This is definitely what Resident Evil needs: a makeover, a fresh start, a hard reset. Over the past two decades a once defining video game has become mired by its own success. With every new franchise instalment, Resident Evil has expanded, adding - often needlessly - new mechanics, more characters and boring, impenetrable lore. Twenty games, seven novels, five films and a series of comic books since it first began twenty years ago; I doubt even the creators of Resident Evil could tell you its story nowadays.
Never was the series' total loss of direction more evident than in Resident Evil 6, a game comprised of four different single-player campaigns (starring seven characters) as well as multiplayer and an arcade style time-attack mode. Some might have called it value for money. Others, who appreciate quality over quantity, would have called it a quagmire. After that, there was nowhere better for Resident Evil to go than back – way back – to its basics. Only problem is, it may be too little, too late.
The horror beats in the demo are lifted either from games like Condemned or films like VHS and The Blair Witch Project. Especially after the rotten meat-stinking villages of Resident Evil 4, it's not at all surprising to find Resi 7's environments are inspired by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre too.
The teaser has a neat set-up. After waking up in an abandoned, bloodied house, the player's simple objective is to find the back door key and escape. The problem is, we've been here before. We've been here in Layers of Fear, Slender, SOMA, Allison Road – like the decaying animal corpses spread around the house's interior, we've been here for years.
Any lack of originality in the demo's concept, it could make up for with frights and scares, but sadly, it isn't even scary. There will be plenty of YouTubers posting reaction videos and face camera feeds, screaming, balking and pretending to be more frightened than they are; but the Resident Evil 7 demo simply isn't at all scary.
It isn't even unnerving, and I'm someone who loves to be scared. If you boast about how horror films and games don't get to you, and go into them with the intention of holding yourself together and playing it tough, you're missing the point – it's more fun to freak out. But Resident Evil 7, on this evidence at least, couldn't rattle even a willing participant like me. Crackling found footage, mannequins which move when you back is turned, a backwater, pseudo-religious murderer – is anyone scared by this stuff any more? For Resident Evil's sake, I hope so, but I mainly hope this game has many more ideas than its promotional material implies.
The switch to a first-person perspective works well. Resident Evil has often featured interesting, intricate locations, but they've been difficult to fully appreciate due to its locked, third-person camera. If any of the designers who put together RE4's castle, or even Resident Evil 2's police station, are left at Capcom - and they're allowed to do more than just re-purpose the work of Texas Chainsaw Massacre director Tobe Hooper - Resident Evil 7 could provide a greater appreciation for the series' visual flair.
A single, static location is what a game like this demands. Resi 6 moved between different scenarios, in different towns, in different countries, which - aside from rendering the plot incomprehensible - ruptured the senses of claustrophobia and confinement, both of which are conducive not just to good horror but good action and drama.
Resident Evil 7's teaser takes place in a single house, across maybe three or four rooms, and that's appealing, but it lacks vigour. In PT and Layers of Fear, though you're between the same four walls the entire game, you're constantly encountering new, and startling things. The Resi 7 demo doesn't posses anything like the same vim. If the full game winds up like this – a single or a handful of interiors, static and foreboding but ultimately uneventful – its creators will have missed the point of creating a single, well-defined location: to familiarise players and then gazump them, to ingratiate a sense of place and summarily undo it.
Set for release in January, Resident Evil 7 could be the return to basics that the series so badly needs. It could also be a derivative, five-years-too-late non-horror. To paraphrase an oft-used disclaimer: I hope this teaser is not representative of the final product.
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