It’s fair to say that the Resident Evil 7 reveal, and demo, divided opinion
Some felt that the rebooting of the franchise as an atmospheric first-person title, light on combat and seemingly drawing influence from recent indie-horror hits, was a great thing.
Others hated it; adamant that this was a cheap attempt to cash in on recent genre successes like Outlast and Slender and insisting – due to its shift in perspective and approach – that it is not ‘true Resident Evil’.
But while at first glance the game may seem to have little in common with the 1996 original or its most celebrated sequels, there are actually a number of key thematic and tonal similarities that signal a surprising return to the series’ roots.
Here’s how Resident Evil 7 can be considered a true spiritual successor to classic Resident Evil (with a novel twist).
One of the defining and enduring qualities of Shinji Mikami’s original title was its setting in the deep, dark heart of the US wilderness. Japanese visions of smalltown America have played a crucial part in horror gaming generally (just look at Silent Hill), but Resident Evil’s particular take on this is quite distinctive.
The original game takes place in a moody, decadent mansion surrounded by remote hills and forests – on the distant outskirts of a moderately sized city.
Its environments are notably removed from civilization and embedded in a sort of spooky, rural US backwater that time forgot (the perfect place for Umbrella to set up a top secret facility, you might say).
Resident Evil 7, meanwhile, appears to occupy the same thematic space, even if the emphasis is different.
The demo takes place in a remote, abandoned farmhouse, apparently cut off from the wider world and existing in an isolated, country location that is distinctively and deliberately American.
Recent Resident Evils abandoned the US backwaters in favour of globe-trotting adventures and urban city locales. This is a welcome return to something more lonely, and disturbing.
More than anything else, perhaps, the first Resident Evil was an homage to the campy, gory horror of American B-movies and genre flicks. The zombies were drawn from George Romero’s ‘Dead’ films; the overgrown spiders, snakes and other monstrosities from ’50s sci-fi.
Likewise, you can see the influence of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds in the murder of crows that assail the player at key locations, and even Indiana Jones gets a nod in the shape of descending ceiling traps and rolling giant boulders.
The franchise has always been influenced by cinema, but whereas Resident Evil 6 sent us into pure Michael Bay territory, and even went full meta by apeing Paul WS Anderson’s mediocre Resident Evil films, the original was in thrall to low-budget video nasties and more earthy, visceral horror instead.
Given this, the fact that the Resident Evil 7 demo mines Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the found-footage genre for its aesthetic, mood and ideas should be a cause for celebration, as it’s a return to the same kind of B-movie appreciation that drove the first game.
Mikami would be proud.
Tricks and traps
Just as the mansion in the original Resident Evil was full of compelling secrets, hazards and elaborate architecture-shifting puzzles, the Resident Evil 7 demo hinted at a return to the cryptic mystery that defined the first game’s setting, but largely escaped later iterations.
Hidden levers and mechanisms in the demo’s farmhouse reveal covert passages and open up entirely new sections, hinting that the final experience will once again open up a surprising well of unexpected rooms, pathways and routes from its central locations.
And just what does that Dummy Finger do?! As confounding as any object in the wider canon, that’s for sure.
More than meets the eye
Since the demo landed, it’s since been revealed that the standalone teaser – while showcasing the feel, approach and thematic elements that will define Resident Evil 7 – was just a hint of things to come.
Some level of combat will be in the final game, so yes, there will still be weapons, while the creators have emphasised that outlandish, cryptic puzzles of the kind long-time enthusiasts know and love will also feature prominently.
In other words, this is likely to be more than just Outlast with the Resident Evil name attached.
A departure, sure. And a radical one at that. But one which looks to channel a lot more of the central spirit of old-school Resident Evil than you might at first think, despite putting you jarringly behind the eyes of the lead character.