Resident Evil 7 is terrifying. That's a new thing for a series that has traditionally leaned towards quick jump scares and survival action, rather than out-and-out creepy. Its recent E3 reveal, along with the demo which is available now on PSN, is hugely reminiscent of the excellent PT, which was Konami's prototype for a new Silent Hill game. You know, before all that unpleasantness with Hideo Kojima lead to the game being cancelled and the demo removed from PSN permanently. Resi 7 is cut from the same, horrific cloth, but it's far more complex and horrifying than a simple homage.
If you're unfamiliar with the concept... well, the recent demo (which is actually a companion piece to last year's scary 'Kitchen' VR demo) sees you wake up in a run-down house. You're given one instruction: leave the house. Worth noting here that there are spoilers for the demo ahead - you have been warned. Getting out isn't quite as easy as it sounds. There are all kinds of little secrets to discover in the building, and plenty of the layered repetition that ratcheted up the tension in PT. Jump scares? Obviously. Impossible events that remained unexplained? Yup. Zombies? Nope - not a single one. Not even those weird 'infected' things that have passed for zombies in recent iterations (although there are a few ambiguous shots in the trailer that look like a virus spreading, so... yeah). Umbrella? Nah. Any weapons of any description? Nope.
Resi 7 - from what I've seen so far - has ditched most of the physical hallmarks of the series. It's even in first-person right now, not third. Only the classic 'slowly opening door' remains, as a nod to the 20 year old original. Instead, it has adopted the traits of classic era Silent Hill, and the more modern vision that Hideo Kojima teased in PT. The slow-burn horror, the sense of isolation, the other-worldly feel, the smart use of found footage to build the terror further. There's absolutely nothing camp or B-movie about the scares here and, in that sense, it's a complete departure from traditional Resident Evil. In fact, it's truer to the name. There is an evil at work in this house and you feel it with every step you take. Now is definitely the time for Capcom to completely reinvent Resi, and this is - no doubt about it - very, very different.
The comparison's with Konami's series are obvious, at least on the surface. However, while Silent Hills was due to have an increasingly disgusting array of otherworldly creatures (based on leaked footage), this Resi is set to focus on the blurry line between bleak humanity and the supernatural. And in many ways this concept feels more on-trend (and definitely more scary), because it mirrors movies like The Conjuring and Rec. On top of that, it's adding VR, which adds a whole extra layer of horror. This new Resi isn't just picking up where PT and Silent Hills left off... it's evolving the ideas to become even more terrifying. It's seeding in that more raw, human element to the fear - the stuff that won't let your brain dismiss it as fiction quite as easily.
In fact, this evolution of Silent Hills' ideas doesn't just stop at the themes and content of Konami's ill-fated project. Resi 7 has borrowed plenty of the marketing smarts too. Did you see the Kitchen demo logo from last year's E3? Funnily enough, it had a '7' in it, created in the same way the 'VII' is cut from the Resident Evil logo this year. Check it out below. Hah - Capcom told us that Kitchen was a prototype for Resi 12 months ago, and while most sensibly speculated that it'd become the new Resident Evil game, few spotted that obvious link. That's a classic Kojima trick, wonderfully implemented by a direct rival. Similarly, the demo itself is a leaf out of Konami's book. A short, self-contained slice of horror that links Kitchen to the full game? A demo that's full of surprises and clues for those willing to look? A demo that was deliberately poorly publicised to allow 'word of mouth' promotion (itself aping the urban legends and half-truth spooky stories that form the core of the game)? It's PT all over again, but with an added layer of dastardly clever.
Even the new trailer is - in the words of GR's own Dave Houghton - Yamaoka as fuck. It mixes moments of pregnant silence with frightful industrial screeches, underpinning everything with bassy white noise. Slightly out of tune piano? Yup. The footage is tightly clipped and full of deliberately obscure, always unpleasant images, and a slow, creepy version of Go Tell Aunt Rhody plays menacingly over the top, building to a savage crescendo at the end. It’s probably the stand-out trailer of E3, in terms of how well put-together everything is. And it’s very, very Silent Hill.
One thing, though. According to Stuart Turner, Senior Marketing Director at Capcom UK, the Resi team have been working on this game since before PT dropped. Here's the Tweet he sent out recently...
Remember seeing RE7 in development many months before PT dropped. We bricked it when Konami released the demo.June 14, 2016
So is this a case of coincidental timing, the following of a trend by two market-leading games companies, or a borrowing of cool ideas? Probably a mixture of all three, to be honest. I don't doubt that Capcom was working on Resi 7 before PT dropped, and that the theme was this current 'ghosts, hillbillies, and found-footage' blend that has been igniting Hollywood cinema for the past decade.
In many ways it doesn't matter. Resi 7 is shaping up to be the Silent Hills game we've been cruelly denied. In fact, there's every chance it'll be better, meaner, more terrifying. We'll find out in January when the game launches on PS4, Xbox One and PC, although the truth might be more mentally scarring than we'd hoped for...