator films), that every second they’re on screen is a blast. Hopefully we’ll be seeing plenty more of them to come.

But ultimately, the creatures are surprisingly not the main draw here. The main draw for certain is Michael Fassbender’s David. David was the best thing about Prometheus and the same is true here. David, in his years of isolation, has apparently developed a bit of a god complex and it’s the scenes David shares with fellow android Walter (also played by Fassbender) that emerge as the strongest in the film, including a rather surreal moment where David kisses his counterpart. As David slowly tries to corrupt Walter to his way of thinking, the audience is forced to ask themselves; is David just a robot who’s gone a bit mad or has he actually developed his own being, his own purpose? At what point does David stop being a robot and start being a person? For, like Pinocchio, David no longer has any strings holding him down and is a “real boy”. All these questions and ideas are so interesting, that one almost wishes there were less Xenomorphs and more David.

Katherine Waterston meanwhile shines as Daniels, this film’s Ripley stand-in. Daniels is more emotionally vulnerable than Ripley, leading to a great contrast between the two. Waterston calls to mind Ripley from the original film, inexperienced, scared and fighting for her life. Daniels is a very capable protagonist and one very easy for audiences to root for. If Waterston doesn’t return for Covenant’s sequel, it will be a wasted opportunity.

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Another emboldening aspect is just how gorgeous the film looks. From the New Zealand location shots to the gorgeous sets of a destroyed Engineer settlement to the grungy hallways of the Covenant (which bring to mind the industrial feel of the Nostromo from the original), every set is packed with detail and beauty. While the film doesn’t play on colour all that much (a definite attempt to tone the colours down as much as possible is apparent) it doesn’t stop the film itself from looking beautiful. After seeing the film, I understand why the decision was made to release a horror film in IMAX. Because the film deserves it. Hopefully a HDR colour grade on the UHD Blu-Ray release will make the film pop even more.

Special mention must also go to the film’s sound mix. Like any good horror film, sound is an essential tool of the film. It provides an envelopment experience that can’t help but draw you in. Jed Kurzel’s score is also a high point, especially for nods to Jerry Goldsmith’s original score for Alien.

Alien: Covenant then is not only a worthy entry in the franchise, it’s one of the best. Outshining Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection, Covenant takes its rightful place as the true next instalment in the Alien series. Following Prometheus of course. Beautiful, disgusting, terrifying and shocking all at the same time, Alien: Covenant emerges as one of the strongest films of the year so far and, perhaps, of the summer season overall. I look forward to seeing how Scott shepherds the franchise onwards over the next two films.

9/10

“Resident Evil VII: Biohazard” Review

RESIDENT EVIL 7: BIOHAZARD REVIEW

Released: 24/01/17

Available on: PS4, Xbox One, PC

Platform reviewed on: PS4

I’m low on health. There’s no healing items in my inventory. I’m low on ammo. I hesitantly make my way down a hallway. Suddenly Jack Baker (one of the game’s four main antagonists) rounds the corner in front of me, his weapon in hand and a wicked smile on his face as he says “How’re you doing, boy? It’s been a while.” And it certainly has. Not only have I been playing a prolonged but deadlier game of hide and seek with Jack for much of the last hour, it’s also been a long while since Resident Evil felt this scary; succeeding in making me feel completely powerless in a way that hasn’t been done since the earliest entries in the series.

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Because there’s no denying the Resident Evil series had lost its way. In 2004, the series attempted a new direction away from pure horror with Resident Evil 4 which favoured a more action and gunplay oriented approach from the start. This worked as it created a whole new sense of fear – the opening village battle in that game is one of the tensest and pulse racing moments in the entire series. After the success of this approach, Capcom kept it for the next two entries; Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil 6. However these games began to sacrifice the horror in favour of the action. In 6, the monstrous Ustanak, who was hyped up as the new Nemesis (a monster always chasing after the player) was simply the source of highly scripted explosive set pieces. This was just one of 5 and 6’s many shortcomings including muddled plots, repetitive gameplay, incredibly campy dialogue and scenes and ultimately just not feeling like Resident Evil anymore. Thankfully, Capcom decided to return to the series roots for this new instalment, but with a fresh twist; Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is the first game in the main series (not counting spin-off titles) to have a first person perspective, putting players in the literal shoes of new protagonist Ethan Winters who is just an average guy, a far cry away from the Hollywood action hero types of Chris Redfield and Leon Kennedy.

Picking up four years after the events of Resident Evil 6 (which are thankfully not brought up), Resident Evil 7: Biohazard sees Ethan arrive at the seemingly abandoned Baker plantation in Dulvey Louisiana in search of Mia, his wife who’s been missing and presumed dead for three years. A mysterious email has led Ethan and his search for Mia here, but not all is as it seems. This large and complex house has secrets. Soon Ethan finds himself trapped in the Baker mansion as the Baker family themselves; father Jack, mother Marguerite and son Lucas patrol its halls ready to make Ethan their next victim. Guided over the phone by a mysterious woman named Zoe, Ethan must find a way to escape from the Baker estate and find Mia before it’s too late. But is it love waiting in the darkness? Or something else?

The plot of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is one of its strongest points. So much is kept vague and hidden from the player until the final parts of the game that it makes you want to keep playing just to determine what the hell is going on. Ethan is an easy to root for protagonist and his search for Mia is a fairly easy one for us to get invested in. However, the story does take some surprising twists and turns which I will not spoil here and ends with something that is bound to shock fans and leave them ravenous for the next instalment.

But the true appeal of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard lies in its antagonists; the Bakers. All three members of the family have distinct personalities and each one favours a different approach. Jack, for example, patrols the halls of the mansion and is easily the quickest of the Bakers. If he sees you, your best bet is to run and put as much distance between you and him as possible. Marguerite must be either sneaked past or tricked and led to another part of the house giving you time to head back to where she was patrolling to do what you need to do. Lucas must be outsmarted, as he favours complex death traps and games over physical confrontation. Fighting is an option but is only recommended when you’re cornered and have nowhere to run, because even if you do manage to kill them, none of the Bakers will stay down for long. It’s amazing how distinct the three Bakers are and each one comes with their own challenges and approaches and each of the Bakers has enough great moments that could see them become iconic villains for the series; be it a chainsaw duel with Jack (which is every bit as awesome as it sounds), to Marguerite appearing out of nowhere and sending hordes of insects after you to the complexity of Lucas’s games and traps, with the “Happy Birthday” trap being a particular stand out due to its creepiness.

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But don’t worry, the Bakers are not the only problem you have to deal with; for the Baker mansion is also home to creatures known only as the Moulded. These monstrous creatures are more typical Resident Evil enemies and are who you’ll most of your time fighting. Conserving ammo and going for headshots is a must here as, like classic Resident Evil games, ammo is in short supply so you don’t want to be wasting all your bullets taking down a few Moulded only to be short for a boss fight later. In fact, the trick is knowing when to fight and when to run. The Moulded will often only stick to specific areas and will not venture beyond them (at least at the start of the game) so it’s wise to know when to pick a fight. The Moulded come in several varieties and each one requires a slightly different tactic, especially since later in the game the Moulded will come to infest previously safe areas and will begin to swarm you in cramped areas so you’ll have to think quick to survive. However, while the Moulded are scary the first few times you fight them towards the end they become a bit of an annoyance and you can’t help but wish for a bit more enemy variety. There’s only so many times you can fight a different type of Moulded before it becomes old.

Speaking of combat, it’s fluid, quick and easy to pick up. While your aim may be terrible at first, very soon you’ll be scoring headshots in no time. And most importantly, the combat is fun. It’s not difficult or tiring. The bonus “Nightmare” game mode (available in the Banned Footage, Vol.1 DLC pack) is an excellent place to hone your skills against increasingly difficult waves of Moulded and with the variety of weapons available in the game, combat is at the best it’s ever been in Resident Evil.

But perhaps where the game truly excels is in its call-backs to classic Resident Evil. The Baker mansion seems to have been built by the same architects behind the Spencer Estate from the original game because the mansion is filled with complex locks and puzzles that would be right at home in the original games. Doors require obscure items to unlock, strange keys must be found to open doors and more. Capcom promised this game would be a return to the series roots and they were telling the truth. And most importantly, the game is actually scary. Nothing comes close to the sense of fear created in this game, be it avoiding the Bakers, being swarmed by Moulded or just being terrified of what might happen around the next corner. It may be a different perspective, but this is the first time Resident Evil has felt like Resident Evil in a long, long time.

Perhaps the game’s only major flaw is its length. Skilled players can beat the game in 6 hours or less (there’s even a trophy for beating it in less than four) and with only two endings available, replay value is slim. This is where the Madhouse mode comes in. Madhouse amps up the difficulty of the game, adds more enemies, makes them tougher, mixes up locations of items and removes checkpoints, requiring manual saves (but only if you have a cassette tape in your inventory). Madhouse is an extreme challenge and can easily add several more hours onto the game. After this however there is very little. At the moment. The DLC, Banned Footage (out now) adds more gameplay in the form of six extra modes (Bedroom, Nightmare, Ethan Must Die, Daughters, 21, Jack’s 55th Birthday) that add a lot of replayability. Nightmare and Jack’s 55th Birthday in particular are reminiscent of the Mercenaries mode from 4, 5 and 6. With two story add-ons on the way, it seems Capcom is trying to keep players coming back to the game with a steady drip feed of content that really should have been in the game to begin with.

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But overall, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is a massive return to form for the once floundering Horror series. Excellent gameplay, excellent scares, a great story, great antagonists and more make Resident Evil 7: Biohazard one of 2017’s must play games already. My only problem is that I wish my stay with the Bakers was just a bit longer. But ultimately, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is a triumph for both the series and the survival horror genre as well. Hopefully this will send a message to other publishers with popular horror franchises languishing (Silent Hill and Alien: Isolation in particular). Welcome home, Resident Evil. We’ve missed you.

8.5/10

  • Great gameplay
  • Great story
  • Frightening antagonists
  • Series is back on form
  • Lack of replayability without DLC
  • Poor enemy variety.