It's fitting that Capcom would reveal the seventh instalment of its once great franchise alongside the much anticipated reveal of Hideo Kojima's latest project, because Resident Evil 7 seems to be a full realisation of what Kojima set out to do with Silent Hills. After years of inferior sequels, HD remasters, and some serious identity issues (a multiplayer shooter?!), the series that popularised survival horror and spawned a generation of imitators is on the brink of fading into irrelevance.
2014's promising 'Playable Teaser' was the perfect antidote to an increasingly bloated and action driven genre, that is of course until it was prematurely cancelled and disowned by Konami. The whole PT debacle still stings for a lot of people, and the recent cancellation of spiritual successor Allison Road served as yet another nail in the coffin of a brave new direction for the survival horror genre. Well, not on Capcom's watch, because Resident Evil 7: Beginning Hour is PT in all but name, even choosing a title that plays around with double meanings (Beginning Hour = Biohazard), and a setting that's both claustrophobic and archetypal of old fashioned horror.
The first thing that's evident when starting the demo is the striking similarity to Silent Hills' teaser. It's clear that Capcom is attempting to capitalise on the popularity of Kojima's experiment, transposing the slow burn chills of the Silent Hill games into the Resident Evil series and giving the muddled franchise a much needed shot in the arm in the process.
From the shift in perspective to the slower pace, this couldn't be further removed from the last decade of Resi games. There is some of the old DNA still present, with item-based puzzles featuring heavily and the setting itself reminiscent of the dank corridors of the Spencer Mansion.
Far from a simple show piece, the demo features different ways to progress that lead to multiple endings. Messing around with player perspective, the narrative shifts in interesting ways, particularly when navigating within found footage, where we encounter the demos only other characters – presenters of a Ghosthunters-style TV show. If the original Resident Evil was an homage to the B-movies of yesteryear, Beginning Hour is a riff on the technically accomplished jump scare factories of modern horror. Here your biggest enemy is the camera, which constantly threatens to reveal a hidden horror around every corner. Thanks to this bold new direction, it hasn't been this nerve shredding to play an RE game since Resident Evil 4 more than a decade ago.
Running on a shiny new engine, simply named the 'Resident Evil Engine', the game looks fantastic, with impressive lighting effects, an atmospheric environment, and the best sound design in a horror game since, well, PT. Beginning Hour is horror gaming as technical spectacle, and it will leave anyone that plays it salivating for the as yet unannounced release date.
True, the demo raises a lot of questions about the future of the franchise, and it remains to be seen whether this is an elaborate experiment that will ultimately not reflect what the full game will be, but it's undeniably brave for Capcom to shake things up this much. Coming out of nowhere, bearing none of the hallmarks of the series, and choosing such an intimate and cryptic location as its setting, it's unclear as to what Resident Evil 7: Beginning Hour actually represents. Based on this evidence alone, though, the final game has the potential to revolutionise the genre all over again.
Have you played the Resident Evil 7 demo yet? Were you impressed with it? Are you hoping that the final game follows this bold new direction? Scream where no one can hear you in the comments section below.