Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
Old scare tactics are back from the dead
PC, PS4, Xbox One
Alot has been said about what’s different this time out of the gates for this long-running survival horror series. Gone is the thirdperson viewpoint and over-the-shoulder gunslinging. Gone is the camp dialogue and unbelievable characters with overly styled hair, skin-tight leather costumes or arms like tree trunks. But while the decidedly PT- like firstperson direction in which Resident Evil is heading does feel stark, fresh, and very much what the series needed, it turns out that Resi 7 still recaptures many of the iconic elements from the series’ past.
During the game you discover notes that flesh out the story. There are puzzles to solve along the way. And as you move around the Louisiana plantation where the game is set, there are sumptuously creaky doors that open achingly slowly. These returning elements are not merely nostalgia bait. Rather they’ve been rethought and rebuilt anew to deliver upon the series’ original core goal: to ratchet up that tension; to get your blood pumping.
Our second opportunity to play Resi 7 – after the Beginning Hour demo available to download now – comes in the form of Lantern, a short sequence which, unlike that first offering, forms a part of the final game. Lantern is essentially a note, here taking the form of playable sequences rather than a few paragraphs of ‘itchy tasty’ text. Happen upon a VHS tape on your sojourn through the Baker family plantation and watch it back to trigger these past sequences, fleshing out the story as you go. These standalone slices of game feature different styles of play from the ‘main’ game, which Capcom tells us will feature weapons and melee combat. The Lantern demo is a much subtler affair.
We are Mia, a young woman running from a haggard old lady with the titular lantern in hand. We jog across a rickety bridge, wire fences to either side of us adorned with broken children’s dolls, and into the plantation estate proper, wherein we’re forced to play a deadly game of hide and seek with our angry and vocal pursuer. We have to sneak around, keeping as far away from the glowing light of the lady’s lantern as possible, while the house plays its haunted-theme-parkride tricks. Doors slam of their own accord, and the critical path pushes us down tight, narrow spaces ripe for getting trapped inside. It’s right in the middle of this that a puzzle is thrown at us. We can hear the shuffling feet of the old woman elsewhere in the house, and we find ourselves frantically aligning a small statue’s shadow on a wall to unlock a potential escape route.
You’ve got notes, puzzles and, yes, those Resi doors. Here they open only as fast as you push them, inviting you to peer through the gaps as they creak ajar. Do this and the next room flushes into focus as your depth of field adjusts. These transitions from room to room feel every bit as tense as they did back in the PS1 era, though here they aren’t cunningly hiding a loading screen – they’re lending the environment just one more element of tension to contend with.
There is still an awful lot more of Resident Evil 7 to see, not least the actual game that these demos have done little to fully reveal. Will it really not feature any of the past characters from the series? How will combat work? Will it be different enough from the rock-punching exploits of Resident Evil 5?
But as showcases of the developer’s intention, and of its awareness of what worked and what didn’t with past games in the series, these parcels of Resi 7 prove that Capcom hasn’t thrown the mutilated baby corpses out with the bathwater in its bid for a restructured resurgence.
Stealth horror might sound like Alien: Isolation’s shtick, but what’s on offer here is of a much more slapdash nature. And we don’t mean it’s been shoddily put together – we mean that as you’re forced into corners by your hunter, you have to find hiding spaces in places you’re not even sure contain them. There are no lockers, no preordained game assets you know you’ll be safe inside or behind. On more than one occasion the curses of the old woman are so close we can almost feel her spittle, and it’s impossible to know if she’ll spot us.
Capcom hasn’t thrown the mutilated baby corpses out with the bathwater