ScreenCritics Sam explores how 2016’s Doom and 2017’s Resident Evil 7: Biohazard have reclaimed their reigning genre titles in modern gaming.
There’s no denying that gaming is constantly on the brink of radical change. In the span of two decades, we’ve seen an evolutionary incline in not only technology and hardware, but narrative liberties as well. At one point in time, developers were, first and foremost, storytellers above entertainers. The mid-90’s era of gaming – which many consider the golden era – is remarkable for just that reason. Many new IP’s entered the mainstream conscious and became imprinted for the legacies they have shaped and are still enjoyed until today. However, two particular golden era titles (specifically within the horror genre) have come full circle these couple of years, proving that old ideas are infinite but concrete. I’m of course talking about Doom and Resident Evil.
2016’s Doom and 2017’s Resident Evil 7 are modern masterpieces, both brilliantly revitalizing the genres that initially put them on the map. In an age where first-person shooters were predominantly militarized and survival horror was every greenlit Steam project/YouTube reaction fodder, id Software and Capcom boldly decided to reclaim their thrones by reinventing the very formula that made their franchises iconic. Doom was the first to invoke genuine surprise. In April 2016, the revamped fourth Doom unexpectedly became somewhat of a cultural phenomenon, not only in the extreme brutality of its violence and demonic themes, but its masterful execution.
Doom managed to retain the original 1993 titles’ core elements while injecting the new revamp with a diabolical modern touch. Like the original, the game was an almost non-stop slaughterhouse of assorted demons, barely giving breathing room to the player. The accentuated violence and grizzly acts of dismemberment were fairly new additions, only pushing the envelope to more intentionally shocking visceral details. This borrowed to the charm and overall appeal of the game, and why its critical success was so significant to the gaming industry. id Software found an intricate balancing act of both old and new, and the seamless combination of the two immediately struck a chord with both ends of the gaming spectrum for a surprisingly far reach.
By far, the most important aspect of Doom (and we will come to find with Resident Evil 7 as well) was its central character, or rather, what they symbolized in the grand scheme of the narrative. In Doom, players assume the role of a faceless marine lovingly nicknamed “Doomguy”, whose sole intent is to mercilessly desecrate everything in his path that moves. Much like the original, this iteration of the Doomguy did not require any tragic backstory or vital character development. Ironically, his lack of character is what gave him the most character, simply by being the faceless role that players could easily slip into. His no-holds-barred rage and warpath across the ruins of Mars and the pits of hell reflected the players own lust for violence. This was key to establishing the concrete style of first-person shooters in the 90’s, and more evidently in what the 2016 version achieved: this was not the journey of any specific character but rather the journey of the player themselves.
This leads me to Resident Evil 7, Capcom’s bravura return to classic survival horror. After the deterioration of the “survival horror” elements of the series in the fifth and sixth games, the demands of fans were met when Resident Evil 7 demonstrated a commendable restraint on action in favor of the heart-pounding horror that made the 1996 original release a game-changer. While not without its fair share of action as Resident Evil 7 cleverly hid the combat aspects during the marketing, it pushed survival horror to the forefront. Many concerned – and as the internet has lead me to believe, very confused – fans of the series pointed out the gaping similarities to Outlast or other budget first-person horror titles that involved cheap jump scares and run-and-hide mechanics, but were intentionally teased by Capcom and kept an air of necessary secrecy around the game up until its release. Much like Doom, we had a general idea of the game leading up to its launch, but no idea just how much of an impact it would make.
To say Resident Evil 7 reinvented the survival horror genre is a bit of an understatement. What it did was take the modern mechanics of trending survival horror and infuse it with, well, actual artistry – something that Kojima’s P.T. brilliantly pulled off too. The game retained the core elements of its original predecessor but revamped the mechanics to suit a newer generation of players. Basically, it made horror games scary again, not limited to just a parade of jump scares. Beneath the eerie tones and dreaded atmosphere, there’s a game with much confidence in its ability to invoke genuine terror in the player, and not always through its already iconic Baker family (that’s real iconic, not Ubisoft iconic).
Early on in the game we’re introduced to the primary antagonists, the Bakers, but while we have a general idea of what they initially look like, Resident Evil 7 masterfully keeps us on the edge by portraying their unpredictability in sinister ways. They lurk the hallways of the plantation and have several stages to their twisted parasitical infections, maintaining a sense of looming dread even after the bodies have hit the floor. While Doomguy seemed to remain anonymous, Resident Evil 7 has a distinct protagonist, Ethan Winters, who enters the Baker plantation in search of his long missing wife, Mia. This is absolutely vital to the game achieving its survival horror elements again – we’re not put in the shoes of any trained S.T.A.R.S. soldier, but rather the ordinary civilian archetype like you and I.
While Ethan’s face is never shown, the first-person perspective isn’t the real cause. This was an intentional move on Capcom’s part to mask Ethan’s real physical traits besides his body, giving players a placeholder for their own face – much like Doomguy. The true ingenuity of both these titles is how they’re able to take unidentifiable characters and give them as much freedom of characterization as best suited to the player. It’s ultimately what makes Resident Evil 7 such a terrifying experience and Doom so inexplicably satisfying in all its blood-splattering fun.
Doom and Resident Evil 7 have both received critical and commercial success, continuing to dominate their respective genres today on the topics of first-person shooters and survival horror. Ever since their releases, we’ve seen a sudden shift in quality and effort on the part of developers to recapture the old-school due to its surprisingly warm reception in a modern generation. However, I highly doubt that these modern juggernauts will likely be topped anytime soon, given their unexpectedly profound impact on the gaming industry thus far. But for now, they can comfortably reclaim their thrones. They’re welcomed to stay for as long as they like.