Twenty Years of Evil
The Resident Evil series was once marketed as the progenitor of the survival horror genre. For the earlier half of the franchise’s run, Capcom attempted to keep this spirit alive. They shelled out incredible masterpieces like Resident Evil 2, 3: Nemesis or REmake (which I deem the scariest of the whole series). Yet as the series grew, fan desire for the same, traditional survival horror ebbed away. People were looking for something new, for the gameplay of the older games were too clunky and slow. Capcom delivered by releasing Resident Evil 4. The game rejuvenated a dying franchise by offering an action-oriented gameplay as well as terrifying enemies in the Los Illuminados. However, the success of 4 caused the mighty survival horror franchise to go down a dark path. The survival horror elements, inventory management gameplay and fixed camera angles were scrapped in Resident Evil 5 and almost disappeared by Resident Evil 6. Having played the game myself, I also long for
6, as well as spin-offs Operation Raccoon City, and Umbrella Corps, represented the logical endpoint of the direction of the series, now shipwrecked by its pandering to action-adventure audiences. Having played the game for a while, I can confidently say that I am not satisfied with it and where it has led the franchise. And I’m not alone. In fact, Jun Takeuchi, series producer, asked that the next sequel should be stripped down to its bare essentials: horror. Capcom has been learning from its mistakes.
Enter Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
This is where Resident Evil 7: Biohazard enters the picture. In development since 2014, Capcom plans to release the game on the 24th of January this 2017. To rile up fans, Capcom released a demo last June, called Resident Evil 7 Teaser: Beginning Hour, to the enthusiasm and anger of fans. It was updated twice, with a “Twilight” version released just last September, and a “Midnight” version released just a week ago, on December 2.
The staff of Samurai Gamers elected me to play this game since I have been a fan of the Resident Evil franchise ever since I was a little kid. Little did they know that I was also easily creeped out! In spite of that, I managed to go through the game, get numb out of repetition, and finish the game, unlocking two endings. Here are the highlights of my experience.
Beginning Hour’s gameplay starts with you waking up in a dilapidated living room. To your side, a television is blaring white noise. There is no cable or any signal here. You wake up with your flashlight on. From the get-go, the demo shows us that we are going to play the game through the perspective of the player character. This goes against the traditional Resident Evil style of camera angles (and/or, the third person shoulder camera of RE4). Many people relate this to either Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Outlast 2, or Hideo Kojima’s controversial Playable Teaser (PT). While the comparison seems to be justified, a Resident Evil game doesn’t have to be played through a third person perspective. I’ve talked about this in a previous post as well, so I won’t elaborate on that as much here.
When you play through the game, you are required to pick up items and use them. The classic Resident Evil staple, the item screen, has returned. In the game you have a limited inventory, and you must be wise enough to know what to leave behind and what to bring. This return to form is complemented by the progressive addition of directional button hotkeys. Now the directional buttons (up, down, left, right) function as hotkeys for your inventory. You can assign objects to hotkeys by opening up your inventory screen and moving them to the designated slots. The last time we had an item inventory screen was in Resident Evil 4. That game had the best inventory interface in the franchise, and this one actually follows suit by blending a mix of the old and the new. Meanwhile, Resident Evil 5 and 6, to keep the action going, focused on a more accessible inventory loadout. However, Beginning Hour blends this together to create an intuitive item management system that hearkens to the original gameplay while learning from the latest titles.
Apart from hotkeys, another key improvement is how the player uses items to solve puzzles and unlock doors. When you need to use items like keys, you can simply press x when prompted, and you are transported to the item screen. From there, you can choose the item you want to use on the object. For example, early in the demo, you might come across a fuse. Approaching the fuse box prompts you to press x, which brings up the inventory screen, and allows you to choose the appropriate item to use. No longer will we have to wade through the inventory screen, pausing just to use whatever key items we needed. I think that’s really good progress.
Outlast 2 and Amnesia: The Dark Descent, the two games compared to Resident Evil, do not offer combat to the players. However, having played the demo and laboriously attempted to kill the
molded thing downstairs, I can say that combat is back, and retains the spirit of the combat in the classic games.
Of course, there’s a lot of improvement. There haven’t been a lot of Resident Evil games that feature a big amount of melee weapons apart from the combat knife, for one. In this game, the first weapon you will find is an axe hidden in a locked drawer in the decrepit kitchen. Honestly, this reminds me a lot of Silent Hill’s gameplay, since that franchise gave a lot more emphasis to melee weapons. You ready your weapon by holding L2, and you hit your foe by pressing R2. After finding the missing valve downstairs (and avoiding the huge, disgusting thing stalking you), you can drain the bloody toilet upstairs and get an M19 handgun.
With four bullets on your person, you can go downstairs and try to gun down the monster. Being a first person survival horror video game, aiming down with the L2 button reveals an aiming reticule. Gunplay feels realistic. Each shot counts, and it feels good to shoot because the bullets really connect.
“The game manages to capture the spirit of desperation and terror of the old games as your bullets don’t even do as much damage against your foe.”
The Spirit of Survival Horror
However, this is a survival horror game, and combat is where Resident Evil 7 manages to shine the most. The game manages to capture the spirit of desperation and terror of the old games as your bullets don’t even do as much damage against your foe. You could possibly kill the aberration in the basement, but at the cost of your own life.
I would even call this an improvement, given that even the most terrifying Resident Evil game to date, the REmake (of the first game) gave you the firepower to slay a majority of your foes. By the time you reached the underground laboratory, you were brimming with ammunition. However, in this demo, I only found four bullets. I’m not sure four bullets would be enough to down a horrible creature like the molded. That’s an improvement, actually.
I want to laud the game’s balance between empowering and de-powering the player. The demo empowers us enough that it leaves us with some form of protection, but throws us a monster that
might not be killable with the means the game gave us. This is not akin to Outlast, Slender: The Arrival, or Amnesia: The Dark Descent, which fully did away with weaponry to induce fear in the players. But the spirit of Resident Evil is that there is horror even as you try to arm yourself. The horror comes in the realization that in spite of your best weapons, you were not safe from the things stalking you. Many games nowadays try to even it out a bit, attempting to return to the horror of Resident Evil and even Silent Hill. However, they could never get the balance right. Even Shinji Mikami’s The Evil Within was too action-packed for my tastes. This was not the case in Resident Evil VII. It is truly a survival horror game, blending the best of the old and the best of the new.
Graphics and Sound Design
The only real beef I have with Beginning Hour in terms of Graphics and Sound Design are the textures and the sound of footsteps. Some objects are not as textured well as other games like PT. While this doesn’t hinder much immersion, a 2016 game is expected to have excellent textures.
Other than that, I took pleasure in listening and seeing. As I move through the dilapidated mansion, I can hear footsteps–either mine or Jack Baker’s. However, sometimes they can get confusing. For example, walking through the kitchen and bumping cans and pots and chairs causes noise. The game doesn’t register this noise as coming from you, but something foreign to you.
“When I play this game, I fully know that I’m inside a dilapidated farmhouse, and that I am not alone.”
The visuals are still really pretty, despite my comment about textures. The game uses a gray-brown color scheme well to immerse the player in a decrepit and rugose environment. With this in mind, Beginning Hour is still an excellent game in terms of Graphics and sound design. When I play this game, I fully know that I’m inside a dilapidated farmhouse, and that I am not alone. Each step, when they feel like they’re mine, feels solid. I feel like I’m really walking through a decrepit mansion in the middle of the night. This reminds me of the Resident Evil remake, which also had amazing sound design and graphics.
I’m excited for Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, which comes out on PS4, Xbox One, and Windows this January 24. Not only does this demo show that this is a terrifying video game, in many aspects it is also an excellent return of the spirit of the series, improving both in its scariness as well as its controls and combat. I’m excited because not only is this a return to the old-school horror roots, it’s also an expansion and improvement of those roots. Based on the demo, I think it’s sufficient to say that this game will be both terrifying and fun to play at the same time, as well as an excellent addition to the franchise.
I’m a Resident Evil fan. I love this series. I even played the Wii games (though, to be fair, there was nothing much to play on the Nintendo Wii, so The Darkside Chronicles were an excellent choice given the circumstances). After the excitement of having a new PS3 game faded away, and I was left with Resident Evil 6, I knew it would never be elevated to anything near the remake of Resident Evil. However, Resident Evil 7, if it keeps it up, might be up there. Hey, maybe it might even surpass REmake.