Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Resident Evil 7 Teaser Demo: Beginning Hour (+ Kitchen Demo)

The first info I saw about Resident Evil 7: Biohazard intrigued me enough that when PlayStation Plus subscribers got early access to the Beginning Hour demo, I figured I’d give it a shot. My experience at the time left me wanting more, but then, in a surprising twist, the demo updated twice and I returned both times to witness the changes. These updates, Twilight Ver. and Midnight Ver., gave me a greater idea of what to expect and convinced me to take the plunge on the full game. Now, as part of a deep dive into Resident Evil 7 for a proper review, I decided to look back on Beginning Hour Midnight Ver. to not only get back into the story, but also see just how effective it still is.

Beginning Hour takes places before the events of Resident Evil 7 and follows an unnamed male protagonist who becomes trapped in a mysterious house and must find a way to escape. As he explores, he finds a tape labeled “Derelict House Footage” and watches it. In the footage is a camera crew, cameraman Clancy Jarvis, anchorman Peter Walken and producer Andre Stickland, taping a rehearsal for the show Sewer Gators. As they explore the house, however, they get a lot more than they ever bargained for.

While the story is rather minimalist, it’s appropriate for a demo and very effective. It’s easy for the player to project themselves onto the protagonist and feel the same dread and isolation the protagonist does in a seemingly hopeless situation, especially once they see the fate of the Sewer Gators crew. There are multiple endings depending on the player’s actions in their efforts to escape, though the protagonist’s fate has no bearing on the events of the main game no matter what you do. The Sewer Gators crew, however, especially Clancy, do remain relevant to the story, even if at this point the player doesn’t know it. One thing to note, however, is that Clancy Jarvis is mistranslated as Clancy Javis in the VHS footage. Additionally, the cutscenes incorporate some footage from the Kitchen demo, which, at the time Beginning Hour first released, was unavailable to the public.

This footage is important to the story.

Fittingly for a demo, Beginning Hour introduces the player to the core gameplay of Resident Evil 7, including the inventory system, combat and puzzles. Since the game is in first-person, a first for the series, this demo also gets the player acclimated to the new gameplay style and slower tempo compared to the more action-oriented titles. As it turns out, the first-person viewpoint immediately increases the tension, since there’s less of a barrier separating the player from the horrors that unfold before their eyes. Setting the demo entirely in an enclosed space really helps, amplifying the intense atmosphere so you never really feel safe, even if you’ve already played the demo before. As a bonus, you’re also introduced this early to the concept that Clancy’s actions in the past, as shown in the VHS footage, can benefit the player in the present.

There’s also a completely optional task that gave the Dummy Finger from the original version of the demo an actual purpose. If you get a Blank Notebook and then combine the Dummy Finger with Object Made of Celluloid to create the Dummy’s Left Hand, you can start going around the house solving murders, then again to trigger five special giggles. Once you do that, you can obtain the Dirty Coin, which can be transferred to the main game as a bonus Antique Coin used to help obtain certain items. While it’s cool that something so elaborate was hidden in the demo, I’m not sure it’s worth going through the effort, considering that you don't get too much of an advantage from having the Dirty Coin apart from obtaining an item slightly faster on a first playthrough of Resident Evil 7. If you want to truly see everything this demo has to offer though, have at it.

One notable addition to the Midnight Version update is a single Molded enemy in the basement of the house. The encounter is completely optional, but avoiding or killing it is required to get a key that will help get you to the demo’s True Ending. If you do choose to fight it, there’s only a sparse amount of ammo at your disposal for a hidden gun or you can try using the hidden axe, but it’s a less reliable method. No matter how you choose to approach it, this encounter gets you used to what you can expect out of the main game’s combat and resource management.

Atmosphere is Beginning Hour's stronguit.

At the time the demo released, the graphical capabilities of the RE Engine were impressive and, for the most part, they still are. The environments have a stunning level of detail and the human models look more realistic than in previous Resident Evil games, but still have some touches of stylization to prevent them from hitting the uncanny valley. Perhaps the biggest advantage of the RE Engine in Beginning Hour is the lighting. Even though it’s daytime outside, it does nothing to help the unease from walking around a seemingly empty and dimly lit house.

What also amplifies the atmosphere is the soundtrack, or lack thereof. There is music, but it’s very minimal and used only when appropriate. Most of the time, however, the only audio you’ll hear is ambient noise, which increases the sense of unease, since any new noise could startle you if you have no idea what to expect. There’s also some good voice acting from the cast, particularly from Peter, since you get a good grasp of his deteriorating emotional state as his arrogance is slowly replaced with fear during his time in the house.

Before Beginning Hour, however, there was another demo, Kitchen, an experience previously exclusive to demonstrations at E3 2015. It would, however, later see a public release for those who had purchased a PlayStation VR headset and popped in the VR Demo Disc. Though Kitchen takes place before Beginning Hour, it does show exactly what happened to Peter and allows the player to experience the beginning of Clancy’s turmoil firsthand. The entire demo is only a couple minutes long, but shows off just how well horror works in VR and gives just a small taste of the atmosphere from Resident Evil 7. Beginning Hour does a better job at preparing you for the main game, but I’d still suggest checking out Kitchen, if only for the interactive element that’s otherwise not present in the footage shown in Beginning Hour.

If you’re on the fence about Resident Evil 7 or are interested in the full game but want to get a taste of it first, then these two demos are a good place to start, especially Beginning Hour. Kitchen may not give players the best idea of what to expect, but it can give PlayStation VR owners an idea of what they’re in for if they choose to play that way.

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