Resident Evil 7: Final Hours
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a complete overhaul in gameplay within the Resident Evil series. Way back in 2005 Resident Evil 4 was released to appreciative fans everywhere as they welcomed the new change in camera angle and overall pace in action gameplay. No longer was our camera fixed and our characters tankish, we were free to move and play how we wished and this style of gameplay would continue to be the staple of the franchise from now on… That was until E3 of 2016 and Resident Evil 7.
We were all excited for this year’s E3, with the insurmountable amount of leaks before the show even started, everyone knew what to expect of the big hats come day one of the conferences. One of these major leaks/rumors was that Resident Evil 7 was to be showcased in one of the conferences, or at least expected to be seen on the show floor. This news came as a bit of a sour pill for some as many would expect that we would be getting another Resident Evil game akin to Resident Evil 6, which was critically panned worldwide. Others expected a return to roots sort of deal with the next installment, returning to days of fixed camera angles and a greater focus on survival horror and leaving the boisterous hollywood theatrics behind. For me, I was hoping the latter were true. As much of a Resident Evil apologist that I am, even I had to admit that Resident Evil 6 was less than stellar and maybe it was time for a change. But what we got with Resident Evil 7 is something I really didn’t expect.
Resident Evil 7 is now a First-Person horror experience -for lack of a better description- and now intends to follow the same path as the recently cancelled duo of Silent Hills (or P.T.) and its fan-made Indie spiritual successor Allison Road. Is this a good step for the slowly dwindling Resident Evil franchise? Nobody knows for sure but for me this change didn’t really sit well…
After Resident Evil was showcased at E3 they stated that a demo would be available to everyone to download and play for themselves on PS4 and I wasted no time in doing so. I downloaded the demo and jump in head first, keeping an open mind through it all. The game opens with our unknown protagonist waking up in what appears to be Leatherface’s summer home. Equipped with nothing but a flashlight and my wits, I head onward to explore this dusty, garbage infested farmhouse. My immediate reactions to the opening of Resident Evil 7’s Demo was that it was solely trying to cash-in on the success that was the five-star demo of Silent Hills. So with this in mind I was expecting this demo to keep me on the edge of my seat, scaring mek and messing with my mind every chance it got. However, this never occured and I guess I’m ok with that, as for me, Resident Evil was never a scary franchise – apart from that one scene from Resident evil 1 when the dog jumps through the window, damn that dog! – for me Resident Evil was always about the fight or flight moments. Should I save the ammo I have to fight a boss later on? Or use them just now to increase my chances of survival against this horde of zombies? Should I use my last Green Herb to heal myself just now and return to the savepoint and retrieve more? Or continue on and chance my luck I’ll stumble upon some more? These are the moments that stood out for me, so I’m ok if they decide not to scare the bejesus out of me.
Within the first 5 minutes of gameplay I am greeted with the familiar inventory and puzzle solving mechanics that I loved from the series. Picking up all manner of nonsensical items that will one way or another prove useful later on, carefully managing my inventory space so that I can quickly use my Mannequin’s Finger in a jiffy if I ever myself in a hurry. Though I am glad that the puzzle mechanics are still present, the demo only features basic “key to lock” puzzles where one item is obviously used to unlock a door or cabinet. Nothing overly complex in nature but it is just a demo after all.
The most notable part of the demo is when you find the VHS tape with a ghastly story to tell. The tape allows you to relive the recorded event through the eyes of the camera man if you play it in one of the rooms within the farmhouse. In it we see a bunch of young entrepreneurs as they’re filming an episode for their ghost hunting tv series. All of whom visit the creepy abandoned farmhouse to find out it’s not so abandoned and ultimately meet their demise. The VHS tape gives the player some hints on what to do next which ultimately leads to the completion of the demo. A short precise demo which tries to revive the thrill and bone chilling terror that was P.T. unfortunately fails to hit the mark, and maybe that’s for the best.
I’m going to be completely honest and say that the Resident Evil 7 demo wasn’t as horrible as I was expecting, but the connotations of what this could have for the series is the true horror within this demo. The First Person perspective gives off a more personal visage of gameplay. Allowing the player to feel as if it’s them that’s facing the horrors that’s confronting them. What does this mean for our usual protagonists then? Will we ever get to set foot in our favourite characters boots again? And if so will it be from this perspective? Distancing ourselves from the characters we’ve grown to love and putting them in backseat as Capcom opt for a more immersive experience in the hopes that people invest into VR and slowly forget that we ever had these characters to begin with.
One thing that it’s plainly obvious to me – and hopefully a lot of other people- is the absence of combat. Combat was an essential part of the series with all manner of virus infected zombies trying to rip and tear away and your flesh or some hulking mutated monster ready to gut you in an instance, the only thing stopping them is your trusty handgun and limited reserves of ammo. Again, I am aware this is just a demo, so Capcom probably couldn’t squeeze everything they wanted in. Something that is heavily hinted at, is you can pick up a hand axe and swing it about, but since there are no enemies or interactive object to use it on, it feels pointless. It is too early to tell if there will be combat at all, how will it fair, but if there isn’t its going to be a major departure for the series.
There isn’t much in the way to do in the demo bar pick up a few items and walk about. There are multiple endings depending on how you play the demo and you may notice some things you didn’t on your first time through. Ultimately, there is nothing here that screams Resident Evil aside from a picture with an umbrella logo and hints to “The Family” – a reference to a secret cult Introduced Resident Evil 6. And that’s why I think this actually isn’t a Resident Evil game; in a sense. Years ago Konami done something similar with Silent Hill 4, in that it wasn’t supposed to be a Silent Hill game at all, but rather they attached the name to the game at a later date to potentially garner more attention and sell more copies. And I think Capcom have done the same thing with Resident Evil 7. It feels like Capcom originally had designed the game around VR in hopes of marketing a new and original game that will make use of PS-VR, again jumping on back of the success of P.T. but somewhere down the line they realised that if they stuck the title of Resident Evil on it then they’d generate more hype and sell more copies come release.
Silent Hills (P.T.) Demo was successful because it played to the main strengths of the Silent Hill franchise, the disturbing and horrific nature of the game that kept you wondering what you were actually looking at and the idea of a disconnected world; one which didn’t have to make sense. And it worked in its favour. You had a dismembered head in a bag lecturing you with riddles, ghosts that twitched aggressively and violently, a talking unborn fetus, and a never ending looping hallway with incredibly obscure puzzles to solve. Everything about this felt like it would fit nicely into the Silent Hill universe.
In my eyes, the Resident Evil 7 Demo never played to any of the strengths the series is known for; characters, puzzles, or combat. None of it was really present. When Capcom announced that Resident Evil 7 was returning to its roots, I was expecting something along the lines of the original three games, fixed camera angles and the likes. Resident Evil 7 is more of a reinvention of the franchise than a return to its roots. For many, Resident Evil was much scarier for them than it was for me and maybe a return to horror for them is what these fans are looking for and thats fine. The only thing that is scary about Resident Evil 7 is that it’s a numbered entry in the franchise rather than a doting spin off like the Survivor games. Meaning even if Resident Evil 7 does half decent in sales then we could probably expect this new First-Person perspective/VR experience to continue through the rest of the series (for a good while at least). If this is true, I’ll be soon pining for the days when Resident Evil 6 was acceptable. I was hoping for a new Resident Evil game at E3 this year, but this wasn’t the game I was hoping for.