Underneath the detritus, the waterlogged bayou setting of Resident Evil 7 features a somewhat less labyrinthine map than the series’ bread-and-butter mansions and research facilities. Unlike the iconic Spencer Mansion, the Baker estate is grounded in a gritty realism, built to be as playable as it is believable; as conducive to backtracking as it is to procedural jump scares.
But the Baker home, while designed to evoke the small scale and cramped spaces in which the series was born, forgets a pivotal element of Resident Evil’s legacy: doorway transitions and animations.
These animations between rooms, hallways, and staircases were created as Capcom’s way of masking loading screens endemic to fifth-generation hardware, which destabilized the necessary cadence of action horror gaming. The developers replaced standard fade-to-blacks and loading bars with short sequences that yanked players into a first-person perspective as they passed through each portal.
Resident Evil used to let horror linger a little longer.
Resident Evil’s door-opening and stair-climbing interstitials maintained the sense of presence built by exploring the mansion while delaying the gratification of horror. This way, they developed beyond their utilitarian origins and came to define the pacing, presentation, and play of the early series. (Their deep entrenchment with audiences led the development team to leave the animations in the original game’s 2015 re-re-release.)
Rather than disappearing on one side of a door and reappearing on the other (importantly, without revealing the contents of the next room), players were shown the lonely labor of getting around the mansion. The confidence that carries players headlong through the dining hall’s double doors was undercut, if only for a moment, by a first-person view of the mundane before reengaging the housebound horror. Every good horror game lets its horror linger; Resident Evil’s door animations let it linger a little longer.
In contrast, Resident Evil 7’s doors allow players to dictate that fragile cadence. Its doors respond smoothly to interaction, maintaining player control and perspective through each passageway. Their impressive realism is in service of an advanced, more procedural approach to horror that allows but discourages patience.
This creates a constant momentum that muddies the notion of horror as a series of crests and troughs, tension and relief. Even in the game’s quiet moments, the fear of a hoe-swinging maniac on the prowl compels the player forward. (Notably, Resident Evil 3’s Nemesis seeded this tactic with a persistence through walls that subverted the enemy-impenetrable doorways of the first two games.)
Modern processing power makes mid-game loading screens of any kind largely obsolete. As a result, Resident Evil 7’s immersion-centric design – while effective at conveying an intimacy and immediacy previously unknown to Resident Evil – rarely allows the player a critical distance from its horrors. Without pause, Resident Evil 7 uses its deconstructed brand of fear to compel us to fight in the dark; to act instead of observe; to move, even if not being chased.