Things are heating up on the road to Resident Evil 7: Biohazard's release, as just recently the demo was updated to give fans even more teasers ahead of next month's launch. We got the chance to see roughly four hours of the game at Capcom's office in London this week, and that provided more than just a little tease of what we can expect on January 24.
When it was first revealed at E3, many voiced their concerns about the fact that it didn't look like a Resident Evil game, and instead felt more akin to something like P.T., Konami's 2014 horror demo. The change to first-person, the lack of any recognisable faces, and a more low-key brand of horror confused and concerned people. Would this be the end of Resident Evil as we knew it? Was this a totally new approach?
Even the demo didn't clear things up entirely. Sure, there are a lot of secrets to discover, but in the end it's more of an isolated string of rooms for you to peek through, take a look around, and rummage through to discover items. It's more of an atmospheric teaser to give an indication of how the game will feel, but it doesn't prepare you for what the core experience will be like.
When we jumped into the extended section of Resident Evil 7 Capcom gave us to play, which is about an hour into the game, we noticed very quickly how this is different from the demo, and how it feels more like Resident Evil. The four hours we played were jam-packed with puzzles just like those seen in classic Resident Evil games. We won't spoil what they are or what you have to do, but there are many occasions where you need to solve a puzzle to proceed, which is something fans of the series will no doubt appreciate.
Also, inventory management is back and more important than ever. Sure, it's already in the demo, but you don't realise how crucial it is until playing more of the game, as we started with twelve slots and very soon found ourselves struggling to decide what to keep and what to discard, just like in past games. Should we pick up green herbs (which also make a return) or should we keep ammo? Every item has to be carefully considered.
The reason that care and precision are so important is because this is a survival game where mistakes are costly. When enemies appear, you need to make every shot count and try not to get hit so as to conserve health packs and herbs. We saw another player encounter two tough enemies; he used all of his ammunition, which meant some scavenging and a lot of patience was required to progress. The emphasis on the 'survival' part of survival horror is something that will certainly please fans of the genre, as there is a very clear emphasis on vulnerability.
Stylistically, there are hints of Resident Evil throughout. For example, fans of the series will love the little touches like the sinister, iconic noise made when picking up key items, as well as the presentation of these items once you examine them. Small, subtle tropes of the series are sprinkled throughout the experience, and nostalgia is triggered every now and then. Even the smallest details are well done, like a fragile box needing to be knifed to get inside, causing it to dramatically shatter and reveal its contents.
As much as we maintain that it feels like a Resident Evil game in some regards, there are obvious ways in which it doesn't, but that's not necessarily a negative point. The clear distinction between this and other titles in the series is the first-person perspective, and this has been talked about a lot since the game was announced. Instead of being poised just behind the shoulder of your protagonist, you are now sitting right behind their eyes.
To calm the fears that people may have, the first-person view works very well, and we loved how it controlled; it was a smooth and responsive throughout, including during combat and, most importantly, movement. The dated, fiddly controls of Resident Evil games are long gone here and instead is an experience that allows you to respond to situations with ease.
Combat looks like it would in any typical first-person game. There were a handful of weapons in the section we played, and you aimed with the left trigger and fired with the right (there weren't ironsights, but that's not a bad thing). You also had a knife you receive early on, and this can be used either in desperate situations or for smashing boxes and small objects. What makes this even better is that all your items, not just weapons, can be assigned to a quick select option on the D-pad, so if you run out of ammo for the pistol during a fight, you can quickly switch to your knife or a healing item, for example.
Quick combat is extra important in Resident Evil 7, as the enemies you'll face are not only powerful but also have the tendency to surprise you, forcing you to make quick decisions. This is made worse by the fact you can't pause when you're accessing your inventory which, while realistic and adding to the tension, we found very frustrating when there was an enemy on our tail.
These enemies vary from the Baker family to others like the Molded, which are jet black creatures that emerge from the ooze that covers some areas of the game, much like the symbiotes from Spider-Man. These are also a little bit reminiscent of the Regenerators from Resident Evil 4, and much like the Baker family members they are capable of dealing great amounts of damage, reinforcing the emphasis on survival.
From what we saw the format of the game is this: a short section of puzzling/exploration followed a short section of combat (which could include a mini boss), rinse and repeat. We found this worked excellently as combat can be stressful and intense, so slower-paced sections were a godsend, keeping the experience varied while offering a different challenge. As we've said, though, it's never clear when each is coming, which means you have to stay on your toes.
Keeping direction in the game is something we were worried about when we stepped into the main hall of the Baker family home. In this hall there are a lot of doors and a lot of options regarding which way to proceed, and we feared that we'd be stuck getting frustrated, however, this wasn't the case. The few brief times we weren't sure where to go, a little exploring solved it very quickly, and there is a nice balance between clearly signposting how to progress and keeping it out of obvious sight.
Another way Resident Evil 7 achieves this is by hiding solutions for other problems in sections that can currently be solved by the player, so if there are three paths, the last two won't be available until you access the whole of the first, which allows access to the second and third. Trying different things, exploring, and seeing which items may be important, then, is another necessity in Resident Evil 7, and although sometimes it can be a bit puzzling where to find a key item, it's never obtusely hidden.
So far there's been a lot of discussion about the survival aspect of Resident Evil 7's horror experience, but let's talk about the horror side of it for a bit. Resident Evil 7 puts you on edge throughout, making you fear the unknown, including who (or what) might be coming as well as the mystery regarding what has happened in the Baker home.
Two aspects of Resident Evil 7 work together to produce the marvellous atmosphere on offer, the first of those being the audio. We played with headphones on, and the sound quality was excellent. For the most part the game is eerily quiet and what works well here is that you can hear your own footsteps shuffling and creaking on the floor, however, this can often deceive you into thinking you're hearing someone else. Hearing small, subtle noises around you works very well to make the player constantly feel on edge.
The other thing that works well is the lighting, as there is very little light throughout, but what is there produces plenty of shadows. In the main hall we mentioned earlier, for example, there is a light behind a spinning fan, and several times we started at the sight of the fan's shadow; that's how on-edge we were. Light sometimes cuts out on you as well, which left us covering our face in case something jumped out suddenly.
We can't discuss a lot of the narrative details, but what we will say is that found footage is used to great effect. As those who played the demo know, not only does it play on this cinematic sub-genre, but the player also gets to play as the person behind the camera. What's even cooler is that this isn't just to be spooky, but actually serves a useful purpose, as locations you see in videos are accessible later on when you return to playing as the protagonist, meaning there's a neat interaction between what you see in the tape and what you see outside of it.
Another thing we can comment on regarding the narrative is that the few details we saw were good, and they provided an intriguing story involving the Baker family, and we're looking forward to seeing how its mysteries unfold when the full game releases January 24. By the end of the section given to us we had to tear ourselves away as we'd uncovered lots of interesting information, and we wanted to see where it led.
It wasn't just the narrative that made us reluctant to leave Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. We greatly enjoyed the fresh feel that this game has brought to the series, however, we equally enjoyed the small touches that made it feel like it was still a Resident Evil game. This is the breath of fresh air that the series needed, and everything from the movement to the combat, not to mention the atmosphere, works together to produce a very spooky experience, one that we're looking forward to seeing more of next month.