Games

Incoming Class: Can 'Resident Evil 7' Be a Return to Form for the Series?

The Resident Evil family has had both honor roll students and, let's say, some members that haven't truly applied themselves. The question is: Which will 'RE7' be?
December 27, 2016, 5:00pm

Welcome to the Waypoint High School Class of 2016 Yearbook. We're giving out senior superlatives to our favorite games, digging into the year's biggest storiesvia extracurriculars , and following our favorite characters through their adventures together infanfic . See you in 2017! While helping a friend move a few weeks ago, someone asked me what the big games were these days. I'd grown up with this person, and they were one of many friends who spent hours after school, before it was time for dinner, watching me play whatever the new game was. "I remember watching… what was it, Resident Evil?," he said, laughing. "That shit was scary."

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It's been a long time since Resident Evil was actually scary. I slogged through more than 20 hours of Resident Evil 6 because I couldn't comprehend how far off the rails this thing had gone, how Capcom managed to so desperately lose sight of why the series became popular in the first place. It wasn't about a mansion, it wasn't about a man named Wesker, and no one really cared about a pesky corporation named Umbrella. Resident Evil stained our collective consciousness because it was scary as hell. I still remember the first time I saw this cutscene:

Probably more than any other genre, horror struggles with sequels. Your first encounter with something scary makes an impact, but each time thereafter, familiarity erodes its power. The best horror sequels find a way to change their approach. Alien is one of the greatest horror movies ever, right? Ridley Scott's main tactic for putting you on edge was keeping the creature in the dark.

The moment the alien was revealed, it began to lose its potency. In the sequel, Aliens, the creatures are out in the open, and James Cameron turned it into an action film. Resident Evil has followed a similar arc, each subsequent game trading horror for action, with Resident Evil 6 being the moment where they threw their hands up and said "Look, we're out of ideas, OK?" (This is a bit like Ripley somehow being the mother to a xenomorph in Alien: Resurrection.)

Related, on Waypoint: For a look at this year's scariest games, make sure to check out Waypoint High School's Horror Club!


Fortunately, it seems like someone at Capcom finally felt the same way. Though I expected Resident Evil to undergo a significant reinvention after  Resident Evil 6, a game that sold well but was panned by critics and fans alike, I couldn't have predicted they'd be as radical as what we're actually getting with the seventh game in the series. (And, yes, despite Resident Evil's famously complicated mythology, this doesn't reset the timeline; it's set after  Resident Evil 6.) Though everything so far suggests otherwise, even if Resident Evil 7is a disappointment, Capcom should be applauded for daring to present a sequel in such an unconventional way.

(Side note: I think this is why I've been so cool on the recent sequels to Halo and Gears of War. While certainly well-crafted games, they're just more of the same. That's much different than say, Sony's new  God of War, which remains tonally similar but takes a very distinct direction.)

Resident Evil 7 breaks convention in a few powerful ways: it's first-person it embraces virtual reality. Though my time with Resident Evil 7 in VR produced the most profound motion sickness I've ever experienced with the technology to date, it's my hope Capcom's able to figure out the kniks by the end of next month. And though I've never spent more than an hour with a VR helmet on, with Resident Evil 7, I'm looking forward to playing through a lengthy, proper game entirely in VR. The intimacy of VR is a perfect match for horror, and I'm keen to take advantage of this rare opportunity where a company is putting its weight behind the tech.

Mostly, though, I want to fall in love with Resident Evil again. I get why people are excited for Capcom to give Resident Evil 2 a proper revisiting, but that's a remake. What we're looking for, and what well-intentioned sequels are designed to do, is allow us to revisit past feelings in a fresh context. Resident Evil was, at one time, defined by its ability to make us scream as a dog came flying through a window. Resident Evil 7 will be a success if it gets anywhere close.