It was recently teased that Resident Evil 7 would be a return to the franchise’s survival horror roots, but until the official announcement – and more specifically, getting hands-on with the demo at E3 2016 – I didn’t allow myself to dream. Leading up to the revelation, I had become skeptical of the ability to “go back,” despite the fact that I felt it was much needed for the Resident Evil name. After the fifth and sixth installments, I found myself concerned that the brand had, in relation to survival horror, become so damaged that little could be done in order to bring it back without a complete reinvention.
The announcement of Resident Evil 7 at E3 was hardly a surprise. The franchise celebrated its 20th Anniversary earlier this year, and with Capcom announcing earlier this year that it was re-releasing Resident Evil 4, 5, and 6 (in reverse order, for some reason), rumors began circulating that the seventh main series installment would be coming at E3. Also, there’s the fact that it’s an established franchise, and no one just stops making games for established franchises unless they have to. The big surprise, however, was in how Resident Evil 7: Biohazard looks. One of the most widespread criticisms of the more recent titles was how they were acceptable games, but Resident Evil games in name alone, and this was a concern for me right up until I laid eyes on the booth.
The booth for the game was a massive, ominous house. My appointment was for Day 2 of E3 2016, but every time I walked past that house, I paused. I could not wait to get it. That house, to me, felt like a promise. It was as if Capcom was saying “This is what you keep saying you want. This is what you fell in love with 20 years ago. This is for you.” I wanted, desperately, to believe that I would be walking in to confirmation of that. The upcoming entry does appear to see the iconic franchise returning to its survival horror roots – and despite my caution and skepticism, I could not be more excited to learn more.
The demo was brief, and extremely limited in what, of the story, was revealed – mostly because the demo is not part of the final game. It is reflective of the tone of the game, but not necessary the content. The demo, if it is a true reflection of the tone of Resident Evil 7, is promising horror and exploration. It de-emphasises action, instead prioritizing the thrill of atmosphere. The creaky floors, the sounds from the other room, even the damn mannequin. I won’t focus too much on what’s included in the demo itself, since PS4 owners can go try it out now.
RE7 will have full VR support via PlayStation VR, although it will be released on both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. While I try to sample as many games as possible in VR, I do tend to become disoriented during seated VR games due to the combination of head tracking and controlling the camera with the right analog stick. A few minutes into the demo I started to feel it, so I started over and tackled the standard, non-VR version instead.
RE7 swaps out the familiar third-person perspective for a first-person horror adventure. At first, I didn’t expect this to be such a radical shake-up. But during the demo, I found myself forced to come face to face with whatever may be around the corner instead of nonchalantly tilting my camera and pretending like I’m totally not afraid. There’s no barrier, no clever camera tricks. It’s you facing the source of the noise head-on. It made the entire experience more tense and immersive, and if I had been able to enjoy it in VR, I imagine the same could be said ten-fold.
Since the demo itself is separate from the game, I can only speculate on how “authentic” a Resident Evil experience it will be, but from what I experienced, it truly does feel like a reinvention of the Resident Evil brand. There may be elements of the formula from the franchise’s early years that are not present, but spiritually it does seem to be on the track of feeling like a game worthy of the Resident Evil title. I’m eager to learn more about combat – although I was told that survival will be a big factor, and in many situations you may be better off fleeing to survive the threat than trying to RE6 it. It is “completely survival horror,” so if you think you’re going to find a magic weapon that will turn you into some sort of Hulk, this isn’t the game for you. It is, at its core, about using the limited items that you have at your disposal, and some clever thinking, to gain the advantage over whatever it is you may face.
It has been years since Resident Evil was considered one of the industry’s current “greats,” with people focusing more on the impact of the past than the potential for the future. Capcom is taking quite the risk, but one that I can see offering a substantial reward should it be successful. I have felt burned before, but cannot help but to feel optimistic – with a healthy dose of caution, of course.