“Resident Evil” regenerates

“Resident Evil 7: Biohazard” is a bold experiment — a brazen attempt to steer the franchise away from its action-heavy later entries and back to the horror that used to define it. While the game does stumble in its last few hours, the time leading up to this is so engaging, beautiful and terrifying that the slightly disappointing finale does little to detract from this fantastic game.

            The game is centered on Ethan Winters — a man who receives a strange message from his wife three years after she went missing. Ethan quickly finds himself trapped in the house of the psychotic Baker family and must find his wife and escape.

            Each member of the villainous Baker family is distinct. From Jack’s relentless pursuit to Marguerite’s twisted covenant with insects, the Bakers make every moment tense.

            From the beginning it is clear that Capcom has shifted the focus back to horror. With moldy hallways and cramped crawlspace, the twisted old house is dripping with atmosphere. There is a palpable sense that something is amiss in the ramshackle plantation. This is not a game afraid to build tension. Almost as much time is spent creeping through claustrophobic halls and poking around basements as is spent in combat, whereas in the more recent games every problem was to be tackled head on —and with heavy artillery.

“Resident Evil 7” instead borrows from more contemporary titles like “Amnesia” and “Outlast.” Early sections find you largely unable to defend yourself against the supernaturally strong Jack Baker, making stealth your best option in the opening house.

            That is not to say that combat is out of the picture entirely. Ethan makes use of a variety of firearms, from pistols and shotguns to an improvised flamethrower. The catch is that ammo is so scarce that every combat encounter makes players weigh their options carefully. Is it better to kill this mutated creature or should you slip past it and save your firepower for something even more deadly?

While George Romero and David Cronenberg films inspired past games, “Resident Evil 7” draws from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “The Evil Dead.” It exudes a cheesy, B-movie charm that stops the game from being oppressively dark. Like the best of the 80s-era schlock films, it is equal parts horror and hilarity, balancing genuine terror with campy excess without giving audiences whiplash.

Further cementing its approach of marrying the old with the new, there are tapes of literal “found footage” that you can collect in the game to experience past events from another victim of the Baker’s perspective. These derive inspiration from modern films like “Grave Encounters” and “The Blair Witch Project.” Each tape you find is distinct, providing a hint of what’s to come while also drastically changing up the gameplay.

One standout tape places the hapless temporary protagonist in a sadistic trapped room, providing one of the best puzzles in recent years.

This is a game with personality. In this age of cookie-cutter sandboxes and copy-paste first person shooters, it is a breath of fresh air to see a triple-A game in a stagnating franchise reinvent itself.

“Resident Evil 7’s” greatest strength is its ability to juggle disparate, seemingly opposite, gameplay styles and tones while still remaining cohesive and unique. And while its 11th-hour switch to a more action-oriented experience is imperfect, “Resident Evil 7” still provides the best big budget horror game of the last 10 years and easily the best of 2017 so far.