Resident Evil 7: Beginning Hour – giving us the finger?

Resident Evil 7 Teaser: Beginning Hour_20160615113202

Last week you may have noticed a horror game debuting as part of Sony’s impressive E3 conference. A phone ringing, a voice on the other end saying, “if you don’t get out of there, they will kill you.” A dark house awaits, a figure looming at a doorway, an old television set and a VHS player. It all ends with a cryptic sequence of events, with dead animals and mysterious figures, then ends with a simple ‘VII’ on screen. Text slowly appears around the numerals, finally unveiling what fans have long awaited: RESIDENT EVIL VII.

Despite all the rumours of its existing over the years since RE6’s release, this announcement came as a huge surprise, most notably because of the hard left turn taken by Capcom, in terms of the game’s style. Gone were the macho stereotypes of Leon S Kennedy and Chris Redfield, gone were the over-the-top action sequences, hordes of zombies and bio-organic weapons, all replaced by this incredibly dark and claustrophobic setting.

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But the best thing about this announcement, aside from the January release date? The demo that was announced at the same time, much like PT two years ago.

Now this will not be the first time PT and Resident Evil 7: Beginning Hour (the demo’s name) will be mentioned in the same breath, nor will it be the last. There are similarities in tone, visuals and the new first-person perspective, not to mention the slower, more exploratory pace, but in truth the two games could not be further apart.

Resident Evil 7: Beginning Hour starts with footage from an old video, strangely viewed from a character’s perspective rather than the camera pointed at his face. Another man awakes on the floor, grabs a knife and attempts to cut the bonds of ‘your’ character, but a noise distracts him. The video stops there. Upon beginning the demo proper, you awake in a dark house, the only objective displayed on screen: get out of the house. This immediately puts you on edge, setting the tone straight away for the rest of your time in this creepy place. Sounds echo all around, footsteps above, whispers in your ear, but with nothing in sight you’re forced to take your first terrifying step forward.

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The game is visually stunning, its photo realism combining with some astounding lighting effects to pull you into the grimy world of this new Resident Evil. Things take another turn when you enter the VHS world of the opening scene’s characters, as scanlines run across the screen and the lighting grows harsher in the near monochromatic view of the camera in your hands. The two men accompanying you in this scene are both well animated and the voice acting works brilliantly, and it all comes together in an incredibly unsettling moment of gameplay.

During both of these scenes you are encouraged to look around, explore the house and attempt to uncover its secrets. These secrets come in the form of mysterious items found lying around, but also in the various routes that can be taken through the demo itself. There are different endings to be found, including one that nobody has found yet, but one that Capcom insists is there. It’s not hard to believe this, as one particular item’s use has quickly become one of the biggest mysteries in videogame history: the dummy finger. Where does it go? What does it do? Is it really a key?

Or is Capcom trolling everyone, literally giving us the finger?

Only time will tell on that one.

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As a concept demo, Resident Evil 7: Beginning Hour is a curious one. It won’t click with everyone (it took me a couple of goes to really ‘get it’) but there is one thing all fans will agree on: a return to horror is very welcome. With this surprise announcement and even more surprising change of direction for the series, Capcom has swiftly earned back the respect of the action-hating fans, and certainly piqued the interest of those like myself, who enjoyed all aspects of the franchise but still wanted more horror from it.

What does this mean for Resident Evil VII? Capcom says that the events of the demo are not connected to the full game, instead representing the intent and tone of the finished product. However, it’s hard to believe that some aspect of Beginning Hour’s story won’t inform the main game, especially with the whole ‘family’ tagline at the demo’s end. Perhaps this means that the family pictured in the house’s photo will have some impact on Resident Evil VII, or that the events will kick off whatever outbreak is at the heart of January’s release.

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With Beginning Hour focusing on multiple routes, and certain events only happening under specific circumstances, is this a hint at Resident Evil VII’s return to the style of the original games? It has been said that VII takes influences from the first two games, and those were filled with multiple ways to progress the story, even spanning several endings depending on your actions within the game. The longevity of Resident Evil and its first sequel owed a lot to those things, so hopefully this means that VII will keep us going with a focus on those non-linear aspects.

No matter what happens, Capcom’s new direction for Resident Evil VII has proved an overnight success. Beginning Hour has already created a lot of excitement for a series that struggled with its identity and had lost its way, its mysteries keeping players engaged long past the short span of its gameplay time. It certainly is an exciting time.

But one question remains…


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