Outlast the silent evil…
During the initial preview for what we now know is Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, my interest was piqued and my reaction to the slow paced, atmospheric, first-person horror I was witnessing was fairly positive. The game looked very PT/Silent Hills inspired due to the dimly lit hallways, roach ridden rooms, cryptic phone calls and its mysterious nature. When it ended, and the VII faded into Resident Evil, my feelings toward it went from positive to plain confusion. But, this wasn’t a feeling I was unfamiliar with when it came to this series, it’s more or less the same way I felt when I first saw Resident Evil 4, more specifically the “hook man” paranormal version of the game that never got finished. The key difference here, though, were the expectations I had going into this reveal based on the things Capcom had been saying about Resident Evil 7’s direction.
Capcom has been promising a return to the series’ roots after the misguided RE6, and this is what their idea of that looks like? A “walking sim” horror game, something that is in no short supply these days, was certainly not what I had in mind for the triumphant return of this trail-blazing survival horror series. But, not one to settle on knee-jerk reactions, I figured I’d wait until more information was out to make any real judgements. Luckily for me, a demo was set to release within hours of the game’s announcement – one hopefully extensive enough to give a more solid impression.
Well, after playing it through a handful of times (it’s not very long), I’m still leaning towards cautiously optimistic. But, having tried the game for myself, I’ve found vital similarities that still make this feel like the Resident Evil I’ve enjoyed since the first time I walked through those mansion doors. With that said, let me go into some features and mechanics that make this feel like Resident Evil, and things that don’t.
What feels like Resident Evil:
- Exploration & investigation – An important feature in the pre-RE4 days, and even that title had it to some degree, was the ability to investigate the environment – either for clues or for general curiosity. In the originals, players had the ability to check paintings, statues, bloodstains (that we hoped wasn’t Chris’ blood) and other random things, usually followed by a small line of text providing a basic description. RE7 has this too, just without the description, but the encouragement to scope out the surroundings is still there. For what the originals lacked in graphical fidelity and technological power, it made up for with its text descriptions. However, today that isn’t an issue. Opening a fridge to see rotten food with maggots writhing around or a pot with scattering roaches doesn’t need to be explained, because now we can actually see it all happening in real time, made even clearer by the first-person perspective.
- Item Inspection – Littered throughout the original games were several items such as memos, cranks, herbs, etc to help with survival or general progression. The notes were usually diaries or letters from resident’s lives that helped build lore or just simply creeped you out (like the infamous “itchy..tasty” ramblings). They also helped with solving puzzles, usually providing passcodes and explaining where to find items or how to use the ones you already have. The teaser gives an indication that the full game will have this too since there are a few notes, mainly of the ominous variety, along with a handful of items to examine and use (a few of which I still haven’t figured out, which is a good sign).
- Puzzles – This feature helped make the classic games so memorable but was drastically toned down in RE4, turned into coop gimmicks in RE5, and just poorly done in RE6. RE7’s teaser doesn’t exactly contain any overly complex conundrums but there are a few in particular that show promise. They really brought back that rewarding feeling of checking every nook and cranny in the hopes of finding something, anything, even if you don’t know what it is yet or what you’ll need it for. RE1: Code Veronica contained plenty of moments where you happen across an item, not knowing what it’s for but only hoped you had the inventory space to pick it up. Which leads me to….
- Limited inventory & item management – One of the first things I noticed in the demo was that limited inventory was back and in the form of a more streamlined version of RE4’s “Tetris style” item arrangement system. Well, back isn’t really the best term, since RE5, 6 and both RE: Revelations titles still had limited inventory, but in the case of 5 & 6 it felt less natural and more counter-intuitive to the action-focused gameplay. While there aren’t enough items in the game for any real management to take place, it still shows that Capcom intends to make it an important factor for survival once more.
- Horror & atmosphere – Last but certainly not least is the element of horror that not only defined the series, but served as the basis to the survival horror genre it helped establish. Whether it’s the fear of the unknown and being unprepared that RE1 and 2 presented, or the stalked feeling the tentacle touting titan, Nemesis, gave players in RE3, the originals all used horror effectively in some way. Even RE4, despite its action heavy approach, still attempted to put players on edge by making them feel overwhelmed by enemies. Without a doubt, RE7 appears to be the most horror driven entry since REmake. Walking through the dark, desolate house in the teaser provided a sense of unease that I haven’t felt in the series since the first time a crimson head stood up and rushed to ravage my face. The sound design is high quality with creaks, thumps, footsteps and other unsettling noises going on all around you – a constant reminder that something may be in the house or possibly right behind you. One minor but significant detail I appreciated was the way they brought the tension from the classic loading screen door and modernized it in real time. Overall, it’s the kind of atmospheric experience I’m very glad to see Resident Evil bring back to the fore.
- Lack of familiar characters – I’ll fully admit that had any of the series’ established characters appeared in the trailer or teaser then my excitement for the game would have been higher, but that’s only because the series has plenty of them that I’ve grown attached to. It’s understandable that there are plenty of fans who are upset or turned off by the fact that RE7 seems to been heading in a new direction, both in terms of gameplay and narrative. But, there is one thing to keep in mind: Resident Evil has never been shy about introducing new characters and, even though plenty have never been seen again, there was once a time when characters like Leon, Claire and Ada were nobodies and we had to give them a chance. Playing as a completely new character could be the refresher the series needs if it’s truly going for more horror. Especially since at this point in the timeline it would be hard to believe any of the series’ veterans couldn’t easily cope with whatever scenario is thrown at them. Plus, being a new character doesn’t mean old ones don’t exist anymore and can’t make a return.
- First-person perspective – The perspective shift is probably the biggest change the fanbase (myself included) are concerned about. While first-person is no stranger to this series, it’s never been included in a mainline game, instead being reserved for bonus modes like in Code Veronica or spin-offs like Gun Survivor. It can take some getting used to, but after the first time through the teaser I stopped worrying about it and simply enjoyed how much more in the world I felt and how it increased my enjoyment of exploration. If you don’t enjoy first-person games then I can understand how this could be a deal breaker, but if you’re willing to give it a chance you may find that it fits better in the game than you’d think. The option to play in either third or first-person perspectives could be the best course of action for Capcom; but, then again, trying to please everybody instead of committing to a specific vision is what put the series in the difficult position it’s in today.
- Supernatural/paranormal themes – While horror has long been an integral part of the Resident Evil experience, this specific brand of it hasn’t been and personally I find it to be the most unwelcome change. I’m all for ghosts and psychological horror but it just doesn’t fit with the established themes of biological terror and experimentation that the series has been running with and I see no reason to include it now. Fortunately, I don’t think that’s actually the case since everything in the demo, including the creepy ghost girl, can be explained as either a virus induced hallucination, a hologram, or some other trickery by whoever’s pulling the strings. I mean, in a series with all sorts of hideous mutations, super villains and shady corporations with seemingly limitless resources, setting up an elaborate haunted house seems like a fairly mundane task in comparison.
- Lack of combat encounters – This one doesn’t really need to be addressed at this point since the developer has already confirmed there will be combat in the game, but even before they did it was pretty clear there would be. As in most games, the first thing I did was head to the options menu to customize things, and while I was there I noticed some settings for aiming and ammo displays – heavily hinting that weapons would be in the game. Not to mention the axe you can find is a pretty dead giveaway that there would be melee combat at the very least. I’m glad this is the case, too, because even though fighting monsters has never been my main draw to the series I still think it’s important to have. A large part of the survival aspect has always been making sure you have enough of the right ammo at the right time and that’s something that a pure “hide and seek” mechanic would take away from.
And, that’s it. Those are the reasons I could find based on what I know and have experienced about the game so far. By my count, the game has more in common with its predecessors than not, and that’s enough to have me looking forward to it. It’s since been confirmed the teaser isn’t actually a part of the final game, though that doesn’t mean it doesn’t connect to it in some way. Think of it like how Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes served as a teaser to The Phantom Pain – it introduced you to mechanics and important plot points without spoiling any of the real game, which is a great way to do things as far as I’m concerned. The series may not have gone back to its roots in the way people expected but this excerpt and quote from series creator, Shinji Mikami, might help give some perspective to this change in direction:
“The game was initially conceived as a first-person shooter, but soon the gameplay system inspired by Alone in the Dark was adopted instead.” – Shinji Mikami, Resident Evil Wiki
“I thought about it for the first Resident Evil, but we gave up – technically it wasn’t good enough.” – Shinji Mikami, PSU.com
The point here is that technical limitations stopped the original direction and was not necessarily a creative decision. Just like Alone in the Dark inspired its direction, games like Outlast, PT and Condemned are doing the same for RE7. Now, twenty years later, horror seems to have found its way home and I for one am ready to once again enter the world of survival horror.