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.
Resident Evil 7's demo tries very hard to capture the zeitgeist of these two hits, but adds precious little of its own. This early build sticks to P.T.'s minimalist mobility as you can't move faster than a snails pace. That worked for P.T.'s claustrophobic infinite loop of a singular hallway, but the languid movement speed here is already irritating after only exploring the cramped quarters of a single cottage. Resident Evil 7's demo also lacks P.T.'s inherent strangeness. If you're going to lock players in a box and make them scrutinise the scenery, there better be something worth gawking over. Yet the Resident Evil 7 demo contains few memorable sights. Sure, there are some appropriately grisly touches like a bloody bird in a microwave or some sort of meat oozing out of the refrigerator, but by and large the derelict environment of the demo simply reeks of any number of Texas Chainsaw Massacre clones.
The Resident Evil 7 demo could still take the Outlast approach of making hiding and stealth the primary mechanics - and it very well might - but that's not yet made clear. As mentioned before, you can't run in the demo [Correction: You can speed up movement by clicking the left stick. Apologies for missing this.], so there's no suggestion that we'll get into the sort of heart-racing escapes that made Outlast and Amnesia: The Dark Descent so thrilling. There is a crouch button, however, but it's yet to be used for sneaking.
The one thing that does suggest Resident Evil 7 may retain its core as a Resident Evil game is its puzzles. So far they're pretty much non-existent - you simply pick up an item and use it where it obviously belongs - but the fact that there's an inventory in the first place suggests that Resident Evil's stressful balance of resource management and brain teasers may survive this iteration.
The Resident Evil 7 demo may just be a teaser and not a proper representation of Capcom's overall vision for the project. If that's the case, I'm excited to see how Capcom merges this legendary franchise with contemporary trends. Will there be herb-management? Combat? Stealth? Puzzles? There very well might! But none of that is present in the Resident Evil 7 demo. Instead it's a proof of concept for a type of horror game that's already been proven. Perhaps playing it in VR will make a world of difference? We'll see as both Resident Evil 7 and PlayStation VR take shape in the months to come.
If you want to read about the teaser's many secrets, check out our Resident Evil 7 demo endings guide.