Resident Evil is at a pivotal moment as a series. There have now been three numbered titles featuring the same over-the-shoulder perspective introduced in RE4, and with each new game the fanbase has had a more and more mixed response to the increasing focus on action and scale, and apparent decrease in classically scary, tense survival horror. The series needs a major shake-up with Resident Evil 7 to refresh the look, atmosphere, gameplay and most importantly make a much-requested return to the roots of the terrifying survival horror genre it birthed in the first place.
If the Beginning Hour teaser demo for Resident Evil 7 (released this week on PS4 and coming to other platforms in the future) is even remotely representative of the full game’s direction, we’re in for one hell of a ride come January 2017.
DEMO SPOILERS AHEAD
I’m going to start out by saying that I spent almost none of Resident Evil 5 being scared of what’s around the corner, and only a small portion of Resident Evil 6’s Leon campaign wandering around in fear of what lurks in the darkness. Meanwhile, in the Beginning Hour demo, supposed to take approximately 15-20 mins, there wasn’t a single moment where I wasn’t squirming because of a dark corner or a distant sound.
That isn’t even the impressive part – what’s more notable is that the entire demo contains really only one major jump scare (at the end), and maybe two or three minor frights such as a nearby mannequin falling over. There wasn’t a single enemy to fight, nothing to run away from, nothing to hide from. Virtually every ounce of fear and adrenaline I felt was entirely generated by the masterful crafting and implementation of tension and atmosphere, nothing else.
[This next segment is essentially a story summary – skip to next line break if you’ve played the demo]
For context, the demo contains several “endings”, some not yet believed to be found, with two main series’ of events so far, both leading to the same story conclusion. You start off as an unnamed character who is tied up on a chair, with another man on the floor in front of you. He gets up and starts to cut your ties when he hears something behind him, then the screen cuts to black. Cue a video tape title card stating that the following footage was found in the “same house”, recorded by a man named Clancy.
This “footage” is in fact the playable demo. You wake up on the floor of the lounge of a dilapidated building, with a note on a table in front of you that simply says “I SHALL DASH THEM AGAINST THE STONES”. From this point, the player is free to move about. Within the demo, there are multiple objects to find, not all are required for each ending, and each ending requires different objects.
One sequence of events that I call the “escape” ending involve you finding a locked back door that requires a key, and picking up nearby bolt cutters to break open a chained-up cupboard. Within this cupboard is a video tape, which can be played in a machine back in the lounge you started in. This tape opens with a similar title card, detailing that the footage was recorded by the same man, Clancy Javis, a little over an hour before the demo’s footage was recorded.
The footage is once again playable from the perspective of Clancy, who is in fact a cameraman hired to accompany the producer and host of a paranormal show to the building for a rehearsal. The three men get as far as the kitchen when the producer goes missing and a noise is heard from the lounge. The host finds a handle inside the fireplace which opens a hatch in the wall. Behind the hatch is a trap door to a basement of sorts, and the player is told to go down first. At the bottom of the ladder, the player finds the producer facing a wall, and approaches him. The producer falls on the player, dead, having been mounted by the face on a pipe protruding from the wall. At this moment, a figure steps over the camera, and the footage stops following multiple screams.
Now knowing of the hatch, the player can go through it to find a key at the top of the ladder, which opens the back door from the start. Upon apparently escaping the building, the player is turned around by force and is knocked unconscious by a man saying “Welcome to the family, son.”
An alternate version of events sees the player enter the hatch before viewing the tape, finding a fuse on a table near the entrance. This fuse can be placed into a wall-mounted fuse box, giving power to an upstairs button which opens a new set of stairs to an attic area. Upon entering the attic area, a phone can be heard ringing, which upon being answered will trigger one of multiple possible phone conversation between the player and a mystery woman, depending on what other actions have been performed. When the player attempts to leave the room, they’re grabbed and beaten unconscious in the same way as the “escape” ending.
The phone conversation that I had went:
“Woman: I know who you are.
Clancy: Who are you?
Woman: You have the power to choose, but the outcome of that choice may not be what you expect.”
*Woman hangs up*
Multiple other phone conversations take place, one where she states that you have a choice of some kind, and one talking about the importance of memory. The significance of these conversations are not yet known, though some have theorised that the woman on the phone could be Ada Wong.
It should be made very clear here that Capcom have now confirmed that this demo is purely a “tonal preview” than a content preview. This means that whilst the content of the demo will not be in the final game, it’s an accurate display of the types of gameplay and atmosphere that will be present throughout the final game. Not all of the gameplay pillars are present in the demo, other elements central to RE‘s DNA like combat and puzzles will absolutely be there in RE7.
This really doesn’t matter all that much, what’s important is that the primary cries from the fanbase have been answered in earnest. We’re being dropped right into the heart of possibly the most unsettling and terrifying atmosphere of any RE game to date, it doesn’t appear that we’ll have any buddies to hold out hands (with the only people we met in the demo being lost or killed within five minutes), and this new first-person perspective certainly adds a whole new layer of realism and terror to the whole experience.
The game features a whole new cast of characters, so it’ll be far easier for the first-person perspective to make you feel like it’s YOU edging your way through a tense, eerie environment rather than watching over the shoulder of Leon or Chris. The monsters are after YOU. The jump scares will jump out in front of YOU. Nothing like this has been done before properly in RE, and it’s certainly a major leap forward for the series. Many will complain of the huge jump from the third-person perspective of other RE games and claim it’s not the same series anymore, but the same was said when we changed from fly-on-the-wall to third-person, and look how popular RE4 was…
A lot can be said also for the calculated and efficient use of scares to hold the balance of fear of what’s coming round the corner, without killing the tension and conditioning the player to not be afraid anymore with things jumping left, right and centre. As I said earlier, there’s really only one main “jump”, and that’s when you get attacked at the very end. There are a few other smaller scares during the demo, but they’re perfectly measured to drop just as the player starts to relax a little. From things like the shuffling of feet upstairs to the small things like the note moving from the table to the TV, with the message changing to be directed at the player.
Possibly my favourite scares of the entire demo is the excellent use of the game’s physics and the disarray of the environment. I cannot count the number of times I was wandering through the kitchen and jumped across the room when I heard a small crack right next to me, only to find I’d stepped on some broken glass, or a loud grind as I step backwards, screaming simply because I’d backed into a kitchen chair. This kind of design really brings the environment to life and makes good use of it; stealth games have always been big on recognising that the environment makes sounds, but this takes it a step further entirely.
As one could probably gather, I could talk about this demo all day, but the reality is it deserves every good word it gets. Capcom have created something truly incredible for its next big title in the series, answering the requests of fans everywhere for more fear and a true return to the roots of Resident Evil. One can only imagine how it must play in VR… If you’re curious, these E3 interviews should give you a good idea!
What do you think of the move to first-person? Have you played the demo?
Let us know what you think in the comments!