The new Resident Evil doesn't look anything like the six mainline games that preceded it. It's a first-person horror adventure that appears to make good on a longstanding promise from publisher Capcom: that Resident Evil is "going back to its survival horror roots."
Even better — depending on your point of view, perhaps — Resident Evil 7 is absolutely terrifying in virtual reality.
Resident Evil 7 biohazard — the game's full, official name — immediately feels more like found-footage horror classic The Blair Witch Project than the campier George Romero zombie movies that helped inspire the Resident Evil series. Players will experience the terrors of Resident Evil 7 from first-person, an unsettling perspective shared by horror game contemporaries like Amnesia and Outlast. Like Blair Witch, a flashlight or camera light serves as your primary light source, at least in the "Beginning Hour" teaser that Capcom released today. Terrors lurk on the outside of that beam of light, and players will feel on edge based on how little they can see of their surroundings at times.
The demo that I played on a PlayStation VR headset starts in an abandoned, dilapidated farmhouse. Players are given a simple instruction: Escape.
Looking around the rooms of the farmhouse, you'll see strange things: a pot of rotting stew, a raven stuffed into a microwave, decaying dolls and, inexplicably, creepy mannequins. Resident Evil 7 is steeped in horror cliches, but it's still damn effective. It feels impossible not to be unnerved by the game's atmosphere.
As I creeped around the house, there were some light puzzles. I found a locked door, and in looking for a key, spotted a pair of bolt cutters that opened a nearby cupboard. Inside was a VHS tape. I popped that tape into a VCR and were transported to another time; a low-budget film crew was shooting an episode of a haunted house show. A sleazebag TV show host guided the way, as the producer and us — now playing as the cameraman for that shoot — walked through the abandoned farmhouse. (The farmhouse we're actively trying to escape, that is.)
After enjoying some of the most natural-sounding dialogue to ever appear in a Resident Evil game by a country mile, it was clear something had gone wrong during the episode's filming. The producer went missing, and I was the one who had to find him. The host found a secret pathway and a ladder descending into a basement. I had to go down first, the host said. I found the producer standing still — too still — against a basement wall. Tapping him on the shoulder, his corpse fell backward revealing that he'd been mounted, mouth first, on a pipe. In the ensuing terrifying chaos, a figure emerged from the darkness ... and the cameraman was bludgeoned to death.
When the VHS tape ended, and I returned to the present, I was faced with a terrible realization: Now it was my turn to go into that same basement searching for the key I so desperately needed. After securing it without further incident, I sprinted for the exit, but not before Resident Evil 7's designers threw a few more jump scares my way. Just as I unlocked the door and saw the light of safety on the other side, the farmhouse's angry (possibly zombified) owner snatched me by the shoulder and started pummeling away, ending my demo.
Thought it may be a massive departure from Resident Evils past, 7 feels like a smart course correction for the series. What we saw was just a small slice, but it was very promising.
The game's VR component — Capcom says the entire game can be played with a virtual reality headset — was similarly compelling, though the slight stomach upset it induced made it seem unlikely I'd play Resident Evil 7 from start to finish that way. Controlling the camera through head-tracking and the right analog stick wound up being disorienting, and that discomfort forced me to move slowly through the game to avoid nausea.
We won't have to wait long for Resident Evil 7, and to see if Capcom's new direction for the franchise is successful. Resident Evil 7 will hit PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One on Jan. 24, 2017.