When those dobermans crashed through those windows in the first "Resident Evil," jolting me and countless players from their seats, Capcom's survival horror series rewrote the rules.
Video games, to that point, didn't scare you like that. They didn't attack you like that. They didn't violate the safety of your surroundings like that. But they did after "Resident Evil."
Now, more than 20 years and series installments since that moment, "Resident Evil 7: Biohazard" has rewritten the rules again.
Capcom's mainline successor to 2012's "Resident Evil 6" sheds that game's dangerless shooting and globe-trotting story almost completely. Instead, "Biohazard" takes the series in a direction that draws from the scariest of the scary: the cryptic storytelling of "SOMA," the found footage conceit of "Outlast," the perceptual manipulation of "P.T."
The game's closest comparison, however, isn't a game but a movie: "The Force Awakens." What J.J. Abrams' movie did for "Star Wars," "Biohazard" does for "Resident Evil": It reboots a story that had nowhere to go while retaining it as canon, and modernizes storytelling that's become dated while retaining what defined it so memorably.
That approach, and Capcom's ability to realize it, may just raise "Resident Evil 7" to the same highmost series tier as the first game's GameCube remake and the similarly reinventive "Resident Evil 4." It's not just an instant horror classic but also a lifeline to the series, one whose newly traumatizing power all but ensures "Resident Evil" lasts another 20 years.
What's your most vivid memory of "Resident Evil"?
(Warning: Minor spoilers below.)
The story of "Resident Evil 7" will be unfamiliar, even to fans, except at the most basic of thematic levels. You take — for the first time in the mainline series — the first-person perspective of Ethan, who travels to the Louisiana bayou in search of his three-years-missing wife, Mia. His search leads him to the Baker house, but its pale, unhinged family takes him prisoner.
Exploring the darkened house, as Ethan tries to get in and then get out, is where "Biohazard" most excels. Though fairly linear, the house contains a depth of humid detail atop its cluttered dressers and inside its grimy refrigerators that slows your pace to a terrified crawl. Millipedes, mold, disemboweled doll and people parts — it's a tour de force of Southern horror atmosphere.
The game's presentation enhances the effect. Without a HUD, and with minimal but recognizable menu interfaces, you feel more immersed in that horror. Capcom more than holds up its end graphically, too, rendering every inch of the Baker compound with flashlit realism and upping the immediacy of being trapped there with an unfailing 60 fps framerate.
Throw in some now-you-see-it visual scares from Capcom, and you're in the thrall of your surroundings. That makes it all the more jolting when Ethan is confronted, suddenly, by the Bakers, who won't let you go quietly into that swampy night. Seemingly indestructible, their dogged presence inspires flight more often than fight.
It's the way the Bakers appear, however, where "Biohazard" rewrites the rules. They don't just crash through walls you think safe, they appear in spaces you think secure. They inflict damage you think beyond the pale, take damage you think beyond your means. They continue what the first "Resident Evil" started, creeping ever further into your comfort zone.
The game continues to innovate — and creep — with its few VHS tape sections. Finding the tapes lets you relive their events from the perspective of their camerapersons, and Capcom uses the device to both sketch in backstory and inform Ethan's encounters with puzzles and the Bakers themselves.
"Resident Evil 6" is a strange monster of a game.
As "Biohazard" goes on, though, the game becomes more familiar. A third of the way through, Ethan meets the Molded, shambling or crawling beings of oily flesh who can be stopped with a lot of bullets or one exceedingly pinpoint headshot. Outside of the game's bosses, they remain its only opposition to the very end — so by then they've all but completely lost their teeth.
The game's bosses, meanwhile, can feel like bullet sponges the first go-round. Cleverly designed as the fights are, they turn deadly quick because the bosses can absorb dozens of clean hits to Ethan's two or three. By the time you've beaten them, though, you're ready to do so again in half the time: Most just require finding the right weapon, strategy or focus on a weak point.
The ability to speedrun "Resident Evil 7" speaks to a deeper similarity between it and the first games in the series. Navigating the Baker house, collecting ornate door puzzle pieces and cramming what you need into limited inventory slots will feel familiar to "Resident Evil" players even if "Biohazard's" story points don't.
The puzzles themselves don't evoke the same nostalgia, though. Aside from one standout environmental set piece midway through the game, they can all be solved in seconds. One simply requires rotating a few paintings to match the orientation of duplicate paintings across the room.
Those critiques join a slightly disjointed endgame flow as the few faults in "Resident Evil 7." Because you've both survived the experience and seen glimpses of how the Baker saga ties into that of "Resident Evil" at large, finishing the game is an exciting sensation. It beckons another run because it's been demystified and decoded — and because now, you know the rules.
If you play
GAME: "Resident Evil 7: Biohazard"
TL;DR: With a tiptoe pace, eerie bayou atmosphere and survival horror play that rewrites the rules to bone-chilling effect, "Biohazard" marks a righteous reinvention of the bloated "Resident Evil" series.
GENRE: Survival horror
CONTENT RATING: Mature for blood and gore, intense violence and strong language
PLATFORM: PlayStation 4 (also available on Windows and Xbox One)
PLAY: Single player
DISCLOSURE: I received a review code for this game from Capcom and completed it on normal difficulty in about 10 hours.