July 3, 2022

Resident Evil: Beginning Hour

So, as a massive fan of this series who hated Resident Evil 5 and tried to defend Resident Evil 6 (sort of), what do I make of Capcom’s new direction?

I may shock people here but… I like Beginning Hour.

Let’s be upfront with this; Resident Evil was never really about originality. It was B-Movie Horror at a time B-Movie Horror was kind of the in thing; a progression from a Horror RPG from 1989 made by Capcom themselves, namely Sweet Home, borrowing the gameplay style of Alone in the Dark on the PC and the atmospheric, ambient orchestrals demonstrated in Clock Tower on the Super Nintendo. With a story that careered through the 1985 B-Movie Warning Sign, dragging multiple plot and setting elements with it, and a tongue-in-cheek script that was absolutely a nod to the then running joke that was Japanese Translation In Video Games, Resident Evil was an amalgamation of ideas and tropes from the 80’s and 90’s all thrown into a blender and liberally sprinkled with zombies and some inspired mutants that could only have come out of mid-90’s Tokyo.

I say this because it’s important to say that whilst I love Resident Evil, the game of choice for me remains Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, which I’ve written about before. A game which screamed “We’re killing this series now!” from every pore and orifice, doing every single thing wrong – and yet, somehow, doing every single thing right in the process. Resident Evil 3: Nemesis was a freak occurrence – inspired lunacy, snatching victory from the jaws of utter defeat. Which sadly meant that rather than let the series die off, Capcom went right back to it – though admittedly, I must admit Code: Veronica gave us the single most complex and brilliant villain the series has dropped on us to date in Alfred Ashford. I’m serious – again, he’s a bit of outrageous high camp but inspired lunacy all the same.

Even Resident Evil 4 came across with a near-desperate tone for us to STOP LIKING THIS SERIES, but again – the high camp, the corny one-liners and Ada Wong’s impossibly lovely legs (what? Her legs are awesome!) aside high-camp villains that just get away with being utter retro pastiches just made the game an intoxicating blend of fun and frolics. After years of trying to kill this franchise, and the incredible success of Resident Evil 4 (and the Resident Evil Remake), Capcom conceded defeat and for once took making Resident Evil 5 seriously… and promptly proceeded to gut everything we liked about the franchise from it, resulting in a bland and fairly by-the-book action adventure game. And the same was true of Resident Evil 6; though I remain one of the few who say that the game isn’t terrible – just painfully average.

Resident Evil ‘7’, if it ends up being that, comes with baggage. The shift to an over-the-shoulder camera and high-octane thrills and spills was successful but even the most fervent of Resident Evil Fanboys – of which I am one – can’t deny that the last two games lost something. And like the culmination of Resident Evil Zero and the Remake, both of which aged fantastically, there was a sense that Resident Evil needed another shot of reinvention. And Capcom took their time… well, all of ten minutes one presumes, before immediately rushing headlong into ripping off… P.T. – the Silent Hills Demo that Konami famously withdrew because they had canned the project.

Aside the shrieking and wailing of the faithful, Resident Evil through to even Code: Veronica and Zero were slow-paced, and made an effort to cultivate atmosphere as well as thrills. And many of us love both Resident Evil AND Silent Hill, and I have always maintained that both franchises could learn a thing or two from each other. Capcom is taking it somewhat seriously with Beginning Hour; a brief but tantalising glimpse into what their reinvention has wrought.

It’s a slower experience, to be sure; but there are grains of a great idea poking through the demo that Capcom could do so much with.

The first being the brilliant VHS ‘Time Travel’ mechanic; to create change in the current time, you smack a VHS Cassette into a VCR and play through that, fiddling around with things and unlocking a drawer to allow the player to stop the tape, go to that drawer and find it is now magically open! As a mechanism for inventive puzzling, it’s a weirdly inspired bit of work – we’ve had time travel in games for years, but usually to undo mistakes. And we’ve had instances of change between files – Resident Evil 2 was no stranger to this, with changes happening on the B-Side Story dependant on what the player did in the A-Side. But here, the VHS Mechanism feels fluid and in-place. I’d like to see a lot of this happening in the full game – it would make for some glorious puzzles!

The second is the atmospheric build-up; it’s been a while since a Resident Evil game made me stop and drink in the limited scenery, but the small house is beautifully put together as a run-down wreck; an abandoned shack where something bad happened, though we’re not given an exact explanation as to what. The demo has some great little moments, but that’s all they are – little moments, and that’s fine. Because P.T. was a little too obtuse before it dropped the mic with the Silent Hills trailer (a game I am still sad isn’t happening) – Capcom at least has the balls to say, “This is a taster of the next Resident Evil.”

I’m also okay with the first-person viewpoint. Admittedly, Resident Evil doesn’t have the best of track records when running in first-person, see the Survivor Games for example. But it’s also not entirely alien to the series at large – the DS port of the original Resident Evil, Deadly Shadows, had a fairly decent first-person option. And despite it being non-canon and scrubbed from existence, I’m sorry to say that even the Game Boy Color Resident Evil: Gaiden had some merit in its first-person static combat screen. The series has been dabbling in this for years – see spin offs like the Chronicles pairing, though I’d argue they’re about as canon as Gaiden at this point. So the shift isn’t as radical to me as it may be to someone who has only recently come into the fray, or those who haven’t dabbled in the off-shoots of the series to date.┬áThe slower pace and the slower build-up are fine; though admittedly, the teasers only pay-off is the “ending” sequence, which isn’t that satisfying.

But… there’s that word. But. I like big BUTS and I cannot lie…

Whilst I am okay with Capcom having a go at a slower-paced first person game, Capcom seems to be taking this way too seriously – and Resident Evil 5 and 6 proved that’s rarely a positive sign for the end product. Resident Evil is at its best when ripping off the horror genre rather than the action genre, to be sure, but Resident Evil is also at its peak best when it has a sort of tongue-in-cheek, knowingly camp edge to the whole thing. Part of me believes the Dummy Finger is a subtle attempt at this – as in, giving players “the finger” so to speak – but it’s a little more restrained and a little less corny, and the series has always needed the high camp to balance out the slow build and tense, buttock-clenching moments. The demo has none of this really; though the dialogue through the VHS section veers somewhat close to cheesy.

It’s also not quite as tightly wound as P.T., to which Capcom clearly took inspiration. P.T. worked because it was a surprise, and a delight to find out what it all meant – until Konami dumped on our expectations. Beginning Hour is marketed as a taster for the new Resident Evil game, and it robs the game of something. It would have been outrageous for Capcom to totally copy P.T. and leave it until we’d finished the demo before shocking us that this was the next Resident Evil teaser… but outrageous copying is what the series has always been good at. I’m at peace with that realisation.

Also… the inventory system. Capcom, baby, sweetie, darling… just NO! That inventory system is the marriage of Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil 5’s inventory systems that nobody wanted, ever! It’s just a horrible little system that I’m hoping between now and its early 2017 release date gets a lot of work because that thing is going to irritate the hell out of me. It’s clunky, basic and just unwieldy. I’m genuinely saddened to see it.

And whilst I am at peace with its copying – Capcom has to really up its game here. Going into first-person puts it on a heads-on collision course with games like Dying Light, Left4Dead, Outlast and even older games like Thief: The Dark Project. The first-person horror genre has been expanding exponentially in recent years, and Capcom may have left it a little late in the day to capitalise on this once small corner of the gaming sphere. It’s no longer a niche market – we’re really into our first-person horror, so Capcom needs to be made clear that second-rate is not going to cut it. Not now. We’re expecting better, and it needs to deliver.

But as a free hour of time wasting titivation, Beginning Hour is alright. I’m fine with the tonal shift, I’m fine with a slower-paced game and I’m fine with the perspective. The ghosts… yeah, I’m not sure what that was about, but I’m going to assume easter eggs or something weird that will be explained in the main game. After all, say hi to Lisa Trevor ladies and gentlemen…

I don’t hate it. I said that Resident Evil needed a massive kick up the backside and the near-universal panning of Resident Evil 6 was probably a good time to call it quits on the old camera format. I wanted change, and I have it. Is it perfect? Hell to the no – it aims for the subtlety and punch of P.T. and misses by a distance equatable from here to the freaking moon. It’s aim was so off the original intention is now leaving our solar system. Which should fill me with dread.

But – I like big buts – Resident Evil is at its best when it is outrageously missing the point. When it aims and misses so spectacularly that you fall backwards from the force of the laughter bursting from your chest like a baby Xenomorph. No, the demo didn’t say much about the full game and no, it’s nowhere near polished enough to give Dying Light sleepless nights. But it’s got potential – and one hopes that Capcom has grown to realise the more they try to kill their Creation, the stronger it gets. So lock and load, Capcom. Go ahead. Do your worst.

The future of Resident Evil depends on it.


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