Resident Evil 7 Is Tense And Scary, But Is It Resident Evil?

Without a doubt the biggest surprise, for me, this E3 was that Capcom were ready to reveal Resident Evil 7. I was under the impression the game was a long way away from being formally revealed. Not only that, but the form in which Resident Evil 7 would take. We’d heard for years that the Japanese publisher was looking to revamp their flagship franchise, but I wasn’t really sure if they’d truly go ahead with it and in such a wildly different direction either. When Capcom first developed the PlayStation VR demo called KITCHEN, I’d never imagined this would be eventually elaborated on and turned into the next Resident Evil game.

As part of their conference, Sony revealed the brand new Resident Evil. Titled Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, it’s hard to determine exactly what the nature of the title is. Capcom insists it takes place after the events of Resident Evil 6, but this is a very different locale and a very different tone and atmosphere to the neon lit cityscape that Resident Evil 6 took place in. It’s a plantation mansion, hidden away, with sinister underpinnings. Could this be a soft reboot of sorts? We’d certainly wager so, but it’s so hard to say with so little.ResidentEvil7-DemoCameraTo convince us, Capcom put out an introductory teaser, titled The Beginning Hour. We’re not sure if this segment from the game, a prologue or something else entirely. But it’s available for free right now to PlayStation Plus members and will literally take you an hour or so to complete. We’d be surprised if it was any longer. In it, you’re introduced to a very brief story of a man, lost in this mansion, and discover how he ended up there. It’s a fairly typical story told in an atypical fashion.

So you wake up in a room and there’s a TV playing white noise and seemingly nobody else around. You’ll explore a small area of the mansion and eventually notice there are some elements of the classic Resident Evil experience here. The examination of objects, the sound objects make when you pick them up, the exploration of drawers and other nooks and crannies all feel like a Resident Evil game. There’s even an inventory – with objects that take up one space or two spaces in the demo. Could this mean a return to the stressful management of inventory? It’s yet to be seen, but so far the indication is more positive than negative.ResidentEvil7-DemoCrowVisually speaking Resident Evil 7 looks fantastic, although there’s a lot of tricks at play here to make the (presumably) lower budget game look better than it probably is. Everything is dark, nothing is ever fully illuminated and if it is it’s covered by a screen filter that hides it. Up close, character models look okay, but at a distance they are more than passable. The locales that you’ll explore are fantastic in the demo and give a feeling of being lived in, desolate and run down.

But how does it play? Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot to go off of here. You’ll walk around the mansion inspecting objects, picking up keys and working out which items work where. It’s a simple premise and one that definitely harkens back to the classic Resident Evil games – and there’s certainly that feeling too. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the demo is when players find a videotape inside a dilapidated cupboard.ResidentEvil7-DemoTapeYou’ll not only watch the video, which depicts some events that have already happened, but you’ll actually play those events instead. These were perhaps one of the two tensest moments in the demo and an interesting way to tell a story beyond the now standard files and audio recordings. Seasoned horror film veterans will recognise the influences during this segment – namely from the anthology franchise V/H/S as well as The Blair Witch Project – making us wonder if Capcom are targeting an overtly Western audience this time around. Even cooler, visual cues in these videos will give the player character in the present day a clue on how to progress, which was something I really appreciated.

But the biggest question of all is how Resident Evil 7 seems to scare its players, and whether this jump to first person is an attempt to appeal to the new generation of streamers who appreciate jump scares over genuine psychological tension and dread. While the parallels might be superficially obvious with Konami’s “P.T.”, Resident Evil 7 feels a lot more grounded in how it presents itself. There’s no impossible spaces or winding corridors. There’s just a mansion, some ominous noises and footsteps and the appearance of an enemy or two to shock the player. There is a scare that errs on the edge of supernatural – something I’d personally like to see the series steer away from – but overall the tension is definitely there.ResidentEvil7-DemoWallIt’d be great to keep talking about Resident Evil 7’s new direction but we’ll leave it at that for now, as the demo is really something you should try to experience yourself if you can. It’s a strong vertical slice of what a new, more horror orientated Resident Evil could be about. Its follows the conventions of the “new wave” of horror titles we’ve been seeing in the past few years but still feels like its own thing. For now.

But there’s definitely still many questions up in the air about how much of a Resident Evil game this is. There’s an attack option on the controller layout but we’ve yet to see how combat will play into the final product as no combat appears in the demo. It’ll be incredibly disappointing if, after such a strong and grounded demo, Resident Evil 7 just deteriorates into yet another first person horror game where you run and hide from stalker based enemies.ResidentEvil7-DemoDollsAnd what of Resident Evil’s rich backstory? It’s certainly a point of contention among fans – some say it should be scrapped and left behind, others love and embrace the characters they’ve spent twenty years with throughout the games. Without spoiling much, we did spot some subtle nods to previous games, including a pretty obvious direct link to Resident Evil 6, but how much of these ties matter has yet to be seen.

One thing is definitely worth mentioning though – the fact that a game with as high a profile (and presumable depth and longevity) as Resident Evil is openly embracing VR is nothing but great for the burgeoning platform. And as a result, Resident Evil 7 may be one of the elusive “killer apps” for the platform if it turns out to be a quality product.ResidentEvil7-DemoHoleAs a long term Resident Evil fan I’m not completely convinced that Resident Evil 7 is the follow up to Resident Evil 6 that I wanted. But it’s still shaping up to be a very strong horror title, ties to the series or not. But a demo that’s so short is hard to make a judgment by – the story elements that fans know and love obviously wouldn’t appear in such a small slice and it would be foolish to expect such a thing. Capcom have called this game Resident Evil 7, and we can only assume it’s for a reason.

Resident Evil 7 releases in January 2017 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. The PlayStation 4 version will feature full PlayStation VR support, playable from beginning to end. You can download Resident Evil 7: The Beginning Hour for free from the PlayStation Store right now.

You can check out some screens that we capped directly from the demo in the gallery below:

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