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Who lives in a residence such as this? It’s a question japan horror series Resident Evil has been asking of its players since 1996, when it first locked us in a aristocratic mansion on the outskirts of Racoon City, somewhere in the American mid-west. There, behind creaking doors and sliding oak panels, the answer was a grotesque menagerie of ragged zombies, bloody Doberman hounds and terrifying Homeric snakes. Since that time both locale and the locals have changed, from Resident Evil 4’s sojourn to a dejected Spanish forest to the fifth game’s contentious visit to sweltering African townships.
Swampy, buzzing Louisiana may be the setting because of this, the seventh game, which, because of the involvement of the Texan writer Richard Pearsey (Spec Ops: The Line; 1979 Revolution) took its cues not from Hammer Horror but from Truman Capote’s harrowing non-fiction novel In Cold Blood and the 1974 slasher film Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Protagonist Ethan Winters finds the gates of a derelict house on the edge of a fetid bayou on the trail of his presumed-dead wife, Mia. In the home he finds the Bakers, a hick family who stay in squalor. There’s a dead crow in the microwave. There’s a cascade of offal in the fridge. There’s a mangled deer in the cellar. What else would you anticipate from a family group that built a morgue in the basement?
Resident Evil 7 Photograph: Capcom
With a shift to a first-person perspective, Resident Evil 7 appears like a vivid reinvention. Actually, it rigorously follows the template established by the formative games in the series. There’s the complicated house, its various wings and tiers segmented by implausibly contrived locking mechanisms, fed by increasingly ornate keys. There will be the virus-maddened monsters that grow in power and appendage during the period of the story. There’s the inventory management, which requires you to meticulously choose what what to carry with you in those mad dashes between safe rooms, places where you record your progress via cassette answerphones. There’s a familiar shift in pace and location near to the end.
There are additions and tweaks too, which contemporise the formula. Chief among these is a fresh and unprecedented give attention to the ‘horror’ element of the ‘survival horror’ genre, a label of Resident Evil’s invention. In the initial games, where you manipulated your character from third-person vantage points, horror stemmed from the awkwardness of the controls. Your character needed to be turned on the location, before, generally, you steered him clumsily right into a wall. A few of that forced frustration exists here: even at full pelt, Ethan moves slowly (although the speed with that you are able to aim your weapon could be quickened in the menu). But you will find a far greater focus on jump scares and fright making – those gory face-offs with family – the potency of which is grimly compounded by the perspective shift. You need to watch as Ethan wincingly pulls a dart from his hand, or look into the hateful face of your attacker as he lifts you in to the air.
Resident Evil 7 Photograph: Capcom
The cumulative aftereffect of all that adrenaline baiting is eventually among terror fatigue and nausea. You figure out how to glance down at your phone when creaking open a fresh door so that you can lessen the consequences of the screech and screen shudder if something grabs that person on the other hand. The designers are smart to such evasive manoeuvres, and position their scares at unexpected intervals. Merely playing the overall game on a television set screen is, sometimes, enough to reduce a new player to a trembling mess. Anyone reckless enough to go to this hell vision of Louisiana in virtual reality (a choice for many who own a PlayStation VR headset), risks sustaining the first major injury inflicted via the technology because they jump out of their seat on many occasions.
The battle isn’t just with your personal fear (those discordant violins, the mad pianos, the creeping horror of your footsteps: effective clichés all) or those slobbering monsters. It’s also with the game’s economy. All threats should be eliminated with the minimal possible expenditure of ammunition. That is why you aim for the top (if, at least, you can find out which bit may be the head). It’s not simply because this is actually the quickest way to get rid of a monster. In doing this you additionally have a chance, in casino speak, to beat the home. The better you are in combat, the more ammunition you’ll have the ability to stockpile for another encounter. A wasteful approach either through too little skill or a surplus of bravado will leave you underfunded for the street ahead, and Resident Evil 7 punishes you by organically stiffening its challenge in kind.
Via the Bakers and the mysterious girl who lives within their attic, the monsters are actually the key subjects of characterisation. This enables Pearsey and the game’s designers to build boss encounters around the family members’ personalities, making them more striking and memorable. You now find copper coins which can be spent unlocking a few (meagre) upgrades. There’s a significant concentrate on crafting, that allows you to control the spread of your resources between restorative items and ammunition. Every location is filled up with plunderable items, and picking over the scenery becomes an important ritual. And, in its wise give attention to an individual geographical location (albeit with a protracted trip to an urgent location near to the home) there’s an factor of Dark Souls-esque clockwork ingenuity to the map’s layout, which, via clever shortcuts, closes loops till the game’s final moments.
2005’s Resident Evil 4 was an astonishing redefinition, not merely of its series but also, because of the introduction of the ‘over-the-shoulder’ perspective, of third-person action games generally. Resident Evil 7’s impact is more localised, but believe it or not effective. Reinventing older game series’ to match ever expanding technological boundaries while maintaining their quiddity is probably the great challenges in game design. Indeed, it’s the one that Resident Evil’s creators have didn’t meet on numerous occasions. Resident Evil 7, in comparison, is a masterclass: breezily new, yet qu