The Resident Evil 7 demo is a terrifying time-jumping room escape puzzle

The demo channels equal parts Texas Chainsaw and Blair Witch.

Note: The Resident Evil 7 demo isn’t available on PC, so the images and my thoughts are from playing the PS4 build. However, the PC version was confirmed on Capcom’s website. Apparently, the demo won't be part of the final game.

If Resident Evil was Capcom’s interpretation of pulp zombie horror, Resident Evil 7 is aiming to land somewhere between The Blair Witch Project and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There’s an abandoned house, old VHS tapes, questionable cooking, and clearly dysfunctional “family”. 

Beginning Hour cuts right to the chase. You start by waking up on the floor of a seemingly abandoned house, somewhere in the woods. A goal appears on screen in plain text: Get out of the house. The doors are locked, so from there it’s a matter of exploring the dilapidating building for an escape route. You do so entirely in first-person, which took me by surprise. It’s a first for the series, but now that we’ve all had a taste of what P.T. offered up, I’m 100 percent behind it.

Dinner's ready

Something very wrong happened (or is happening) here. The kitchen is in absolute disarray, with rotting pieces of mystery meat and a secret savory stew on the center table surrounded by the chef’s very old mess. It’s meaningful clutter—everything is positioned with the intent to tell a story. 

There are quite a few objects to interact with, even if they’re not vital to my escape. I play the piano despite the urgent situation, but the cover slams down before I can get a song in, and I open the microwave only to discover a what looks like an overcooked cat. Paintings and framed photos line the walls, giving clues to who may have lived here and their affinity for moodier art. I want to explore every inch of the house, but then I hear a loud thud from the floorboards above. It’s time to leave.

I hear a loud thud from the floorboards above. It’s time to leave.

In another room, I find some bolt cutters wedged into the ribs of what might be the carcass of a cow or elk, and use them on a chained cupboard I ran into earlier. To do so, a basic inventory system pops up on the right side of the screen where I select the item I want to use. Inside is a VHS tape, which I take to a TV and VCR I spotted earlier. It doesn’t really make sense to forget my survival instinct to watch an ominous tape on a ratty TV, but horror tropes don’t care and neither do I. I just want to know what’s on the damn thing, so I pop it in and press play.

Fans of tapes and horror? Play this.

Resident Evil 7 feels like it's riffing directly on Anatomy, a minimalist horror game that has a similar domestic setting and uses analog tapes as a central narrative mechanic. It's one of my favorite horror games of the last year and it's only three bucks. Check it out here.

The footage kicks off with two men standing outside a house. They’re going to break in and film what’s inside for a television show they’re producing. I’m not sure it’s a sustainable idea, boys. It takes me a moment to realize I’m in control as the cameraman, filming their criminal entry. We eventually bust the door down, and yep, it’s the same house I’m trapped in now, but at an earlier date. Shit still looks pretty rough though. Suffice it to say, things don’t go well for them, and the tape climaxes with one of the creepiest moments in any Resident Evil game I’ve played. It was directly out of The Blair Witch: a person lit only by a weak camera facing away from me and standing a few inches from the wall. That’s about where the tape ends, and I’m back in the present tense, staring at static square in a dark room.

Puzzle potential

But during the tape, the explorers passed through the same room I’m standing in now. One of them found a switch hidden in the hearth that opened a secret passage. I walk over to the hearth and check for myself. Yep, same switch, same secret passage. I watch the tape again, and explore a bit more as the cameraman this time. I find a lockpick on the floor which I use to open a drawer. In the present tense out of the tape-world, I head over to the same drawer. It was locked before, but now it’s open and there’s an axe inside. Neato. 

The demo wraps up shortly after, but after playing it a few times, I’m still noticing subtle new scares and found a few ways to change up the ending. Suddenly, a cupboard isn’t just another videogame prop, it’s something to study the contents of. What’s in here, and why? The interplay between two time periods is a smart way to make a small space feel much bigger and interesting that it might otherwise be—it could make for some really cool storytelling and complex puzzles in the final game.

There were a few senseless jumps scares—nothing like a literal monster popping out of a closet, but objects falling over or slamming shut without warning. They’re as effective as ever, making my heart pound for a moment and eliciting a “God damnit” directed at no one, but don’t do much to build long term tension. The real tension builds when you’re given the choice between getting out as fast as possible, which is doable, versus spending more time in an uncomfortable, dangerous place full of enticing secrets. I want to hop back in and see what other endings and secrets I can find, but I’m also dreading it. God damn floorboards get me every time. 

Despite the miles of aesthetic difference between Resident Evil 7 and its formers, exploring a detailed, creepy space hiding a dark history is as Resident-Evil as it gets. All we know is that it’s coming to PC, but we’re not sure if it’ll be 100 percent playable in VR via Oculus or the HTC Vive as it will be using PlayStation VR. Either way, those textures will have a ton of room to shine on better hardware.

I’m looking forward to playing more when it releases on January 24th.

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