Resident Evil. What a stupid name. The result of an internal competition at Capcom after it was pointed out they’d never be able to copyright the Japanese name Biohazard, the title was considered terrible even by some employees. It’s one of those titles that you don’t really question because it’s been that way for twenty years now. It just is.
With the first game it made sense. You’re in a house and have to deal with its evil residents. Once the setting changed from the Spencer Mansion to Raccoon City and beyond however, the title didn’t mean anything anymore. It just was.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard uses both titles. It feels as though Capcom is trying to send a message. That they’ve figured out what this franchise should be and have the confidence and know-how to pull it off. Is it course correction? Is it a soft reboot? It doesn’t matter. This is a massive step away from the action and bombast of the previous trilogy of games whilst also creating a bright future for the franchise.
Over six months ago I had my first taste of the new game through the Beginning Hour demo. Even as someone who didn’t like the direction the last few numbered entries had taken I wasn’t overly enamoured with it. Seemingly derivative and not very ‘resi’, it didn’t strike a chord with me. There was no doubting it was scary, I just didn’t think it was right. At least I still had the Revelations titles to scratch what I thought was an old-school itch.
Having now finished the ordeal at the Baker’s Louisiana plantation I can tell you that the demo was not fully representative, and I was wrong about that itch. There are certain things that come to mind about the original game. Save rooms with special music, strange keys, not enough ammo and tight surroundings forcing fight or flight decisions. Revelations had some of this but 7 goes the whole way. You’ll see lots of people talking about the horror film influences on this game. Those people are right as those influences are obvious and often, but I think they’re missing how this game is so faithful to the original, evoking the same strong feelings.
The first person view limits your awareness, much like the static camera of old. I was constantly lulled into a false sense of security that four shotgun shells provide only to watch them vanish quickly. Then there is the loving embrace and respite that only a save room can provide. For a minute at least I can take stock and not be wondering what’s behind me. Pro tip – close doors behind you.
I even spent the opening hour of this game on the verge of turning it off; marginally stronger behaviour than 12 year old me turning off the PS1 at the first sight of a zombie.
Essentially, it creates all the same feelings I had 20 years ago in a modern package. It’s heartening to see Capcom can create something like this. If 7 is the success it should be then hopefully they’ll feel confident to further pursue this style and not return to explosions and slow motion.
It took me 11 hours to complete the game and I’m already thinking about going back in. It’s not perfect; the enemy variation isn’t huge and only a couple of the puzzles could be considered more than basic. But it’s a fantastically well designed game that propels you long, making you want to see what’s around the next corner even though it might scare the crap out of you. For the first time in years I felt as though I’d survived a horror.
It’s not PT. It’s not Alien: Isolation. It’s not Outlast.
This is Resident Evil. And it’s a damn good one.