I’ve not been following E3 too closely this year. I find that rather than stay up all night watching the conferences it’s much better to wait, spider-like, for the games to come to me, checking out the trailers and gameplay footage of just what I’m interested in. So imagine my surprise when one of the games that fell in my lap was Resident Evil 7, selling itself as a triumphant return to horror (and not a schlocky mess in line with RE6), and giving PS Plus members the opportunity to try a free demo, P.T style. Titled “beginning hour”, it turned out to actually be about twenty minutes. There isn’t much to discuss here, but I’ll go into what there is.
People have been comparing its atmosphere to Silent Hill, which is frankly baffling. It feels like a cross between Outlast and Condemned 2; it’s all in first person, you’re locked in a run-down, grubby farmhouse. You watch a videotape about the three-man crew of a “Most Haunted” type reality show searching the same house you’re in (which is playable, pleasingly), there’s an incredibly limp attempt at a jumpscare, then just as you leave an angry redneck welcomes you to “The Family” and twats you in the chops. The gameplay itself is bookended by Capcom’s “Kitchen” VR demo, which may well be scary in VR, but here it’s just dull. There’s no psychological horror, the imagery is bland, the scares have no impact, and the characters shown were irritating and just there to die. Credit where it’s due, walking around the house was slightly creepy, but P.T’s use of repetition and impossible space was far more effective.
Apparently, the demo was created specifically to be a teaser, and its content doesn’t appear in the game. I honestly hope that’s true, because there’s nothing here that felt like Resi to me. I have no interest in the series staying on the path that lead to the likes of RE6 and REvelations 2, but this feels like it’s gone too far the other way; emulating games like Outlast and Amnesia to fall in with the trend of first person horror with no method of self-defence. Resident Evil has a strong pedigree to fall back on, whether it be old-school tank controls of its Ps1 days, or the over-the-shoulder horror action started by and never done better than Resi 4.
Time will tell if Resident Evil 7 is any good, but if it’s anything like what’s shown here, it’ll be a depressing misstep taken by a stale franchise in a desperate attempt to stay relevant.
UPDATE: I played through it again, taking my time to explore the house. I found three new things, with two of them being noteworthy and one directly tying in to Resi as a series: a brief phone call with an unknown woman, and a photograph of a helicopter bearing the Umbrella logo and with “Are they watching us from that helicopter?” written on the back. Then I got twatted in the chops again, because the aforementioned angry redneck spawned in behind me in cheap fashion. I enjoyed the demo more this time, the atmosphere was more effective and genuinely creeped me out. But I still don’t think this is the right direction for Resi, and I don’t understand why it has to be part of the series and couldn’t be a new I.P instead. Having said that, I’m more interested to see what the full game looks like now, and I’ll buy the game for review.
SECOND UPDATE: Okay so when I wasn’t looking they added a load of new stuff to the demo and turned it into much more of a Resident Evil game, albeit one cribbing from Alien Isolation. There are guns in it, monsters, through-line boss characters who can be downed but not killed. The demo itself now has an abstract puzzle, multiple endings and all new areas with impeccable environment design; a bathtub full of blood, a toilet filled with blood and needles and a basement full of strung up corpses in bags. Also there’s a monster down there. “Welcome to the Family, Son” locks you in. So long story short the full demo, reports from journalists who’ve played the full game and its trailers have all got me hyped, and I absolutely will be reviewing it.
By James Lambert