Warning: Spoilers Ahead.
Playing as Ethan Winters, a man in search of his missing wife, Resident Evil 7’s concept falls short in the plot. The introduction of RE7 shows a car, with Ethan driving, where we as the player take in the sun going down over the bayou on our drive to the Baker residence.
There is no doubt RE7 has invigorated the series, but fell short in telling a story that didn’t fall right back into its roots. A series known for gore, headshots and inventory management, the story of RE7 took cues from its predecessors. It didn’t involve boulders or sharks this time around, but instead involved having to murder a family of psychopathic possessed cannibals with guns.
The amount of praise that the game has received isn’t to be disregarded, but there’s something missing from the experience. The game’s similarity to the cancelled Silent Hills/PT IP is evident, as RE7 producer Maschika Kawata has expressed his remorse over the cancellation. Kawata mentions in an interview with GameSpot, that “I was unfortunately very disappointed that it didn’t come to fruition.”
Examining the similarities of PT and RE7, there’s not enough in PT to say that the plot is identical, but rather the way the game was played. The demo itself was horrifying – more so than RE7: there were no guns. A clear majority of gamers are desensitized to violence, so when we enter a game, and can defend ourselves, the sense of fear is lessened. The environment is no longer as terrifying as when we are not given a gun, sword, or magic to protect ourselves from what lurks in the darkness. RE7 not only presents the player with guns and save points, but crafting is abundant.
Capcom took the franchise and reinvented it with RE7, but there was a gap not only in the sense of fear, but the question of why are we here? As the player, we’re shoved into playing as Ethan, and aside from an email that’s motivating him to find his wife, we know nothing about him. The fear within Resident Evil as a series is built on the element of surprise, but Capcom is no stranger to telling a convincing story, or through encounters. Playing as Chris or Jill in the original Resident Evil, as the player we find out our team has died, but we assume the worst, considering we are trapped in a mansion of horrors.
Capcom had a great opportunity to make RE7 better than what it was if they polished the story. Imagine playing as Ethan just as he’s about to leave – how much different it would have been if we saw who he was, both figuratively and literally. It’s understandable from a storytelling perspective that Ethan, who hasn’t seen his missing wife in three years would drive out to find her even after in an email where she explicitly tells him not to come, that he would leave anyway, but we know nothing about him. We drive his car into Jack Baker in one of the many encounters with Jack in the garage, before setting him on fire and hitting him with bullets, but there’s nothing throughout the story that is setting up Ethan’s discovery of this horrifying compound.
There were many times during RE7 where there were chances to set the story up, to give it a plot that didn’t involve a Resident Evil cliché of Evelyn, this little girl who happens to be another experiment that is using mutated fungus to wreak havoc on the Bakers and everything around the protagonist. But with the lacking story, and addition of countless weapons, even as ridiculous as a grenade launcher, the fear that the series is built on is lost. A jump scare isn’t a cause for concern when you have a shotgun equipped and can instantly shoot whatever Baker jumped at you through the door, except for Lucas, who instead would rather subject Ethan to birthday torture and explosions.
Capcom could have taken the fear that is captured inside every room, corridor and part of the Baker estate if they made weapons less effective, and ammunition less abundant. Imagine if confronted with the same situation: you’ve got a shotgun, but Ethan isn’t as well-trained with guns. He fires off a shot at Jack, who stumbles, but instead of ten shells in your inventory – that was your only one — leaving you with the only option: run. The game offered plenty of sneaking and hiding, but not enough to keep you on your toes. There were some Easter egg ghost appearances, but once you navigated the Baker estate, looking at the map wasn’t necessary. You could run to a save room, and even if Jack were chasing you, he would disappear.
The element of fear is built upon desperation. In the case of Ethan Winters, labeled as an average man, is far from it. Capable of reloading a handgun under the pressure of the molded coming at you by the end of the game, it is not nearly as terrifying when you have an arsenal of weapons at your disposal. If the story of RE7 was more slowly paced, and Ethan’s story was more fleshed out, Capcom would have not only redefined a series that lost itself, but brought horror in video games to an exalted level.