One of the biggest surprises during Sony’s press conference at E3 2016 had to be seeing the latest installment in the Resident Evil series come to light, and it isn’t what many may’ve expected.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard won’t be like recent Resident Evil titles, even though the subtitle is a throwback to the series’ name in Japan. Instead, the game will be a first-person adventure that, based on what we’ve seen, plays more like Konami’s bone-chilling P.T. than an action shooter.
If you missed downloading that demo before it was delisted, P.T. was the playable teaser for Silent Hills, the much-hyped but now defunct installment in the Silent Hill series. P.T. was sensational — a jolt of much-needed terror in AAA gaming from Metal Gear’s own Hideo Kojima and director Guillermo del Toro. Its suburban domestic setting, simple gameplay, and photorealistic graphics combined to make a mind-bending horror experience that shocked the gaming world.
Now, Resident Evil 7 has its own playable teaser called Beginning Hour. It’s currently available to download on PS4 for all Playstation Plus members and — no doubt intentionally — it plays a lot like P.T.
The player wakes in a dark house and is given only one directive: get out. And as you wander around in the empty rooms, the biggest difference between this and the last decade of Resident Evil games becomes apparent: Beginning Hour is really trying to frighten you. It’s not overwhelming you with hordes of zombies while you try to rescue the president’s daughter, investigate terrorism in Africa, or do whatever the hell it is you did in Resident Evil 6.
Resident Evil hasn’t been scary in a looooong time. Sure, Resident Evil 4 is a classic with some standout sequences and creatures, but that game’s progression into faux-military shootouts and ugly industrial settings wasn’t all that frightening. By the end, the horror roots had been left behind. Since then, the series’ sales may have gone up, but the scare factor is at an all-time low. And don’t even get me started on the series’ convoluted, bonkers canon.
Resident Evil 7, at least this first taste, makes a big effort to move the series away from the last decade of releases. Beginning Hour is very much a horror experience, albeit hardly an original one. I mentioned earlier that it borrows heavily from P.T. for structure and concept. But keen-eyed horror fans will quickly see other recognizable elements.
First off, the house is right out of 2003’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. Playing a mysterious VHS tape rewards the player with a found footage sequence in which the player controls the camera. During this sequence, a character disappears only to be found in the basement, facing the wall — a very similar moment to the chilling finale of The Blair Witch Project.
Beginning Hour is a too-brief whirlwind of homages to contemporary horror films, wrapped up in the same gameplay style that made P.T. so novel. A good start, though hopefully Capcom has some more novel ideas for the full release. To a horror fan like me, the demo and the game’s first trailer (made mostly of gameplay footage from Beginning Hour) was your standard fair for scaring mainstream audiences. But there’s a bright side: through all the first-person exploration and homages, Beginning Hour recaptures a signature feeling from old school Resident Evil. And the idea of a simpler, scarier game in a series that has grown as tangled and silly as Resident Evil has my attention.
In an interview with Gamespot, producer Masachika Kawata has revealed that the final game will indeed take place in the greater canon of the series, and will be larger in scope than Beginning Hour. The game will also include more mechanics (including combat) than was seen in the demo. There will even be herbs, just in case you were curious how close it was going to stick to its roots. Kawata even describes RE7 as a “return to horror,” in case you needed him to spell everything out for you.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard will be released on PS4, Xbox One, and PC on Jan. 24, 2017. The entire game will be compatible with PlayStation VR.