Yes, it’s Christmas come early for non-console owning horror fans: Six months after hitting PS4, Capcom’s much talked about playable teaser for the upcoming Resident Evil 7: Biohazard has finally arrived on PC. Thankfully, I think it’s been worth the wait.
Not so much a demo or prequel, Beginning Hour is more a standalone short-form horror piece designed to whet your appetite for the upcoming retail game. Commencing with a disturbing video that purports to have been found in the place where the footage was recorded, you come to on the floor of a living room in the same creepy, dilapidated and seemingly-abandoned old farmhouse. A VCR and TV blurting out static sit ominously in the corner. The game gives you one simple instruction: “Get out of the house”. No need to tell me twice!
With just a torch to navigate through the gloom and disarray, it’s a case of solving the inventory puzzles and examining, interacting and sometimes avoiding Beginning Hour’s many terrors. There are different endings and gruesome deaths, with progression gated in a way that requires multiple playthroughs – the environments and narrative shifting and changing in subtle and unsettling ways each time you play it.
Beginning Hour is certainly a terrifying and incredibly immersive experience thanks to some stunningly realistic visuals, incredible attention to detail, great acting, and the excellent sound work. The hillbilly setting and found footage approach lends it a strong vibe of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Blair Witch Project. There’s a real sense of disempowerment and that ever-present feeling that something terrible lurks around every corner, or perhaps even, just behind you. The horror is claustrophobic, almost suffocating, yet curiosity compels you onwards. Appreciably, it relies on nuance and atmosphere rather than cheap jump scares.
Like Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro’s highly-influential and critically-acclaimed playable teaser for their cancelled Silent Hill collaboration, which this clearly draws inspiration from, it promises a welcome and much-needed return to the series’ survival horror roots. I’ve suddenly found myself interested in Resident Evil again for the first time in years.
However, what the full game will entail is not entirely evident. The creators, in an interview posted back in June on the Capcom Unity site, describe Beginning Hour as a “tonal preview of what to expect” and are clear to point out that the demo “isn’t a slice of the game”. They also explain that: “It’s not a reboot and we’re not throwing away the series’ canonical storyline”. The worry then, for me at least, is that Resident Evil 7 will lapse back into more recent action-adventure territory, shackled by the all-too campy and increasingly convoluted world of Umbrella Corporation et al.
Beginning Hour is available for free through Steam here. It also arrived on Xbox One earlier this month. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is due to launch on 24th January 2017.