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With a slower pace and more scares, ‘Resident Evil 7’ goes back to bloody basics

With the release of “Midnight,” the last piece of Capcom’s multi-part playable Resident Evil 7 demo, “The Beginning Hour,” players have finally gotten the complete picture of the developer’s prologue chapter for the next entry into the long-running survival-horror series. If nothing else, the demo make it very clear that Resident Evil 7 will focus back on the “horror” aspect of the survival-horror franchise.

The demo has likely given a few longtime Resident Evil fans pause. Yes, “The Beginning Hour” plays like a slower, more deliberate and scarier game than titles in the series have been of late. It’s a notable departure from Resident Evil 6, which placed a very heavy emphasis on action even as it acted as something of a series “greatest hits” package, combining gameplay ideas from Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, Resident Evil 4, and Resident Evil 5. At first glance, the Resident Evil 7 demo seems to be taking its cues from other recent horror games, such as Hideo Kojima’s beloved demo PT, and Outlast, a first-person horror game about sneaking past or fleeing from danger.

“Yes, this is a focus on horror more than action, but at the end of the day, we’re still providing a Resident Evil title.”

Series Producer Masachika Kawata knows the demo is a big departure from previous titles in the series, and in an interview at Playstation Experience 2016, he told Digital Trends that, while there are differences in presentation, the chief inspiration for Resident Evil 7 goes back to the series’ roots.

“Yes, this is a focus on horror more than action, but at the end of the day, we’re still providing a Resident Evil title, which is very much in survival-horror, where it still has elements of combat and action,” Kamata explained. “That’s something that fans will definitely still be able to bite into and enjoy.

“I just want to point out that once you actually do play the game, you’ll immediately recognize that, okay, this very much feels like a Resident Evil game, even though the visuals might be a little bit different. If you look at just the combat, we’re going to have some boss battles in there, there are a lot of familiar elements that fans will be able recognize.”

All the series staples

Some of those elements have made their way into the “Midnight” demo update. Players can discover a handgun, the most iconic weapon of the series, and they’ll face off with one of the “Mouldered,” a slow-moving, vaguely human-shaped creature that’s all teeth, claws, and bad attitude. As players of “The Beginning Hour” have seen, there’s a big focus on the esoteric, multi-stage puzzles that were an especially big staple of the early games in the series. Kawata also noted that RE7 will remain true to the series by steering clear of supernatural elements, as opposed to the biologically engineered zombies and monsters that are core to the Resident Evil experience.  The ghosts players have seen in “The Beginning Hour,” he said, were just for the demo, and there aren’t any ghosts in the main game.

Though players might not immediately recognize it, Kawata said Resident Evil 7 will be a sequel in the essential sense. The game emphasizes a smaller, more personal story — you are trapped in a mansion with a murderous family and, apparently, a variety of other monstrosities. Still, it’s also still the next primary game in the franchise: Along with the kind of survival-horror gameplay the series is known for, its long-running narrative themes, such as bioterrorism and corporate greed, will also play a role.

“In terms of the setting of the Resident Evil universe, when we’re creating Resident Evil 7, because there’s so many elements in the Resident Evil universe in terms of gameplay and story, we wanted to make sure to prioritize, because it wouldn’t make sense to fit everything into this title,” Kawata said. “So we had to prioritize and figure out, what do we want to put in this to make sure it’s the next flagship title. We made sure that what we did put in there really focused on the fact that this is more of an intimate, more personal experience in terms of the storytelling. But at the same time, because it is taking place after Resident Evil 6 and it’s still in the same Resident Evil universe, I think if you do play the game and you do check out the details, you’ll be able to see some of those themes that you were able to see in previous games.”

Resident Evil 7 is working to put the horror back in its take on the survival-horror genre, but Kawata said it’ll also include action and combat — the “survival” part of the genre that’s also always been a major element in Resident Evil games. Earlier games in the series, dating back to the original Resident Evil, included battles that were often slower and more fraught, with players struggling to manage their ammo and dodge hulking, twisted creatures. That kind of combat returns in Resident Evil 7, and makes its way into the latest update of the demo.

The end of the Resident Evil 4 era

A return to the original Resident Evil style of survival-horror represents a big change in direction after 2012’s Resident Evil 6 — a game that had an insane story of zombie-infested cities, featured most of the series’ major characters, was told from a variety of perspectives and included gameplay that ranged from running from unkillable giants to slowly gunning down zombies to assault rifle firefights with bug people. Kawata said RE6 represented, more or less, the end of a branch of thinking for the series.

“We felt like Resident Evil 6 was kind of a culmination, or a build-up, of the elements that were first introduced in Resident Evil 4,” he said. “Having worked through Resident Evil 4, 5 and 6, we felt like the main objective was to keep upping the scale and making sure it was a bigger and grander game. So by the time Resident Evil 6 hit, we figured we can’t get bigger and more grand and more large-scale than Resident Evil 6, so we figured, all right, where do we take things from here? And we figured this was a good time to shrink it back down, make it a more confined space, make it a more intimate experience instead.

“If we wanted to … make it even larger-scale than even Resident Evil 6, we … would have to start introducing superheroes and have them fight in space.”

If we wanted to expand and make it even larger-scale than even Resident Evil 6, we figured we would have to start introducing superheroes and have them fight in space.”

If RE6 was about undaunted, powerful characters who run toward danger, Kawata said, RE7 is about someone who runs away from it. He mentioned films such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Evil Dead, and Saw as driving inspirations for the kind of experience Resident Evil 7 will be.

“When we’re starting the development of Resident Evil 7, the thing that we always want to keep in mind as developers is always wanting to improve ourselves and to make sure that the franchise has as much longevity as possible,” Kamata said. “And when we looked at the franchise as a whole, we figured, this is a perfect opportunity to really evolve the franchise and do something new, and really challenge ourselves. So when we were taking a look at that, we decided, ‘All right, it’s time to place higher significance on survival-horror,’ and making sure that we’re able to offer fans something they can really play and get really scared. In order to do that, we wanted to make sure that the visuals went through a huge overhaul, and to have technology that really coincided with the latest hardware, as well.”

This may come as a bit of a disappointment for fans of the modern, more action-focused Resident Evil games. Kawata said Capcom is working on ways to offer that kind of experience going forward. While he didn’t say anything definitive about a spinoff or specific game, Kawata did say Capcom is aware of a split in the RE fan base and thinking about those fans who like the more action-heavy slant of some of the franchise’s titles.

“Even just looking at the reaction from fans this time around, we do see some split where people are really appreciating that we’re going back to more of the classic style, and we do also see the fact that there are some fans that are still looking for that action-heavy Resident Evil,” he said. “So it’s definitely something that we want to consider, that we’re still able to offer a variety of forms of entertainment within the Resident Evil franchise.”

If there’s anything to take away from recent Resident Evil titles and “The Beginning Hour,” it’s that the Resident Evil franchise has expanded to encompass and support a lot of different ideas under one label. Resident Evil 7 looks to be swinging the pendulum back toward scares as opposed to set pieces, but that’s not all that Resident Evil is or has been. In returning to the franchise’s roots, it seems that Capcom might make something unlike anything in the series so far.

Resident Evil 7 is set to launch Jan. 24, 2017. Its playable demo, “The Beginning Hour,” is available on the Playstation Network for free now, and includes the “Midnight” update released during PSX.

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Phil Hornshaw
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Phil Hornshaw is an author, freelance writer and journalist living in Los Angeles. He is the co-author of The Space Hero's…
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