The tense, claustrophobic horror of Resident Evil 7 points the way to the Village

Articles: Gaming
Oct 17, 2020 Written by:Eric Born

I have a small collection of games that I revisit and play through about once a year. It’s a personal hall of fame for titles that made a home in my imagination and never left. Resident Evil 4 is one of those laureates. Now a favorite of speedrunners, RE4 shook up the series’ survival horror formula with a new bioweapon and a new setting in an isolated corner of Europe. When I heard that the upcoming Resident Evil Village would return to the visual themes of RE:4, I bubbled over with excitement. There was just one thing standing in my way: I needed to catch up on the series’ story.

Capcom indicates that Village will be a direct sequel to 2017’s Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. As devoted as I am to the series, I have to admit that I’ve spent three years avoiding that chapter. I love my yearly forays into horror games, but it’s not because I’m immune to the effects of jump scares and menacing monsters. I’ve always had a hyperactive imagination, and the right kind of game can really get my heart racing. Everything I heard and saw about RE7 told me that this was a game that I’d be better off leaving alone for the sake of my cardiac health—much like my impressions of Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

re7-4Resident Evil 7 image source: Gamesplanet

Lured by the siren call of Village, I finally dared the nightmare and started playing RE7. I’ll let one of my colleagues report on its near-legendary VR mode—I know my limits!—but I can testify that this game has earned its reputation as one of the most frightening titles in recent memory. Like the fourth installment in the series, RE7 took the series in a bold new direction. RE4’s over-the-shoulder perspective, mobs of enemies, and plentiful ammo made it much more of an action game than its predecessors. For Biohazard, Capcom once again reinvented the formula. A first-person perspective brings the action up close and personal. It instills feelings of dread and helplessness that I’ve rarely encountered outside of films like The Exorcist.

There’s little exposition before the story starts in earnest, but its world building is efficient and effective. You first play as Ethan Winters, a man who gets a mysterious message from his wife—a woman who’s been presumed dead for years. Ethan follows the message to rural Louisiana. His first steps on a winding country path up to the house reinforce that something’s wrong here. The walkway is choked with decaying foliage and adorned with inscrutable symbols. Ethan finds Mia imprisoned in the basement of the apparently abandoned house, but as they try to escape, her demeanor suddenly changes and she attacks her would-be rescuer.

re7-2Resident Evil 7 image source: Gamesplanet

For much of the game’s tense opening act, I wasn’t just short on ammunition. I didn’t have a weapon at all. Instead, RE7 forced me to take step after trembling step around the dark corners of that house. It pulls visual cues from horror classics like The Hills Have Eyes and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to dial up the tension. Early on, I ran across an old-school CRT television and VCR. A nearby tape contained footage from the last time that outsiders ventured into the house. RE7 forced me to not only watch the video, but to actually walk in the footsteps of the camera operator as he discovered a secret door, climbed down a rickety ladder, and met his bloody end. Having been shown the way forward, I had no choice but to follow the same path. At every moment, I expected something terrible to spring out from a dark corner. Heartbeat: raised.

re7-1Resident Evil 7 image source: Gamesplanet

Like other Resident Evil games, there’s a lot more going on in Biohazard than meets the eye. The misery and horror at the plantation house are connected to a much larger conspiracy involving supernatural elements, secret organizations, and unnatural experiments on human flesh. By the time series stalwart Chris Redfield showed up on the scene, I had more questions than answers. Some of those were answered before I escaped from the Baker house, but others remained tantalizingly out of reach.

re8-2Resident Evil Village image source: Gamesplanet

After running the gauntlet of RE7, I can’t wait to see how Village will move the story forward, and I’m even more excited to see the game’s tense, in-your-face gameplay transplanted to old-world Europe. Take one look at the ramshackle buildings, cloud-covered skies, and dead grass in the teasers for Village, and it’s clear that Capcom is harkening back to the horrifying opening sequence of RE:4. That game is a classic for many reasons, but the desperate struggle with an entire village of murderous peasants in its first act has to be at the top of my list. Even today, my heart pounds when I square off with the chainsaw-wielding madman who charges in just before the village bell tolls.

re8-3Resident Evil Village image source: Gamesplanet

From the snow drifting slowly from the ashen sky to the opulent interior of the castle on the hill, the details shown in the early trailers of Village have my imagination working overtime. If it successfully combines the gripping gameplay of RE7 with scenes reminiscent of RE4, this could be my favorite Resident Evil yet.

If you’re as hyped as I am for Village, now is a great time to face your fears and refresh your memory of RE7—or even experience it for the first time. Grab your own copy, and don’t be shy about bringing in some moral support. Get your buddies on a group call and host your own watch party. The Halloween season is a great time for your friends to listen to you scream.