One of Sony's biggest surprises during its rather excellent E3 conference this week was the announcement of Resident Evil 7 which will be fully compatible with the Playstation VR. Unfortunately there is now a sense of apprehension going into a new Resident Evil after a string of relatively mediocre titles, going back to Resident Evil 5. The once (still?) popular franchise has lost its way, inadvertently thanks to Resident Evil 4. As brilliant and influence as it was, RE4 sadly led the series down a path of shoot-em-up action games with an added feature of horror. Resident Evil had been bitten with bad gameplay and story choices that has slowly changed it into a shambling zombie.
That is set to change with Resident Evil 7.
The trailer shown at E3 (which you can view below) immediately invokes feelings of fear, dread and isolation that has been missing from the series for too long. An old derelict house filled with creepy family pictures, mannequins, disgusting entrees on the dinner table, and shadowy figures peering through boarded up windows are all but some of what awaits within Resident Evil 7. Sure, they are all horror cliches but when they are executed perfectly who cares?
The demo begins with your character tied up with a camera facing towards you while your friend lies unconscious by your side. He slowly awakens and attempts to cut you free but upon hearing a noise behind him he turns to look - then it cuts to black. Next thing you're face down on the ground in a different room alone. A clear and simple message appears on the screen -
No need to tell me twice!
What happens next is essentially up to the player as there are numerous ways for this teaser to play out. Getting out of the house is relatively straight forward but it also shows off what has happened to the player's character as well as his accomplices. After walking through the abandoned house, discovering some disgusting and 'nope' worthy elements, the player finds a video tape (very retro). Playing it on the TV found in the first room flips the scenario and you become the cameraman of the tape.
It looks like three people, including yourself, were recording some cheap horror/paranormal investigation programme within this spooky building. Like so many incidents like this it goes horribly wrong, with one person going missing only to be discovered impaled through the mouth later on. The video soon stops and it cuts back again to the present day. The player finds the key to get out but as he breathes in fresh air a ghastly looking figure speaks from behind and says "Welcome to the family, son." before knocking him out. The game returns to the beginning where your character is being cut free right as your friend is gruesomely murdered just as the teaser comes to an end.
This run-through is the main part of the game, arguably its canon. But it's been discovered by inquisitive players that there's another ending if you chose a different path. If players investigate the house a little differently a phone starts to ring upstairs with a woman (rumoured to be series regular Ada Wong) down the other end spouting a cryptic message to the player. There's a few different phone messages found via alternate ways but the calls end the same way as the canon ending - "Welcome to the family, son."
During the videotape segment a ghostly figure has been spotted both outside and inside the house, while the arm-less mannequins move to look at you when you turn away (Doctor Who has taught me not to blink). There are also numerous different items scattered around the house including an axe and a dummy finger. Okay, an axe is one thing but a finger? What is it for?!
I've played a fair few horror games but I've never felt such a sense of dread going through Resident Evil 7. The switch from third-person to first is such a simple move but it really does make a difference in invoking terror - it feels like YOU are going through this nightmare. Playing games from this point of view like Call of Duty or Halo has never made me feel like I'm the one going through the action, despite being seen from the same perspective as RE7. With the only music being the creepy sounds of the house, the inescapable feeling of despair and desolation never stops. Even with such a short teaser it's hard to imagine Resident Evil going back to its previous style.
Capcom have tried to make it abundantly clear that Resident Evil 7 was not influenced by P.T., a horror teaser for Silent Hills which was unfortunately cancelled after the whole drama with Hideo Kojima and Konami. But it's really hard to not draw comparisons between the two as they are both very similar in their gameplay, feeling of tension, and that they are both not part of their respective games. Capcom revealed that this teaser for Resident Evil 7 is a standalone experience to simple give players a taste of what is to come. The full game will have different gameplay mechanics such as combat while no previous Resident Evil character will make an appearance.
Resident Evil 7 was one of the most unexpected reveals at E3 and it's already shaping up to be one of the biggest games of 2017. The overwhelming sense of horror and dread is something that the series has been missing for some time despite its best efforts. The game will feature full (but optional) VR integration for the Playstation 4 and I can't even begin to comprehend how terrifying that'll be - it's horrifying enough being eight feet away from the TV, what's it gonna be like when something leaps out right into your face?! Resident Evil 7 is still in development and is set to scare the bejesus out of you for Playstation 4, Xbox One and Microsoft Windows on January 24th 2017...and I cannot wait.
(All screenshots have been taken direct from my own PS4.)