RE7: Five Questions Needing Answers

 

I like Resident Evil 7.

However, there’s a line I can’t quite place which goes something like, “Scary doesn’t need an explanation. Stupid does.” – the point of the line being that if you don’t answer the questions posed, then you fatally undermine what an audience takes away from a horror experience. Resident Evil has, in the past, done an exemplary job of answering its more dumb situations, and often with grace and humour. Sure, they were still stupid, but they made the effort to try.

This seventh instalment, however, didn’t make much of an attempt to deflect some of its more egregiously stupid moments. Which has left me with a lot of questions – most of them minor foibles, granted, like Jack Baker’s magic teleportation abilities or why Marguerite Baker has control over insects and can squirt out a hive of wasps (pretty sure even the fungal root of the horror here can’t stretch that far!). But others are far more egregious in their absence of an answer.

So, here are five questions that Capcom may need to answer in the future DLC, or perhaps in a patch with a new ending.

And obviously, from this point, MAJOR SPOILERS! You have been warned.

1 – WHO OR WHAT IS ETHAN WINTERS?

This was my overriding question for the majority of the game, and it’s the meat and potatoes of what bothers me about Resident Evil 7. Protagonists can come in a range of flavours, even supernatural and super-powered (the movies have Alice, after all). Ethan Winters begins for us as an unintended victim, lured to the house by his wife Mia Winters, one presumes because Eveline wants a daddy to go with her new mommy. Fine, I can dig that. Average guy gets dragged into a situation way above his pay grade. That’s a solid basis for a horror game protagonist.

It quickly becomes apparent, however, Ethan Winters is anything but ‘an average guy’. First of all, Mia Winters – under the influence of Eveline – chops his hand off with a chainsaw above the wrist. A few spurts of blood, sure, but this is a major wound we’re talking about. I’d figure that kind of injury, left unchecked, would make any normal person bleed out in a few minutes – not least that a chainsaw is hardly a tool for a clean injury. But no, he carries on, and suffers no additional health penalties from what I can see. That’s… kind of impressive.

Not nearly as impressive as Zoe stapling his hand back to his arm. And it functions too! Fingers wiggle, he can push and pull stuff without fear of detachment… that’s quite something.

Then shortly after, Jack Baker jumps Ethan and chops his leg off (Ethan really got the short end of the stick here!). Offering a bottle of First Aid Medicine, we then get a short sequence of Ethan holding the leg back in place, pouring what amounts to TCP over it and… magic! The leg reattaches! Much wow, very fun, such power!

I get that healing in a video game requires some kind of suspension of disbelief – it’s not like the series has ever explained exactly what magical properties these herbs seem to have in the Resident Evil universe. But this… this is stretching it for me, far enough that I burst into laughter. Ethan Winters is –literally magic-, attaching back severed limbs with TCP and staples with no adverse side effects. This guy is anything but normal – more along the likes of Sherry Birkin, really.

And don’t give me the “he’s contaminated” line – why then did Zoe not know about this? Her whole ruse is predicated on Ethan -not- being contaminated, otherwise she’d have been far more reluctant to get his assistance (and there’d have been slightly more presence at the ending because you know, potential biohazard outbreak potential and all that jazz). He has this from the very start. Before being dragged to the main Baker residence. Plus wouldn’t Zoe have posited the idea of making, I don’t know, three serums? Or at least told Ethan before rushing off on the boat that he was likely infected and leaving the residence would endanger the world or something?

It also posits a darker element too – Mia Winters is clearly a secret agent, working with New Umbrella (like the blue version, the red-is-evil version was so 1996!). So, is Ethan one of her “marks”? Is she married to him to keep an eye on him and his amazing healing powers, or perhaps to stop him finding out he’s a goddamned superhero in the making? That’s… troubling, because it suggests that their whole relationship is predicated on a lie – though Mia does seem to admit as much in her opening statement. And Ethan seems oblivious to her extra-curricular activities and profession, as he’s just as confused as the rest of us.

So come on Capcom. Who – or indeed, what – is Ethan Winters really?

2. – SO… HOW DOES THE CONTAMINATION WORK?

Eveline may be an uninspired villain – spoilt child with super powers unable to grasp the very concept of responsibility – but it doesn’t do a very good job of explaining how Eveline (hereby referred to as “Evie”) actually infects her prey.

At the start, it seems that it might have something to do with the massive pile of fungus on the Baker’s dinner table, and the insistence of Marguerite that Ethan “eat up”. And okay, I can dig that. Not all fungus can reproduce by spores, like in The Last of Us, and it’s reasonable to assume that the fungus that Evie uses has to get into her host some way or another so why not by eating her special little shrooms? (Though how does she make those shro… no, let’s not even go there!)

But later in the game, it becomes clear Evie can infect at a whim; she swamps Mia with her ‘gift’, and it is absorbed into the body. Now, obviously, it appears assimilation takes time – three years is a stretch when you consider how quickly The Molded are made, but okay. Let’s go with it. This gift needs time to incubate to its fullest. So… why doesn’t Mia have the same devotion as The Bakers – having been contaminated before The Bakers? Jack and Marguerite after all mutate quite considerably under duress, but Mia does not in the opening gambit.

So, are The Molded made by the mushrooms and Evie controls people by infecting them with a different fungus? And why is Evie so reluctant to kill or at least contaminate Ethan? If she wants a Mommy and a Daddy, then it is surely in her best interests to contaminate Ethan at the earliest opportunity – Jack remarks on this down in the Dissection Room, after all, consumed with jealousy and rage that Evie is gunning for a new Daddy in her life. So, how can’t Ethan be contaminated? Did Evie assume she could and failed and then realised something was off? And why not just drag Ethan into the water in the Bayou, effectively sealing his fate? (Or is he immune to drowning too?)

It’s the inconsistency that gets me. The T-Virus was always straight-forward; zombie bites you, you turn into zombie. The G-Virus – more creative mutations, enjoy your crazy new life as a scary monster! Even Las Plagas followed a sensible trajectory – the parasites need time to incubate but give them time and they will take over. Evie’s fungal powers follow no consistent pattern or logic, and that’s not scary – that’s just lazy storytelling.

Especially when she magically makes a guy explode, or has one retching his innards with no sign of contamination. Yes, yes, these are horror tropes for a scary little girl. But they are horror tropes. Capcom does nothing with them, just leaving them stand with no attempt at covering up how utterly cliche and stupid they are. It’s infuriating, because The Bakers – which could have been really interesting – are jettisoned in favour of a stereotypical scary little girl in a black dress. Ooh, so edgy Capcom! Congratulations, you finally hit the horror cliche singularity.

3 – HOW EXACTLY DID EVELINE GET LOOSE IN THE FIRST PLACE?

The Old Videotape segment (no kidding, 2017 and people are still using VHS?) glosses over the key question – yes, it is Alan Douglas’ fault that Evie got out of her containment chamber or whatever it is she was being carried in. But how, exactly, did she convince an Umbrella Biohazard Operative who surely must have undergone years of training to let Evie out of her box or whatever and go on a rampage, infecting the crew and himself in the process?

I mean, I get that we joke about the concept of a big pharmaceutical conglomerate making bio-organic weapons for private contractors and how it wouldn’t be simpler to you know… drop bombs or use the billions and billions of dollars such research and development (and containment) surely must cost to simply pay off a few corrupt people… (or several. Hundred. Thousand.)

But this is a special level of stupid. A highly-trained professional, ordered to escort Evie to another location, just happens to be the one who lets her out? Yeah, I’m not really buying that, nor why you’d send it via way of boat. Which is quite slow, risky and actually pretty dangerous when you think about the potential for sinking and infecting sea life (Revelations says hi, by the way, so no Capcom you don’t get to shrug this one off). Surely a private jet is more expedient, and hey, if you have corrupt officials in your pocket, they can get you in and out without flagging up too much surely?

(I’d also say a jet is easier to nuke from the skies, but we’re familiar with that in the real world sadly…)

Surely he and Mia were very well briefed on Evie before this little ‘babysitting’ mission started. Evie demonstrates aptly throughout the course of the game she is manipulative, spiteful, moody and temperamental to a staggering degree. She is a dangerous, unpredictable weapon – I’d politely say ‘bordering’ on psychopath, but that’s one region with no borders and Evie is romping around those lush hills like Judy-bloody-Garland.

The game doesn’t even bother to answer this question. Probably because it leads into my next question.

4 – SO… HOW IS UMBRELLA BACK?

The major blink-and-you’ll-miss-it spoiler in the ending is the logo on the side of Chris Redfield’s helicopter (I said there’d be spoilers!). It’s Umbrella Corporation, and it’s sporting a snazzy new look too! Gone is the red and white, replaced with a much more calming and serene blue-and-white do, and it’s also a much softer logo to boot.

Now, let’s not immediately stumble over why Chris Redfield, a man who has been screwed by Umbrella on multiple occasions, is suddenly working for Umbrella because that’s a can of worms I’m guessing Capcom will be attempting to open in the free DLC campaign coming sometime this Spring. Rather, I’m more interested in the specifics of how Umbrella is, and how it’s back. Mostly because if you’ve followed the series… chances are rebranding isn’t likely to do much to change the fact Umbrella is responsible for millions and millions of innocent peoples deaths and the world supposedly know that.

The Raccoon City incident effectively destroyed their public image, as it was reported that they were behind the whole incident – even if zombies weren’t explicitly mentioned in the reporting (hard to tell, considering Resident Evil 6 suggests they covered up the whole zombie thing). Hell, the introduction to Resident Evil 4 explains what happened – their public image was irreparably tarnished, and tighter regulations, fines, penalties, compensation and lots of other costs and legal fees crippled the company to oblivion. It couldn’t function as-is, to the point the lucrative secret bio-weapon part was quietly spun off (and eventually I believe became or was bought out by Tricell, though I may be missing a few steps there).

Umbrella wasn’t taken down by Jill, Chris, Leon and Claire. It was taken down by lawyers and politicians. I know, tres dull.

I can’t see how the company could come back, even if it is with a calmer, friendlier logo in more muted tones. This would be a brand that would be effectively worthless – beyond worthless, in fact. Blamed entirely for the nuclear explosion that wiped a city off the face of the map and killed millions of innocent men, women and children (and several puppies and kittens you monsters!), there’s no coming back from that, in reality or in fiction. Even 25¢ would probably be 25¢ more than its actual value. This is a company that publicly became the face of the worst nuclear disaster in the RE-Verse’ world history. Privately, politicians moved to regulate its more… illegal activities to the ground. This was known globally.

I couldn’t imagine anyone purchasing their products ever again. I mean, they’re at this point in that world literally Hitler (yes, I Godwinned and I’m going to carry on!). So what exactly would a new Umbrella do? Oh, they’re coming to the scene of a biohazard outbreak. To clean it up. Either that’s some damn impressive community service work or they’re back to their old tricks again, and if they are, why would anyone with a gram of common sense to share with the world actually give this company money when they’ve proven time, and time, and time again that they’re incapable of containing their own creations? If you’re smart enough to be rolling in that kind of money, surely you’d be smart enough to invest in quite literally anything else – I mean, cheese-scented nipple tassels would be a sounder investment at this point!

And yes, let’s bring it back up. Why would Chris Redfield – it’s in the credits, don’t argue – ever willingly be employed by Umbrella, least of all to clear up their own messes? You know, like escorting a dangerous bioweapon across the ocean in a boat without informing the relevant authorities? Because this has worked so well in the past for the company, hasn’t it? And others, I mean, don’t know about you but I’m pretty convinced by this point that this is bordering on criminal incompetence by all involved – which once more begs the question; WHY IS CHRIS REDFIELD WORKING FOR THEM?!

Not A Hero is going to have to be a work on the verge of freaking Shakespeare, Capcom, for you to pull this one off.

5 – AND… WHY DIDN’T ETHAN JUST… CALL THE COPS?

All of the above however pale into comparison with the big gripe – it’s… kinda lame as a setup.

Ethan hears from Mia after a three-year marital haitus, via email. Now, I’m guessing the world of Resident Evil shares a few similarities with our own, and if I found an email from a former lover in my inbox, I’d be more than a little suspicious. Particularly if they went actually, honest-to-goodness missing for some or even all of that time. I’m cynical about emails at the best of times, because spam happens, but after three years Ethan just drops everything, scaring his friends and runs off to find his wife? Without telling anyone?

He seems to know the way, so I’m guessing he used a GPS, or at least Google Maps. Both of which would have told him this mysterious email from someone purporting to be your missing wife had originated from a run-down, presumed-abandoned little farmstead far out in the middle of friggin’ nowhere!

Because getting an email after three years from your missing wife asking you to drop everything and pick her up from an abandoned farmstead in the middle of a wood slap bang in the middle of nowhere isn’t at all suspicious, is it?

I mean, in that position I’d be hopeful but I’d still at the very least run it by the police force – you know, the people you reported her missing to in the first place? Oh, but then we’d be back to a sort of Leon S. Kennedy setup, an officer sent to investigate suspicious goings on and so forth. But still, there’s an actual reason that people tend to call the police for this. One – they’re armed, so if creepy people are planning to murder you, you don’t need to be anywhere near the vicinity of the kookiness. Two – if said officer goes missing, odds are good that you’ll find a pretty hefty armed unit wheeling up to find out what happened (which Evie should have been thrilled at the idea of, surely?). And three… normal people going on grounds which are not owned by them tends to be seen as… well, trespassing, no? And that is, in Louisiana at least, a criminal offence;

RS 14:63 — Criminal trespass. A. No person shall enter any structure, watercraft, or movable owned by another without express, legal, or implied authorization. … C. No person shall remain in or upon property, movable or immovable, owned by another without express, legal, or implied authorization.

In short – the Bakers are technically very much alive. So Ethan is technically breaking the law. So you know, that cop might have good reason to be suspicious (if it wasn’t for the fact Ethan has a stapled on hand, a massive face wound and probably still got Jack’s boot imprinted on his face but now I am nitpicking). And you know, even if The Bakers weren’t contaminated with Evie’s Gift, I believe Louisiana still has what is known as a “Castle Law”.

A Castle Law is a statute that allows a person to use force – deadly or otherwise – to defend themselves or their property (and this is applicable to cars as well, Ethan Winters!). So you know, Ethan as a trespasser is kind of asking to be brutally murdered if you think about it…

And I’m British, and I know this stuff. Partly because I know some lovely American people (thanks, Penny!) but also because freakin’ GOOGLE! This is the sort of nonsense that you can spend literally a couple of minutes looking up just to you know, clear things up or I dunno, make it more believable or authentic and such. I’m pretty sure Japan has access to Google, Capcom. You could have spent at least a lunchbreak fact-checking your crap, surely?

Even then, my guess is most rational people would call the cops first and foremost and only go and investigate themselves if all other avenues had failed them. The message did not say Mia was in danger. It did not express any urgency. Or any fear. Just “come and pick me up”. Yeah, at that point I’d have at least called the force at Dulvey, Louisiana and asked them to check it out first. Sure, the game would then likely play out as our Unnamed Deputy fighting The Bakers, but I wouldn’t have been bothered about that. Would have been nice to have a lead in the Resident Evil series who wasn’t white – and that’s not me being an SJW, it’s me just pointing out the obvious potential selling point to a large American audience driven by identity politics.

So no, this doesn’t make sense. Ethan just impulsively drops everything and runs off to find out if his wife is still alive – even in the intro expressing his own doubts. So, he has doubts… but still doesn’t at least check in with local law enforcement?

Ugh, seriously Capcom, no. I picked these out because they’re obviously terrible and stupid and ridiculous and dumb. This is the sort of sloppy writing I expect from a Sonic the Hedgehog game in 2017, not from a Resident Evil franchise which habitually is pretty solid on the details even in its sloppiest moments. These are big, gaping holes in your game and its story that make it hard for me to buy into this game.

And yes, it matters. It matters a hell of a lot more in a horror game. If this was still tongue-in-cheek action a la Resident Evil 4, you’d think they were just being silly or laughing at themselves or something along those lines. But in horror, suspension of disbelief is a critical element in instigating the necessary chills, thrills and spills. The moment that bubble is punctured – you’ve lost the horror element. And it’s very, very hard to get that bubble back once it’s gone ‘POP!’.

Maybe I’m just far too jaded. But still… enquiring minds, Capcom, would like to know. Or not, because if you couldn’t be arsed to clear this up before release, chances are you’re not going to care post-release… yes, I just talked myself down from that seven out of ten, Capcom.

You’re down to a six now.

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