If Resident Evil VII: Biohazard's Beginning Hour demo showcased the game's focus on a grim atmosphere, the new Lantern demo reveals another layer: a narrative structure driven by sinister characters and set-piece moments.
At E3 2016, producer Masachika Kawata detailed how the entirety of Resident Evil VII will work. There will be combat. There will be gunplay. There will be a renewed focus on survival, something the series has largely lacked since its shift to third-person action with Resident Evil 4. But one thing Kawata didn't mention was the horror game's overarching structure. The Lantern demo illustrates that structure--and it's a new direction for the storied franchise.
Unlike the Beginning Hour demo, the Lantern demo is actually part of the final game. However, it will act as a standalone flashback, following a peripheral storyline that may or may not affect Resident Evil VII's main narrative. As Kawata recently told GameSpot at Gamescom, the sequel will include numerous VHS tapes that allow you to play these tangential sections. They function much like notes and audio logs in earlier Resident Evil entries. But this time, they're playable.
"So in the main game you're playing as the main character," Kawata said. "These video tapes are a chance for you to experience the events of the storyline from different characters' perspectives--maybe even fill in story gaps. They act to break up the main narrative in an interesting way."
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The Lantern demo follows a girl named Mia as she emerges from a swamp onto the grounds of a decrepit shack. She's running from an older woman whose titular lantern illuminates the ground around her. As Mia, I entered the shack and my sole objective appeared in white text on the screen: "Don't Get Caught."
For the next 10 minutes, I snuck through the darkened shack and avoided the woman at all costs, watching for the telltale lantern light that marked her proximity. She shouted profanities, senile musings, and aggressive threats. "I'm going to feed you to my babies, and your remains will fertilize the garden!" A dreadful pallor hung in the air as I searched for a way out.
Following in the footsteps of the Beginning Hour, The Lantern demo incorporates simple puzzle elements, marking a return to the earlier Resident Evil titles that favored slower pacing over all-out combat. The puzzles here are simple but tense: the woman could be somewhere closeby while I find objects and discern their applications. As I search for the objects, hide behind cabinets, and avoid her gaze, the tension slowly mounts, until I know exactly what I have to do but have to wait for the precise moment to do it.
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"I don't think we'll ever be able to please 100 percent of the fans," Kawata told GameSpot at Gamescom. "You have your original trilogy fans and your newer fans. I don't want to think of it as 'How do I get those two groups on board,' as much as I'm trying to get people on board who want this entirely new horror experience."
The lantern-carrying villain of the new demo is one of numerous characters Resident Evil VII will use to drive its branching storyline forward. She lords over her shack in the swamp with the possessive intensity of a murderous mother. With only a few lines of dialogue and two dusty notes placed in the house, Resident Evil VII implies a past connection between Mia and her pursuer. There's bad blood here. The elderly woman seems to have trouble forgetting it.
Kawata and his team have yet to reveal any actual footage of Resident Evil VII's main storyline. But the Lantern demo does shed light on the studio's intentions with the upcoming sequel. Previous Resident Evil titles created tension through harrowing combat and survival-based situations, and if what Kawata says is true, so will VII. But the sequel will create something more sinister, with vivid characters, harrowing situations, and a unique story structure. Kawata may not be able to please all of the fans, but in breaking from series tradition, Resident Evil VII seems to have a distinct flavor of its own.