Designing for Horror - Resident Evil 7

The survival-horror game, Resident Evil, holds a special place in my heart. Although I did not own a PlayStation or gaming PC at the time of its release and so could not actually play the game that sparked a whole new genre for many years, Resident Evil is the pulsing horror that first opened my mind to the eternal coolness of Zombies. Despite the poor graphics (though not bad for 1996, the year of release) and the abysmal dialogue, I simply cannot say how breathtakingly cool it was watching Chris or Jill, the two playable characters in the game, run down pre-rendered corridors, the camera awkwardly positioned to create dramatic shadows and blind turns. The game oozed tension and dripped atmosphere like venom from the fangs of some giant spider. The enemies captured the same feeling of dread - slow moving Zombies staggering towards you, corpses that may or may not wake, Zombified dogs providing weak but dangerously fast-moving bad guys and lizardmen introducing abnormal mutation horror to the battle.

Naturally, the Zombies are the most memorable goons - stubbornly remaining as one of the best digital portrayal of these mythic creatures. Players empting rounds in the shambling corpses that rose from the ground conjured the notion of an "unstoppable" enemy, a war that man cannot win. The ever dwindling resources. The "fight or flight" controls where the player had to make the decision whether to stand their ground against the unspeakable, rotting, always advancing Zombie or flee to a supposed safe area (another terror, perhaps, waiting within). The game was perfect.

As I write these sacred words, Resident Evil is being honoured with a second remake - yes, this aging game is so unbelievably awesome, there is a market for not one, but two remakes. However, in terms of quality, the continued Resident Evil series of games (there are movies and books too) has been up and down like a rollercoaster.

All was fine for the first three outings, a similar game structure in different environments with different challenges offering much of the same legendary gameplay. After the initial trilogy of games however, the series shed its survival-horror roots to produce a down-right bodacious action-oriented fourth outing. From there, a high-quality yet uninspired fifth outing was spawned and a sixth offering that tried, unfathomably, to be all things, to all people, ultimately failed to impress on all fronts. On top of this there was an oft-forgotten yet actually quite reasonable zeroth entry - yes, Resident Evil 0 is actually a thing - and a huge smorgasbord of RE spin-offs.

Anyway, the point of this article is not a wistful trip down memory lane, as pleasurable as it may be. The Resident Evil series must return to its former glory, the series that created the survival-horror genre must retain the biblical top spot - the king must return. Obviously this requires a Resident Evil 7, something that is known to be in the works as quick forays onto the all-knowing Internet will prove. However, there are no firm details and while developers and publishers of this future title spout the right things - saying that RE 7 will return to the series' legendary survival-horror roots - we have been disappointed before. I cannot let this feeling of unease continue. I must put my indisputably epic gameplay and story suggestions down on virtual paper for the good of mankind. So lets get this intellectual theorising party started. Here is what I want for Resident Evil 7.

The story should take a back seat

The story of the wider Resident Evil universe is freakishly complex involving secret corporations, biohazard experiments, insidious mutations, shady characters, cover-ups, underground bases and creepy mansions. There is a lot of quality stuff here, don't get me wrong, but constantly expanding this story with each numbered game iteration is just not necessary - and a good way to get players lost and confused in a mind-numbing bulk of needless narrative. One of the greatest highlights of the original, in my view, was the simplicity; you were in a mansion filled with horrible monsters and you had to get out - end of. Okay, it was complicated a little with either Chris or Jill being captured, depending on who you play as, but the point still stands - escape was the focus, everything else was secondary.

It is this simplicity that I want to return for the seventh outing, merely referencing the wider lore - and, by jove, I know just the setting.

The game starts with a team of Antarctic explorers, there for a reason I have not thought of yet (maybe a quest to the pole or something). Anyway, the weather is nice, bright and sunny - it's summer and everyone knows nothing bad ever happens on nice days. However, it is not long until disaster strikes. The explorers fall into a crevasse on their journey southward, a simple accident, yet one of fatal ramifications as the whole party is locked within the deep, open-air tomb. While arguments break out about map reading and the natural "how the hell did this happen!" dialogue, the group discover part of the side of a huge metal structure. The wall has no door and any paintwork is flaky and cracked, even the exterior metal shell supporting tears and dents, damaged by shifting ice. Using ice axes, they can force open one of the tears, making a large enough hole so that, one by one, they can climb in. Why would they go in this unknown and ugly-looking tin can? It's not like they can go anywhere else and they can't stay where they are or they will freeze to death. The drive for survival marches them inside.

On the way through the whole, the last guy spots a faded Umbrella logo on the exterior wall of the structure - the telltale sign that this dilapidated structure once belonged to the evil corporation behind the Raccoon City incident and other Resident Evil horror. Of course, the station is long abandoned now, perhaps because Umbrella realized the stupidity of building a large hollow metal structure in the Antarctic or perhaps due to funding cuts. Abandoned by the living anyway…

You see, this subterranean fortress was built to train Umbrella employees to cope with the pressure of working in environments where Zombies are, in claustrophobic and often dark areas, trapped beneath the ice with no immediate exit (the station was abandoned before Umbrella began work on its more hideous experiments). As such Zombies were kept in the structure - and they are still there. There was no reason for Umbrella to extract them when everyone left; they are just walking corpses, not worth the expenditure of resources - more can be made. So here they sit, once left to rot in cages and eventually wandering the dark halls when their restricting bonds rusted and snapped. Now they stand, rooted to the spot, frozen in ice, rigid, locked within air-tight frames.

© Resident Evil Revalations Concept Art |

The first task of the explorers that find themselves in this dilapidated place is to turn the power back on - without power there is no heat and without heat the trapped explorers while freeze to death. The party splits, each member taking a different route to try to find the controls. Controlling one of the explorers, the player will see the frozen human statues - their character unknowing of the evil within, the player having some awful clue (creating a nice tense moment). Once the player finds the controls and activates them, power is restored, heat is turned on, electric lights flicker back to brightness and the ventilation system hums into life once again. There are much darker ramifications though; the life-saving heat has thawed the frozen dead. They are out. They are free to wander the station on their unquenchable search for food and you don't know where they are...

Gameplay that is more 'out there' than the usual collect & kill

The actual gameplay would be more like a combination of Alien Isolation and the original RE - a focus shifted away from action and gunfights. Like Resident Evil, you are still wandering around tight spaces in low light conditions, still collecting items and using herbs to heal. However, this time the Zombies have free roam of the facility - they can break down doors and wander around freely. There is no intelligence at play here, no planned hunting behaviour - these are no Plaga-infected Zombies from Resident Evil 4 and 5 , these are proper slow moving, non-intelligent, only killed by damaging the brain, eerily moaning, walking dead.

Ammo and guns are extremely scarce - the facility being abandoned leaves no reason for guns to be left behind in the exodus. Luckily, the player has a harpoon launcher type projectile weapon (it's not designed to be a weapon but, hey, if it works…). The trouble is, they only have one or two shots and it is very slow to reload - meaning you have to pick your shots carefully and judge threats before firing. Harpoons stick in objects they hit and can be recollected after combat.

The other major aspect of gameplay is that there are several characters in your explorer group and therefore, in the training facility. While the player can only directly control one character, they do get radio reports from other members. However, when these characters are attacked and killed by Zombies, they come back as Zombies themselves - the T-virus (the virus that is the source of all the Resident Evil horror) does actually spread as a physical unseen enemy in this game, rather than just being a story hook. Another cool idea would be to give the playable character a short-range map that included little red tracking dots for each explorer. This tracker would obviously show each character's rough location in the complex, but I have a more sinister idea in store.

When characters die from Zombie related injuries, they die, then they get back up - after few hours down-time - returning to a mockery of life as the very thing that killed them. However, they have not changed clothes or mutated or anything - they still have their trackers on them. This way, the player can keep tabs on their infected comrades - a concept similar to the motion tracker in Alien Isolation. Imagine knowing generally where some Zombies are but not having any option to avoid them, red dots on a map constantly hounding you, pushing you forward. And the other great thing about this idea is that you do not know the red dot equals a Zombie - it could be a non-infected other member of your party offering no threat what-so-ever. In addition, as I have already explained, there are Zombies in the abandoned facility that are not members of the explorers expedition. These Zombies do not have trackers, there is no way to track their movements as they wander the facility and this creates another source of apprehension. Just because you cannot see a red dot in a room, does not mean it is free of Zombies. Do you go the way where enemies are guaranteed, return to a route you have been before at the risk of it being more dangerous than when you left it or do you venture into the unknown where rewards are possible but threat is massive?

Don't hold back on the Zombies

© Resident Evil Zombie Concept Art | Resident Evil News

Zombies desperately need to regain some points in the league of perfect video game baddies. In many games, later entries in the Resident Evil series included, Zombies are pretty much bullet sponges - enemies that rush at you, do a bit of damage but are only really there to soak up some of the player's precious ammunition. The Zombies in Resident Evil 7 must, must restore the jaw-dropping horror and terrible surprise of stumbling upon a walking corpse. The Zombies should be horrific in terms of visuals - not ugly, just gruesomely beautiful - perhaps missing limbs or sporting gaping wounds. They must move in an ungainly fashion, swaying to - unkowningly - make precision headshots difficult. They must do large amounts of damage; knocking the player to the floor, grappling them and not easily letting go, doing all they can to get at the delicious meat locked within the player's warm body. When the player sees a Zombie, every instinct they have must tell them to go the other way yet know that doing so can only make progress harder to achieve.

Fresh characters

A large chunk of the Resident Evil series is full of characters reused from earlier games. Leon, Chris, Jill, Claire, Wesker and Barry have had more than one outing throughout the numbered series and the gargantuan set of spin-offs. Catching up with familiar faces is always welcome but, after so many games involving the same broad set of characters, there is becoming a slightly unbelievable "Resident Evil family".

The 7th game should feature an entirely new cast - people who do not know much about Umbrella (or really care that the company is corrupt). The exception to this is maybe escaped convict, Billy Coen, from Resident Evil 0. He is a suitable character because he knows a little about the horrors unleashed by Umbrella but only really came across them by accident - he has no desire to uncover a backstory or bring down a corporation. Of course, Billy himself has a past and there would need to be some explanation of how he was allowed back into society after his 23-count murder charge.

© Explorer / Survivor Concept Art | Jon Mills, Deviant Art

That is a rundown on what I would like to see from Resident Evil 7, but have I got it right? Have your say by adding a comment below - I'd love to hear your ideas on how this enigmatic series can return to its former glory.


ZombieTom wrote:

Despite many rumours and speculation, Resident Evil 7 was not announced at E3 2015. That's not to say it's not in development already - just Capcom are not prepared to show it off yet.

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The Dead Times © Tom Clark 2013 onwards

Made with Kompozer

'Universal Fruitcake' font sourced from