Capcom (Finally) Returns to the World of Survival Horror with Resident Evil 7

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This week I spent an hour with Resident Evil 7 biohazard at Capcom’s offices in New York City. But before I get to the actual “preview” portion of this article, I have to make a quick confession.

While I’ve liked what I’ve seen and read about Resident Evil 7, especially through the expertly delivered “World of Resident Evil 7” video snippets, I just haven’t been entirely sure that the game would be the homecoming us old-school fans of the series have waited years for. That all changed after I walked out of my meeting with Capcom.

When I grabbed that PlayStation 4 controller and started playing, I was finally home, and I didn’t want to leave. But unfortunately, I had to, because parking rates in New York City are ridiculous…

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For a moment, I thought I was back in the original game’s iconic mansion, and that moment lasted for the entirety of my time with the game. What I played of Resident Evil 7 indicates that it won’t just be a return to survival horror, but that it’ll also be a return to the overall feel and style of the original game that infected the genre with mainstream popularity.

My demo started a few hours into the game, picking up right from that dinner scene with the Bakers we’ve seen in the trailers. Playing as Ethan Winters, I was tied to a chair and forced to eat pretty gruesome food. Food that would make Hannibal Lecter proud, although the good doctor might want to teach the Bakers a thing or two about proper kitchen etiquette.

You won’t find any story spoilers here, but after a very fortunate interruption, Ethan’s left to his own devices. He’s left to escape without the use of, well, any devices. But don’t worry, there are some to find after you’re free from that chair! I found quite a few of them throughout my hour with the game, but no matter what I had in my inventory (grid-based like the classic games!), I was still endangered by the unnerving presence of Jack Baker.

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Before talking about Jack, I want to say that I truly love how Resident Evil 7 is going to handle boss fights—a series staple that’s delivered some truly memorable encounters. I really love that we’ll be getting to know the bosses as actual people, whether it be through journal entries or through their actual dialogue as they taunt and threaten you.

In previous Resident Evil games, we’d usually fight bosses that, while cool, lacked any true character or backstory, with William Birkin being one of the few exceptions. Tyrant and Nemesis are iconic monsters, yes, but do we really know about the people underneath? We don’t really get to learn much, or anything at all, about who those monsters are in the context of their respective games. That won’t be the case in Resident Evil 7. The bosses here will be, as far as we know at this point, the Baker family—Jack, Marguerite, and their son Lucas. The hour I played was all about Jack Torrance. I mean… Jack Baker.

That’s a huge compliment, really. I know a lot of people have been comparing Resident Evil 7 to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, especially because of its gritty visual style, substance, and the Bakers themselves. But that wasn’t the vibe I felt while playing the game. Instead, I felt like I was stuck in The Shining, and it felt oh so amazing.

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Like Creative Assembly did with Alien: Isolation, Capcom has married the traditional concept of a boss fight with that of exploration, and this is a marriage that will truly benefit Resident Evil fans and survival horror fans in general. It adds another layer of fear and tension that enriches the classic act of backtracking, which featured heavily in my time with the game.

Locked door? Okay, I have to look for one of the animal-themed keys, of course! But… what if Jack is waiting for me on the path I have to take while backtracking? That was a question I asked myself a lot when I came across locked door situations. And I loved every second of it.

Once he spots you, Jack is relentless. It was never entirely easy to escape him. Ethan’s running speed is kept to a level that is nowhere near those of typical action heroes in video games, which fits perfectly with who he is. He’s not a trained soldier or a government agent with a one-day police career in his resume. He’s just some guy looking for his wife in the wrong part of town. I mean, yeah, there’s always the possibility that he’ll be linked to the series’ past in some way, but for now, he’s just some guy. And that’s a breath of fresh air the series really needed, as much as I love the classic characters I grew up with. But trust me, it’s the only breath of fresh air you’ll be getting while playing the game…

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Suffocation has never felt better. During the boss fight against Jack within the confines of a garage, things were so intense that I barely had a chance to breathe, and it felt… so damn good. While not as complex as the Xenomorph’s AI in Alien: Isolation, Jack still has a mind of his own, and an unhinged one at that.

Capcom has taken the traditional boss fight and deconstructed it so that instead of looking for specific patterns, you just have to find a way to keep your ass alive while fending off an unpredictable madman that can use the environment against you just like you would yourself. Capcom reps confirmed to me that there will be multiple ways to take down the bosses. I got to play around with a few of those methods as I fought Jack, but I ended up “beating” him by doing something even the Capcom reps had previously thought was impossible. Let’s just say my knife-only playthroughs of the classic games have trained me well!

Exploration is key, and that applies to everything about the game. You can probably imagine how intense it is when you’re exploring a room looking for anything that can help you take down a crazed man that’s borderline immortal. But after that boss fight, I knew I was safe, at least for a little while. I took advantage of that by (here’s the magic word!) backtracking to fully explore every inch I could of the first house. Yes, now we can talk about the house(s)!

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Resident Evil 7 puts us in the role of an unfamiliar character, literally through his perspective, in what seems like a familiar scenario at first. We’re once again confined within the walls of creepy houses. Yes, “houses.” Plural. I only got to explore two of those houses, but I instantly felt just how big the scale of the Baker’s plot of land was.

The first house is small. This is where you find yourself being forced to have dinner with the Bakers. This initial house provided a wonderful miniature old-school Resident Evil experience, and for being such a small house, it was filled with many things to find that were straight out of those beloved classic games. Lock picks? Check. Gunpowder (that you could combine with chemicals to make bullets)? Check. Herbs? Check. See where I’m going with this?

And it wouldn’t be an old-school Resident Evil experience without puzzles. One of those puzzles occurred once I made it out of the initial house and into the mansion it was attached to. Said puzzle will have you manipulating light and shadows to form a specific figure, similar to what we saw in the “Lantern” demo gameplay footage (speaking of which, the “Lantern” segment was actually playable by playing the tape you find that shows those events). And, of course, it wouldn’t be Resident Evil without the use of firearms to give you a fighting chance against the monsters being thrown at you.

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I was completely satisfied with how gunplay was handled in the game, and combat in general. I managed to find 40 bullets for my handgun, but despite that number, I still didn’t feel entirely safe. Aiming is realistic in terms of playing as someone who’s had no prior experience with guns (I compared it to the first time I fired a gun). There’s only a very small white dot to pinpoint where you’ll shoot, but the act of shooting isn’t as simple as just aiming that cursor where you want to shoot. Aiming is a bit floaty, with headshots being a little tricky to pull off for those used to traditional gunplay in first-person games.

I put the knife to good use as well, using it to slash through breakable boxes hiding items, and also using it for a small environmental puzzle that reminded me a lot of the spider-web-covered doors from the original Resident Evil. And, of course, I may have even used it during a certain boss fight *winks*. The one thing I didn’t use much of was the guarding mechanic, where you can make Ethan raise an arm to block incoming attacks, lessening the damage you’d normally receive from them. I did duck a lot, though, especially when Jack was wildly swinging his shovel at me.

My playthrough all lead up to the introduction of another threat you’ll be faced with in the game: the Molded. These monsters are more like what you’d expect from the series. They behave not unlike the Ooze from Revelations and the Regenerators from Resident Evil 4. This is where I ended up wasting the majority of the bullets I had for my handgun. I blame myself for this. I just couldn’t resist treating the Molded like I’d treat traditional zombies—you know, shooting them in the head. You see, while insane, Jack’s movements were still human, but the Molded moved very unnaturally, which made lining up headshots quite a challenge. Oh, and I have to stress how grotesquely beautiful it looks when the Molded literally come out of the, well, mold found around the basement area. And speaking of beautiful, I also got to see one of the goriest scenes in the series during my hour with the game, but I won’t spoil that moment for you!

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Let’s go back to that dinner scene, though—the one that gives us a good taste of what to expect when we’re welcomed to the Baker family come January 24th. That scene isn’t just Capcom showing off their new crop of baddies, and their love for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. To me, that scene signifies something more, something deeper.

Capcom is taking all the horrifying ingredients that made the series one of the most cherished, and they’re mixing them up into a dish that’s going to wash away the taste previous installments have left in fans’ mouths, replacing it with a delicious return to the world of survival horror.

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