This week Capcom finally released Beginning Hour on Steam, a Resident Evil 7 ‘teaser’ set before the events of the main game. In theory it’s a demo, but with multiple endings, several ways to complete it, and a few hidden secrets, it feels more like an extended prologue. It also gives you a taste of the dramatic new direction the series has taken, shifting to a first-person perspective and dealing in a more subtle, psychological style of horror.
There are no shuffling zombies or undead dogs crashing through windows here, and maybe that’s a good thing. The series has been experiencing a slow decline in quality since the untouchable Resident Evil 4, and this bold reinvention might be the shot in the arm it needs.
The prologue is set in a dilapidated old house. As I cut through the darkness with my flashlight I see worn furniture, peeling wallpaper, sinister old paintings, and flies buzzing around mysterious chunks of meat. It couldn’t be more different to first game’s opulent Spencer Mansion, and there’s something almost tangible about its grimy aesthetic.
Andy looks at the history of Resident Evil and how it all started with Shinji Mikami's fear of ghosts.
The house is eerily silent except for the creak of my feet on the floorboards and the occasional distant, unidentifiable sound. I make my way into the kitchen and see dull sunlight struggling to shine through dirty, boarded windows. As I cast my flashlight over the mouldering surfaces, which are littered with rotting, grey food, I genuinely feel ill. It’s the most stomach-churning environment I’ve ever encountered in a game, reminiscent of the similarly revolting crime scenes in David Fincher’s Seven.
In a shadowy utility room I see strange wicker dolls hanging from the ceiling, slowly spinning in the stale air. I walk past a door that’s been clumsily boarded up with wooden planks, as if the person doing it was in a hurry. These little details are brilliantly unnerving, giving you just enough information to feel uneasy, even if you aren’t really sure why. Compare this to the series’ usual B-movie scares and you get an idea of just how far Resident Evil 7 is drifting away from its well-established roots.
The surprises in Beginning Hour are best left unspoiled, including a brilliantly tense, terrifying encounter in the basement that I’ll let you discover for yourself. I don’t know how much it reflects the main game, but I’m amazed by how little action there is. Most of the hour I played the prologue for was spent exploring, solving environmental puzzles, and worrying about things jumping out of the shadows at me. I found a gun at one point, hidden in a blood-clogged toilet, but there wasn’t anything to shoot with it.
At one point I find an old videotape and slide it into a player. Suddenly the action switches to a film crew exploring a past version of the house, with an obnoxious TV host laughing off the idea that the place is haunted. At first I’m not sure it’s the same location, but then I see the kitchen from earlier in a much less disgusting state. And a clue revealed in this flashback—the location of a hidden switch—opens up an alternate path that I can take the next time I play the prologue. The transition between timelines works well, and I hope the finished game explores the idea further.
Based on the demo, Resident Evil 7 doesn’t feel much like a Resident Evil game at all. The only connection in the prologue I could find was a photo of a black helicopter with what looks like the Umbrella logo on the side. And you know, I love that. Resident Evil has been doing its thing for years now, and it’s about time they tried something different to blow away the cobwebs. They can always go back to the old formula if it doesn’t work out.
The important thing is that they’re experimenting and attempting something new, which should always be encouraged—especially when it comes to popular franchises like this. I hate when a series I love gets comfortable and lazy, knowing it’ll sell regardless because of its name. Prior to playing Beginning Hour I didn’t know a single thing about Resident Evil 7, but now I’m actually really looking forward to it. As much as I love big Barry Burton banging on about Jill sandwiches and Chris Redfield punching rocks, I’m glad to see Capcom going for something a little more understated.