E3 is over, but you can catch all our coverage on our E3 2016 hub!
I'm on the E3 showfloor, heading to my appointment to play Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (or Biohazard 7: Resident Evil if you're in Japan) at the Capcom booth. As I round the corner, the booth itself comes into view, resembling the old, decrepit house that the new game takes place in.
I check in for my appointment and I'm ushered into the room where I'll be playing the game. The door is opened and I'm greeted by an old rickety chair and an ancient chandelier covered in cobwebs. The E3 pageant is all about capturing the feeling of a game before you even have a controller in your hand. Capcom's Resident Evil booth wants you to feel age, even though you're playing something new.
Resident Evil 7 is a fundamental rethink of what "Resident Evil" means. This isn't the first time that the series can undergone a complete change though. Resident Evil 1, 2, 3, and Zero were games that placed the player in tense situations where they have to ration their ammo and solve elaborate puzzles to survive. They played out from fix camera angles, with tank controls to get around.
Resident Evil 4, 5, and 6 are action games with a horrific visual bent to them. The camera here is over-the-shoulder, providing a view of the character while bringing the player closer to the action. Resident Evil 6 put that version of the franchise to bed, going as far into the action genre as Capcom could take it.
Resident Evil 7 is something else, at least in the playable E3 demo. There are no weapons at all. The game plays out completely from a first person perspective, allowing players to enjoy the game on a television screen or completely in PlayStation VR if they so choose. Resident Evil always had a B-movie hokey charm to it, but Resident Evil 7 seems to dispense with that. There are touches that feel like Resident Evil, like the rather terse messages you receive when you inspect something: a fusebox just tells you "A fuse is missing", nothing more.
I'm playing the demo in PlayStation VR. My vision has full range of movement, allowing me to lean my head around corners and the like. The left analog handles basic movement of your character, while the right analog control turning your body left or right. In non-VR, the right analog is your look stick, like any other first person game.
You wake up on the floor of a derelict house, in a darkened room with only a single flashlight. In the room, a TV is blaring static. As you move around the room, things thump and creak outside. Opening the door to the room gives you a sense of unease, because Resident Evil 7 doesn't open the door for you; doors open just a crack and you have to push the door open the rest of the way.
Resident Evil 7's demo is full of tension because you have you have no way to defend yourself. You turn towards every creak and tiny sound because they could potentially reveal an assailant coming to kill you. You walk past one room and there are wicker effigies hanging from the ceiling. The kitchen is full of spoiled meat in the fridge and a pot on the floor.
Near the back door is an abattoir, with cleaved and broken cow bodies on the floor and vicious hooks hanging on the walls. The scares are psychological in nature, the feeling that things aren't right. Heading upstairs, you're greeted by a line of mannequins. As you turn back to the stairs, one is blocking your way, one that clearly wasn't there before. With every new sight, you're always waiting for the horrific beat to drop.
Eventually, you find a videotape and take that videotape back to the room you began in. You slide it into the VCR, giving you some backstory regarding your current plight. You are Clancy Javis, a cameraman for a haunted house reality show. You were scouting the Baker home, an abandoned house where a family disappeared long ago. With the show's host and producer, you visited the home. Within minutes, your producer disappeared in the recesses of the home. When you find him, he's in a secret basement behind a secret door in a wall. He's also dead, and that's beginning of your nightmare.
You have an experience like P.T., Amnesia, Slender, or Outlast; the fear and tension is because you're completely powerless. Is this the right way, or is it the way that will put you face-to-face with a living darkness that will kill you? The first-person enhances this feeling, because while you might be Clancy in game, it feels like you're experiencing it. Except for a few moments, you never see Clancy. PlayStation VR takes that to the next level, bringing you closer to the tension the game is trying to create.
Resident Evil 7 producer Masachika Kawata has promised that combat mechanics are in the rest of the game, just not the demo.
"One of the main gameplay elements that is not in [the demo] is, as you stated, combat," Kawat said in an interview with GameSpot. "In the final game, of course, there will be many types of game mechanics including combat, perhaps some gun-play. One of the things I would like to emphasize about this is that it's not always about going in guns blazing. It might actually be to your advantage to try to run away from combat at certain times, or use items against your enemies in a different way. This is to say that trying to survive the horror, the survival horror, is a key element to Resident Evil 7."
Resident Evil 7 feels like an answer to the reception of Resident Evil 6 and Kojima's P.T, even if it's development began before the latter released. One was maligned, while the other was celebrated. In a world where we will never get P.T., that's a good thing for a horror fan like me. I do wonder if Capcom hasn't stepped on a landmine though, because this Resident Evil demo is several steps removed from anything that fans would've considered "Resident Evil" prior to now.
The Sony conference teaser was such a surprise because it felt more subtle than what Capcom normally does with the series. But expectations can have negative effects as well. If you wanted something like Resident Evil 2 or Resident Evil 4, both considered highpoints for the series, this might not be the game for you.
Some fans don't enjoy horror where you can't defend yourself. Sure, you're usually at a disadvantage, either through strength or numbers, but there's a sense of comfort and clarity in having a weapon. There are those who definitely prefer something like Resident Evil 4, Dead Space, or The Evil Within, to the powerless horror games I listed above.
Capcom has proven to me that it might have something on its hands, I'm just hoping others are willing to give Resident Evil 7 a chance, whether its on your television, or in virtual reality.
E3 is over, but you can catch all our coverage on our E3 2016 hub!