In theory Resident Evil 7 is easy to appreciate. After a series of increasingly action-focused entries trying to capture the magic of Resident Evil 4 – and falling short to varying degrees – Capcom has finally listened to its fans and scaled back the shooty bits in favour of an eerie slow burn through a funhouse of horror cliches. Based on the publicly released 20 minute demo of Resident Evil 7, there isn’t even a weapon to be found. Yet this minimalist first-person entry doesn’t seem like a return to the series’ roots either, but rather the restless folks at Capcom chasing a different trend: that of the minimalist sensory horror experience.
It’s hard to look at RE7’s first-person horror and not be instantly reminded of two other recent genre entries: Kojima Productions’ now defunct Silent Hills teaser, P.T., and Red Barrels’ debut effort Outlast. The former was especially influential based purely on its strangeness. They say what people fear most is the unknown and P.T. was as unknown as it gets. No one even knew what it was or who made it upon its surprise launch (though it didn’t take long to crack). P.T. didn’t use button prompts and it forced players to plough through puzzles that sometimes didn’t make sense as the community worked together to unravel its mysteries. Plus it had quite possibly the most unnerving audio effects I’ve ever encountered in a video game with ghastly radio static and the cries of a sentient deformed fetus raising the hairs on one’s neck.
Outlast used a lot of similar tricks, but wrapped it up in a more familiar video game package. It had stealth sequences and sensible puzzles, for one. It also had a more accessible central narrative compared to P.T.’s elliptical take on storytelling.