Resident Evil 7 hands-on: Properly creepy, but gameplay questions remain

By Alex Donaldson, Monday, 5 September 2016 12:32 GMT

We try not to get caught. We die. But… we like it.

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I really quite liked Resident Evil 7 at E3. I’d had a little heads up beforehand, so as soon as that trailer began rolling I knew what it was, but I was still surprised by many aspects of the game and its presentation. Trying it out for myself at the show I was similarly impressed, though I did have a problem with the way the game was presented at E3.

That problem was a key part of its presentation: The PlayStation VR. I’ve had some great experiences with the PS VR, but Resident Evil 7 was the first time VR ever made me feel properly queasy.

I’m not sure what caused it – if it was the realistic art style of the game combined with the fairly low-resolution PS VR panel, the darkness of scenes, or the sensation of a game with full head control and regular controller-based movement (though other games have managed this fine for me), but something made me want to lose my lunch. After the demo I stood in the VIP area of Capcom’s booth hyperventilating. But – crucially – the demo was good. It was a cool proof-of-concept.

At Gamescom I got to play a different slice of the game, titled Lantern. Mercifully it was this time on a regular TV, which I welcomed. While the most recent slice of the game shown off doesn’t answer any of the fans’ more burning questions, it did give another curious glimpse into the kind of psychological scares this new Resident Evil can manage.

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Gameplay framed as found footage is in all a pretty clever idea, twisting a horror movie sub-genre that really became popularised after Resident Evil’s rise to its purposes.

This demo is in some ways similar to the first. It’s ‘found footage’ that it seems will be included in the main game as some sort of collectable. You might find a tape and when you put it into a player you’ll play out its contents – this tape being of a character named Mia exploring a creepy house.

Gameplay framed as found footage is in all a pretty clever idea, twisting a horror movie sub-genre that really became popularised after Resident Evil’s rise to its purposes. The original Resident Evil was heavily inspired by Romero’s Dawn of the Dead series – this now feels decidedly more Blair Witch Project. Resident Evil launched in 1996, while Blair Witch Project hit in 1999. That wasn’t the first found footage film but it did popularise the technique. There’s likely also a PT influence here too, of course.

As with the E3 demo’s lead, things ultimately aren’t going to go well for poor Mia. The game offers one instruction: ‘Don’t get caught’. With that you’re thrown into it, creeping around the house avoiding a mad old lady who is absolutely determined to kill you.

As with the previous demo there’s no combat here. There’s no zombies either – this is more slasher movie than zombie thriller, though I’m sure there’s more going on here than meets the eye. If the old lady spots you with her lantern, you’re dead – you have no way to defend yourself and it’s only a matter of time before she’s on top of you, screaming.

This leads to some fun little moments. You walk down a hallway and then from a shimmer of light and the sound of her maniacal ranting realise she’s about to come around the other end of it. You have to about-face and find a place to hide. If you die you start over.

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The creepy game of hide-and-seek works. The tension is palpable, even amidst the bustle of a trade show’s business halls and with a Capcom employee guiding me through it. I only die once, which is apparently pretty good. Only one person all week at that point hadn’t died at all.

The hide-and-seek is broken up by a very Resident Evil puzzle that involves using a projector and an item to cast a very specific shadow on a wall in order to open a secret door. This felt particularly like the PS1 Resi games to me, and one hopes that there’ll be a lot of silly logic puzzles like this in the final game.

It’s very different for Resident Evil, but I like it. It’s slow and methodical, scary in a way that even the original Resident Evil games never quite managed for me.

It’s very different for Resident Evil, but I like it. It’s slow and methodical, scary in a way that even the original Resident Evil games never quite managed for me. There doesn’t appear to be anything out of the ordinary about the lantern lady – she’s just insane, but she’s far more scary than your average zombie or a super-villain who wears sunglasses indoors.

The ‘get seen and you’re dead’ aspect of things might sound a little cheap on paper and certainly wouldn’t necessarily stand up in a full-length game, but here it works. If you take the context of this demo clearly, a playable collectable that’s part of a larger experience, it all makes sense. This is a thrilling 10 minutes, and crouching behind a set of rickety crates while an insane murderer hunts you by the erratically-cast light of her lantern is really quite exciting. This little slice makes a strong case, even, that the found footage tapes might end up a stand-out part of Resident Evil 7, even outside VR.

All those questions from E3 remain, however. We know from the recent ESRB ratings that the core of the game will involve combat against ‘mutated creatures’ using guns, chainsaws and the like. We also know from Capcom’s insistence that this is indeed Resident Evil 7 and not a reboot – so presumably this will tie in to the old games. How the down-to-earth slasher footage we’ve seen meshes with Resident Evil 6, which featured zombie sharks, will be fascinating to see. However that goes, the basic premise of Resident Evil 7 seems to be working out pretty well so far.

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