Like many longtime Resident Evil fans, I was excited to see Capcom’s E3 announcement last week that a seventh game in the franchise is in development. The announcement was accompanied by a playable demo.
But I was disappointed with several aspects of the the gameplay available in the demo, starting with the fact that the protagonist seems to be a generic white guy. The first Resident Evil, released in 1996, featured the option to play as either Jill Valentine or Chris Redfield. Future games in the franchise would feature optional protagonists, solitary female protagonists, or important secondary female characters. Characters like Jill Valentine, Claire Redfield, and Rebecca Chambers were hugely important to me as a young horror gamer, so it’s sad to see Capcom go with a solitary male character (and one that isn’t familiar to fans, at that) when the series has been such a trailblazer for balanced gender representation.
RE7 could have taken an approach with a protagonist of unverified gender. But references to the player character as “the new guy” and “Clancy” within the first few minutes of gameplay make the protagonist’s gender clear.
Another unexpected discovery was how much the new gameplay and perspective is reminiscent of PT, the playable teaser for Silent Hills which was later cancelled. When PT was pulled from the Playstation store, there was still a great deal of interest. You could even argue that the mystery surrounding the cancellation of Silent Hills and Konami’s attempt to wipe out any trace of the game ironically turned it into even more of a phenomenon.
But it’s a little odd when a demo for an established franchise reminds you more of a defunct game from a different franchise. From the jump-scare heavy playable demo, to the first-person perspective, Resident Evil 7 feels less like new life for the franchise and more like an attempt to cash in on an orphaned audience of gamers left over from the cancellation of Silent Hills–and I’m speaking as someone who is fond of both game series.
While there is certainly some crossover between the fan bases, the games have different draws. I like Silent Hill for its freeing surrealism, and I like Resident Evil for its atmosphere, interconnected characters, and—yes—camp. I’m not saying Resident Evil hasn’t needed to make a course correction for some time—it really, very much has—but a total departure from any recognizable plot threads does leave a lot of fans out in the cold.
But despite these reservations, Silent Hill and Resident Evil do share space on a Venn diagram–while one series takes a paranormal approach to survival horror, and the other has had a sci-fi/action aesthetic, they are similar mechanically and share a history of showcasing characters who survive incredible trauma. Likewise, while Resident Evil has had games led by male characters before, secondary (really cool) female characters are usually not far off. There was, in fact, an interesting phone call in the demo, where a female-coded voice says, “I know who you are…You will have to say goodbye eventually, but will you be ready?”
So even if Resident Evil 7 adopts more of a Silent Hill aesthetic, there may still be rich potential for expanding the canon that we’re familiar with (it is, after all, not a final product).
Lastly, the camera angle hints at virtual reality as a potential target platform. The first-person perspective seems tailor-made for launch on VR devices, and there is strategic merit in that decision as virtual reality becomes more important in gaming. Will trying to make the game VR-friendly be a distraction for the developers? Maybe, or perhaps it will benefit the series in a way I just can’t see while I’m still yelling at clouds about how Resident Evil used to be.
We’ll see. I love the series. RE7 has convinced me it can have a cool, scary atmosphere. I hope RE7 can convince me it’s a Resident Evil game.