Resident Evil 7 May Just Reanimate Series
Resident Evil is a franchise that’s lost its both its mind and identity in recent years. What started as one of the pioneers of the survival horror genre, introducing elements and ideas nearly every horror game steals from in some capacity, devolved into a loud obnoxious explosion fest with the tone of a Saturday-morning cartoon. Goodbye tension, challenging monsters and limited saves, hello campy action, moustache-twirling bad guys and boulder punching. With Resident Evil 6 being the supposed final nail in the coffin for any aspirations the series had for being a legitimate horror experience, a lot of its fans expected Resident Evil 7 to be dead in the water.
Oh, how wrong we were. Much like the Umbrella Corporation’s infected monstrosities, the latest installment in Capcom’s franchise shocked everyone at Sony’s 2016 E3 conference, not just by existing but for staying true to the title’s roots with its atmospheric first-person survival horror. Everyone thought it was more of Kitchen, Capcom VR tech demo, before the title screen. It was a masterful act of deception and viral marketing made only better by the game’s playable teaser becoming available to download shortly after.
After finishing, I can officially declare the lengthily titled Resident Evil 7 Biohazard Teaser – Beginning Hour resembles nothing from the prior installments in the series in the best way possible.
The demo begins with a simple objective. You are trapped in an abandoned house somewhere in the rural American south and are given one objective: escape. You have a flashlight, no weapons and a creeping suspicion that you are not alone.’
From here, the entire demo is 20 to 30 minutes of nonstop tension and atmosphere. It would be trite to compare Resident Evil 7’s teaser to the infamous masterclass in horror demos, P.T., but there are some noticeable parallels. In addition to the usual tricks to keep the player on edge like flickering lights, crumbling architecture, abundant use of insects, etc., both used environmental blind spots such as long corridors, slowly opening doors and rooms always revealing themselves at right angles. They’re all deliberate geographical design decisions made to always make you dread looking around, afraid that all of the tension built up will pay off in a jump scare.
But while Beginning Hour doesn’t have a truly overt aggressor or iconic monster, it does retain Resident Evil’s use of disturbing key-hunting puzzles. Not all of the puzzles need to be completed to get to the end of the demo. In fact, the community is feverishly going through the demo multiple times looking for any secrets hidden among those puzzles, but it’s the same puzzles that do an exemplary job of adding more intrigue to everything happening. A brilliant sequence happens near the end Blair Witch Project style, a clear sign Capcom is going back to the series’ roots of intense survival horror rather than double down on the B-grade action horror tone that’s overtaken the franchise in recent years.
This is made abundantly clear by the fact any and all of Resident Evil’s past items or characters are nowhere to be seen. No green herbs, zombie dogs or giant snakes here, just some puzzles, a threatening presence and some gruesome imagery. For long-time fans of the series who have gotten used to such elements being in a Resident Evil experience, this can be seen as a slap in the face considering its 20-year history, but this was a smart move by Capcom. Ever since the disastrous reception of the jumbled mess that was Resident Evil 6, Capcom has done everything in its power to reset their series back to its basics.
The Resident Evil Origins Collection was released on current-gen consoles, introducing new players to the claustrophobia and danger of the first game’s iconic Spencer Mansion. Resident Evil: Revelations mixed things up with deep-sea-like monsters rampaging around an abandoned cruise ship. There are small environments, tension and diverse enemies in both scenarios, not unlike the home you wander through in Beginning Hour.
Of course, this is still a demo of a work in progress, so chances are Capcom will be listening to feedback going forward. However, if they stick to their guns by keeping this game focused on atmosphere and intrigue first and explosions second, Resident Evil 7 might just be the re-animating agent this series needs.