I get it: Resident Evil 7 is not like the Resident Evil you grew up with. The game’s announcement at E3 on Monday took a lot of people by surprise, but even more shocking was how different the game looked. Instead of the familiar third-person, over-the-shoulder viewpoint, Capcom is transitioning the franchise to first-person, something never done before in a main Resident Evil title. It’s a huge departure, but ultimately one I think is for the best.
Resident Evil took the video game world by storm in 1996 with its emphasis on survival and horror, putting players in a mysterious mansion full of weird, blood-thirsty creatures. We’d seen survival horror games before, sure, but Resident Evil’s handle on the genre was a watershed moment for the industry, and its impact is still being felt today. Bad dialog and all, the game remains a pillar in the annals of video game history. Why do you think it keeps getting remastered?
But the truth is Resident Evil hasn’t been the same ever since the fourth installment, considered by many to be the franchise’s pinnacle, was released in 2005. That title shook up the formula in a big way, blending action and horror while introducing exciting new elements. But on its warpath toward evolution, Capcom’s focus was lost in subsequent offerings, highlighted by the turgid mess that was Resident Evil 6. That title was a tipping point and proved the franchise was in dire need of a revamp.
Now, the franchise is facing a crisis of identity, haunted by what it once was and the monster it’s become. Even the best of us go through phases; I was an awkward mess in high school. With Resident Evil 7, it finally looks like Capcom is back on track. Despite looking unlike any Resident Evil that’s come before it, the newest story is a concerted effort to get back to the franchise’s horror roots.
Before you freak, it’s important to remember the demo currently available to PlayStation Plus subscribers is only a teaser, which means the 15 or so horrifying minutes spent in that dilapidated house isn’t indicative of the overall experience. In fact, the teaser demo is not part of the main game at all, which should come as a relief to those unhappy with the franchise’s new direction.
In an interview with IGN, Resident Evil 7 director Koushi Nakanishi said the demo is a bespoke experience specifically designed to set a tone. It’s not about gunning down enemies or managing inventory; Capcom was only interested in creating an environment that evoked a sense of fear and mystery—something the first title excelled at. Nakanishi said there’s plenty more content to come, such as puzzles, resource management, and combat. But, at this moment, it was about one thing, and one thing only: “If you thought the games were going away from horror in previous years, this is just a statement of intent, purpose, to say it’s back.”
Call it a P.T./Condemned/Outlast/Amnesia rip-off, call it what you want; the Resident Evil 7 teaser is an effective exercise in building atmosphere and tension. The franchise used to excel at creating a sense of dread, but it’s an element that’s been sorely lacking in recent titles, including the episodic Resident Evil: Revelations 2 (which was excellent, but far from scary). By taking a step back and wiping the slate clean, Capcom is showing signs it’s back to its Resident Evil best.
There’s also an eerie sense of familiarity. If the house, which is seemingly abandoned when the demo begins, reminds you of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, that was done intentionally. No more rundown factories or chaotic city streets.
“The atmosphere of 70s, 80s, American horror movies—the lonely house out in the fields or in the middle of nowhere in the countryside where there’s nobody to call for help,” explained Nakanishi. “I love that kind of atmosphere. That was a big influence on us choosing the Southern United States setting for the game. It feels so helpless and isolated.”
Underlining that feeling of helplessness is the fact that players take control of an every man, not someone who is part of an elite task force equipped with semi-automatic weapons. Emphasizing this point even further is Capcom’s decision to utilize the first person perspective, which psychologically makes you feel like the events on screen are happening to you. It severely narrows your field of vision, too, making the experience feel much more claustrophobic. I can only imagine what it’ll be like using PlayStation VR.
“One thing that I think is really effective in first-person—a lot more so than when you go to a third-person, over-the-shoulder perspective—is when something is behind you in first-person you don’t want to turn around because your viewpoint is so fixed to what is in front of you, and you can’t see behind or around the character like you can in third-person; it’s much more panic-inducing to turn all the way around and see what’s behind you,” Nakanishi said.
Even with all these changes, perhaps the biggest reason why I find the demo so intriguing is how brief it is, yet it hints at a larger lore that PlayStation owners are still trying to decipher. Like the playable teaser for Silent Hills, there are cryptic clues and messages everywhere, hinting at a sordid, almost supernatural past, lending itself to the psychological horror Capcom is trying to achieve. Zombies are scary to an extent. When you’re walking down a dark hallway and you see a ghost in your periphery, that’s something that sticks in your brain.
These mysteries beg a lot of questions. Were the people in this house infected with a virus? Is the man at the end of the demo a zombie or is he just insane? Who is that woman who keeps appearing? Why does the phone ring upstairs? And what the hell is the dummy finger for? All of these questions have yet to be answered, creating a wonderfully eerie sense of uncertainty.
“That mysteriousness is so vital to what we want to get across and what emotions we want you to feel,” Nakanishi explained. “Again, I tend to repeat myself, every time you ask for more information, but we’re trying to keep it to the minimum as much as possible, so when you finally get your hands on the game it’s going to be such a fresh new experience.”
Change is hard and I completely understand why people are so upset. No, this isn’t like the Resident Evil you grew up playing; that much is obvious. But the franchise has become a grotesque version of itself over the years and I think a hard reset is the best course of action. Ideally, Capcom would have created a game like Resident Evil 2 and stuck to a third-person view. But there’s something so effective about first-person, and I can’t wait to see how it all plays out next January.
And, hey, if you don’t like the new direction of Resident Evil 7, you can take solace in knowing that herbs will be back.