Friday, 17 June 2016

Resident Evil 7 [Beginning Hour Demo] - Preview

It was a Tuesday morning (in the UK). The E3 2016 Sony conference was well underway. Then, out of nowhere, a game that many had forsaken fought its way back up to the surface by tooth and nail. This re-animated corpse was, of course, Resident Evil 7

With a much darker, P.T.-esque reveal trailer, Capcom had gamers feeling optimistic for a series that has been hard to root for since Resident Evil 4, all the way back in 2005. Here is the trailer that showed us all that Resident Evil 7 might finally be shambling along a different, but ultimately much-needed path:

What's more is that Capcom revealed there was going to be a Resident Evil 7 demo called 'Beginning Hour' made available on the PlayStation Store immediately. Resident Evil was well and truly back to its rightful place at the forefront of horror-loving minds. But, does it deserve to be there? 

Well, I played the demo and here's what I thought...

Resident Evil 7 - Preview

The first thing that's impossible not to mention is that fact that the series, which has always been third-person – with the exception of the Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles, an FPS game for the Wii – could now be an entirely first-person affair. This is likely to divide long-time fans of the series. Some will see it as yet another step away from what made the classics so great, whereas others – like myself – feel that this makes horror feel incredibly immediate, and that a change, even such a drastic departure as this, was needed in order for the franchise to remain relevant. 

Some of the most terrifying games (and demos) of recent years have been first-person, such as Outlast or P.T., and it's nice to see Capcom taking inspiration from acclaimed horror games rather than acclaimed action games. Anyway, there's more to the demo than how you view the horror, and for once, there actually is some to view.

When the demo started, I found myself lying on old wooden floorboards. As I clambered up, I was greeted by one message:

"Get out of the house."

Then nothing. No tutorial. No hints. Just an unlit room, two old sofas, a dirty table, a fuse box, a dusty stone fireplace, and a TV on a table in the corner, playing static. On the table in-between the two sofas there was a note, which said "I will dash them against the stones." Curiosity and the thought of freedom drove me forward into the darkness.

The TV needed a video tape, and the fuse box was missing a fuse. Of course, I had neither. What I did have, however, was an inventory. Though I had nothing to fill it with, the inventory seemed limited in space, and items could be mapped to the four directions on the d-pad. Good to know.

I found a door, and was prompted to press X to open. As in all RE games, I expected a door animation to take over. It didn't. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the game actually has you manually open a door by pushing the analogue stick forward. It's a small feature, but one that keeps you firmly in control, making something as simple as opening a door more tense than the entirety of RE5 or RE6 combined. 

Through the door was a hallway. It was still extremely dark, and the house itself looked worn and abandoned. I crept along the hallway, only able to see a few feet in front of the unknown protagonist I was controlling. What I found in a small room to my left unnerved me further: a locked door that had been barricaded haphazardly from the outside, and a ceiling of doll babies, swinging from rope tied around their necks. I can never keep up with the latest trends in home design...

With nothing much else to see, I moved on. To my right there was a cabinet. I opened a drawer and found what appeared to be a dummy's finger. It seemed useless to me at this point in time so I placed it into my inventory and continued. In front of me, a crossroads. I could either go upstairs, where a dark room and a flashing light beckoned me, or I could go into the kitchen, looking a little worse for wear, but much more open and lighter. I chose the kitchen (obviously).

I opened the fridge and found nothing but mouldy food, followed by the microwave, which contained a long-dead crow. I'll probably never know why it was there, and I'm okay with that. Next, I opened a large pot sitting on the kitchen table, only to find more rotten food and a few cockroaches. There was little else to explore in the kitchen, except for a drawer with nothing in and another that was locked.

Thinking the key wouldn't be anywhere nearby, I headed through a door on the other side of the kitchen. It led down yet another worn corridor, but it was the small room at the end that caught my eye. Flesh. Covering the floor. Just, flesh. It may have been animal carcasses, though it was hard to tell, and I wasn't about to get any closer. 

Stabbed into one of these piles of flesh was a pair of bolt cutters, which I yanked free before trying the door. Through it I could see the bright light of day, and the door itself seemed in better condition than the rest of the house. Was this the way out? I tried the handle. Locked. I headed back.

At the end of the corridor was a wardrobe that I hadn't seen on the way past, and its doors were locked by a thick chain. I selected the bolt cutters from my inventory and cut through. Inside the wardrobe was a video tape, and I had just the place for it. I made my way back, expecting something to jump out at me at any moment. It didn't, but that didn't change the fact that I was internally cheering for the level of tension the demo was delivering. Instead of punching a massive boulder, it was like Chris Redfield was punching my heart. Much better

Back in the room I had woken in, I played the video - as it turned out, quite literally.

As the video began to play, I realised that I was in control of the person with the camera, filming some sort of haunted house show called 'Sewer Gators'. This feature shows some real growth in Capcom's mindset towards horror, as they're leaving the control, and therefore the fear, in the hands of the player. As they (I) continued filming the show, I realised that they were actually walking through the very house I was now watching the tape in. Naturally, before long, a member of the team went missing. 

During the search, we ended up in the same room that I was watching the tape inside, and the egotistical presenter of the show found a hidden switch in the fireplace. When activated, it opened a small square door in the wall, which led to a space under the house - maybe a second basement used in Prohibition times. 

For a while I was pointing the camera up at the ladder I had just climbed down for a "hero shot" that the presenter wanted. After he didn't follow me down, I started to look around. I quickly stepped back and my breath caught in my throat. Directly behind me was the missing member of the team. 

He was facing the wall, not moving. After building the courage, I grabbed his shoulder. In doing so, I pulled him from a hook that was lodged into his jaw and we both fell to the floor. Blood seeped from his eyes and his head lolled backwards in my lap. He was almost certainly dead. There wasn't much time to think before someone else stepped out from the darkness, into the basement with me, and the video cut out.

On the table in front of me... the note from before, but changed. It now said "I will dash YOU against the stones," with the "YOU" written in blood. Great. I needed to get out of this house.

The first thing I had to do was trying the fireplace switch from the video. Yes, it was there alright, and it opened the same hole in the wall. Before going through, though, I had to check upstairs. If I were going to find something in this basement that ended the demo, I wanted to have explored the entire house. I cautiously made my back to the bottom of the stairs and tiptoed up. At the top was a flashing button marked 'Stairs' which didn't seem to do anything when I pushed it. 

Aware that there was a missing fuse, I gave up hoping that this would do anything and instead kept a watchful eye on three mannequins that stood by the wall to my left. I hate mannequins so much. I found the courage to try and use the dummy's finger, but it didn't seem to work. Happy to leave the plastic nightmares behind, I headed back to the hole in the wall in search of the door key.

As luck would have it, the key to the back door awaited me at the opening to the basement. The ladder was missing, which was fine by me, and it was definitely time to go. I headed back into the room, but something had changed again. The door leading back into the corridor was wide open. I crept towards it and the soundtrack spiked as something tall and deformed walked past. I backed into the room and waited, hoping it hadn't seen me. 


Whatever it was, it didn't appear again, though the thought of seeing it up close and personal made the walk to the back door seem much longer than it had before.

By the time I reached the room of rotting flesh, I was squinting, convinced that the thing was hiding within the corpses. Again, nothing but my own fears. I walked up to the back door without any issues, used the key I'd found to unlock it, and pushed the door open. Outside I could bright blue skies and a lush green garden. Freedom. 

Then a voice: 

"Hehehe... Welcome to the family, son." 

I turned and an old man in a yellow jacket knocked me out with a punch to the face. The demo was over. Or at least, that's how it ended for me.

Similarly to the P.T. demo, there are actually multiple items and secrets hidden throughout, many of which can actually lead to different endings. It's possible to find the missing fuse, go into the attic, answer a phone call (with at least three different conversations), see the mannequins come to life, find an axe, and even to spot a ghostly apparition of an unexplained woman (whom I didn't see even once). However, no-one is yet to figure out what the dummy finger does... if anything at all. 

Was the demo on the same level of fear that games like Outlast or P.T. produced? Not quite. Did I, for the first time in years, actually experience fear in a Resident Evil game? YES. Hell, I even jumped a couple of times. For me, that's a step in the right direction, and it means that I can finally be excited for a Resident Evil game without the feelings of shame that came with my blind excitement for Resident Evil 6.

If you have a PS4, you can now download the demo and try for yourself. I'm hoping that you'll find the same sense of fear and excitement that I found. In fact, I'm hoping the demo sinks its rediscovered, infectious bite just as far into you.

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