4 hours with Resident Evil 7: Reanimating the corpse of gaming’s most iconic horror series
Resident Evil returns with a new perspective to put the series back on track.
Like a decomposing zombie, the Resident Evil series has been slowly falling apart since its widely revered fourth instalment. For last generation's 5th and 6th core titles, Capcom opted for balls-to-the-wall action experiences over the suspenseful horror style of days gone by. While the spinoff Resident Evil: Revelations 2 for PS4 and Xbox One did a standup job of reminding us why we fell in love with the iconic series, its episodic structure turned many away. Then for reasons unbeknownst to anyone with a pulse, Capcom released Umbrella Corps which reverted back to over-the-top action and gratuitous gore. Frankly, the less said about Umbrella Corps the better.
With all this in the back of my mind, the announcement of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (RE7) did little to stir a reaction from me. When its Beginning Hour demo was released I was even less enthused by what seemed like a cheap ripoff of Kojima's dead and buried PT demo.
After spending three hours with Resident Evil 7 and its horrific hillbilly family I will happily eat my words because Capcom's latest is shaping up to be an honest-to-god return to form.
Fear and loathing in first person
The most significant departure from the series' established formula is the transition from over-the-shoulder third-person to first-person perspective. Since 2010's Amnesia, minimalist first-person horror has flourished, spawning various indie horrors like Soma and Outlast and even a few AAA titles like Alien: Isolation. Unlike these titles, Resident Evil 7 doesn't leave the player unarmed. In what feels like a return to the series, ammo scarcity is back and worse than ever for inventory hoarders like myself. During my time with RE7, I got to toy with two pistols and one shotgun.
The first pistol has a high fire rate but does about as much damage as a spud gun. The second is a real hand cannon, but only holds six in the chamber and has a slower fire rate. If you've ever played a Resi game, the shotgun needs no introduction. As usual, it has incredible stopping power at close range but requires you to get a little too close for comfort if you want to make the most of it.
You can also craft more powerful ammunition with gunpowder. Crafting special ammunition should not be put off. At one point I struggled repeatedly to gain the upper-hand in a close quarters boss battle. Crafting more powerful ammo turned the tide of the standoff and made short work of the otherwise resilient redneck.
The guns in my RE7 demo handled well in first person. Movement is slowed when firing a weapon and there's no aim assist. This makes firing off a round of finite ammo a stressful ordeal. One missed shot can be the difference between gibbing an enemy and running for the hills. That is on the rare chance your bullets actually have an effect. In the later stages of the demo, RE7 introduces the new Molded enemy (a slimy beast way too reminiscent of Umbrella Corps' Bloodshot enemy).
These enemies make for nice cannon fodder in between confrontations with the Baker family and can even overwhelm in a pack but in terms of scares, the Molded don't hold a candle to the Baker family.
Movers and Bakers
Our demo began where the Lantern demo finished, sat at the Baker dinner table being force fed a variety of bones and organs. After the family quarrel, you're given a moment to escape, but almost as soon as there's a moment's peace you've got daddy Baker hot on your tail.
Sneaking your way around the Baker house with the family members lurking is tense. Without spoiling too much, the game cleverly uses a few tricks to lull you into a false sense of security only to pull the rug from beneath you moments later. After a few of these scares, the game becomes harder to trust and you find yourself constantly on edge. The Bakers are also just plain old scary. They plough through the environment, spit venomous insults at nobody in particular and are largely invulnerable. They're a constant presence in the game and a little nod to the persistent force of Nemesis from Resident Evil 3.
I've usually got a pretty strong stomach for horror and suspense but multiple times during this demo I had to put the controller down, take a breath and mumble an expletive between pursed lips.
The game also builds tension by slowing player movement. The sprint feels more like speed walking and while this was passable in earlier titles, it kind of breaks the illusion here; if you were confronted with a Baker or Molded in real life, you'd channel your inner Usain Bolt. I'm told there might be an option to change the movement speed in the final game, but this is what I experienced in the demo.
Back from the dead
By the end of my four hours in the decrepit domicile I was sold on Capcom's fresh first person take on the series. Nary a single burning helicopter or rocket launcher in sight, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard 7 is reeling it back for a more measured survival horror experience. While there are some very intentional nods to past titles, the game as a whole is feeling like a return to the puzzle-solving claustrophobic horror that first put the series on the map.
There are a few small annoyances with controls and movement that have carried over from the demo, but they're small and easy fixed. Bring on 27 January.