Resident Evil 7 Review — Make (Urban) America Hate Again

by Jed Pressgrove

One of the most superficial claims about Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is that it brings the Resident Evil series “back to its roots.” What this game, written by westerner Richard Pearsey, actually does is reuse anti-rural American horror cliches while sporting a “new perspective,” as if making a first-person title is revolutionary. With this in mind, Resident Evil 7 is most accurately described as a nostalgic survival-horror reboot for city snobs.

Set in rural Louisiana (again, not Resident Evil’s roots), Resident Evil 7 puts you in control of Ethan Winters scouring the home of a “hick family” (to quote condescending critic Simon Parkin) for his missing wife Mia. The proceedings get grotesque quickly: within an hour or so, you will be invited to eat maggot-ridden food and then chased around the house by drawling patriarch Jack Baker, a villain who recalls Nemesis from Resident Evil 3. With his own life on the line, Ethan must fight back with a standard array of weapons (knife, pistol, shotgun, grenade launcher, etc.) that feel like a sentimental regression from the superior combat options of Resident Evil 4.

Although Pearsey eventually provides an extraordinary explanation as to why this rural place and family are so decrepit, his script borrows heavily from American films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Deliverance, Wrong Turn, and others that suggest rural people are backward. Pearsey’s co-opted vision reveals its contempt for country folk with ridiculous dialogue (“Welcome to the family, son.” and “Rise and shine, sleepyhead. It’s time for supper.”) and references to outdated items like VCRs (which doubles as a treat for nostalgia-obsessed nerds). The implication is that rural people already talk and live funny in their isolation, and when you mix this existing idiocy with nasty science fiction, you have what many critics and fans have called a return to scariness.

Only problem is you’d have to be oblivious to or willfully ignorant of the movies that Resident Evil 7 copies to find this garbage shocking. Even if Pearsey isn’t as snooty and resentful as his script suggests, you would think he, one of the writers of the deconstructionist Spec Ops: The Line, would be more aware of how unoriginal and cheap this horror story is. When you approach a refrigerator to read notes like “Male 20s Portly BBQ,” you have to wonder how anyone living in the Information Age could overlook the vicious repetitiveness of this rural cannibalism idea, which was also excused when it appeared in the second episode of Telltale’s The Walking Dead. That critics like Parkin would compare this slasher-film crap to Truman Capote’s multidimensional brilliance shows you how delusional a city snob can be.

Curiously, this same type of audience, supposedly progressive, has glossed over the racism and misogyny of Resident Evil 7. The deputy David Andersen is a textbook example of a token black character who is only there to die. And not only does he die, but Ethan, upon finding David’s corpse in a dissection room, quips “Poor deputy.” In one stroke, developer Capcom gets in its minimal diversity quota, and in another stroke, the company implies the black guy doesn’t matter anyway. In another scene, you fight Jack’s wife Marguerite. Here, Pearsey confirms his unexamined urban bias with Marguerite’s line “There’s no escape, city boy.” This dialogue comes at about the time you discover Marguerite’s weak point: her exposed, corrupted vagina. It’s a shameful way of degrading an already-savage rural caricature.

Pearsey does offer Zoe, Jack and Marguerite’s daughter, as a counterexample to her family’s inherent backwardness. Still, Zoe seems like more of a plot device compared to how writer/director Eli Craig uses the character of Allison to show a genuine connection between rural and non-rural people in the sociological masterpiece Tucker & Dale vs. Evil. Craig’s film exposes Pearsey’s low standards for horror writing and raises legitimate points about how fear on both sides of the urban/rural divide results in destruction. Resident Evil 7 only offers longstanding stupidity to go along with its clunky action — a frightening combo for all the wrong reasons.

Ground Zeroes Is Bad Television

by Jed Pressgrove

“She also had a message for you: ‘I’m ready for the worst.'”

“Sounded a little too cheerful to me.”

With dialogue like that, would it be surprising if director Hideo Kojima finds inspiration in the dumb nihilism of Telltale’s The Walking Dead? Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is the latest video game that wants to be a television show. It goes all out: Kiefer Sutherland, a film actor who became a big television star in eight seasons of 24, voices the protagonist Snake (fans disappointed about the absence of David Hayter fail to see the significance). But the game is more silly than shrewd, as evidenced by the villain Skull Face, a mindless idea that hopelessly recalls Killface from the satirical cartoon, Frisky Dingo. More often than not, Kojima’s jealousy of television leads him to stupidity, not brilliance.

“Open world” continues to be nothing more than an advertising slogan for spoiled yet freedom-starved audiences. Essentially, Ground Zeroes is a collection of episodes that all take place in one location — a stealth sitcom. The episodic nature of Ground Zeroes puts it more in line with Batman: Arkham Asylum than Batman: Arkham City. Side missions — tantamount to television filler — have to be unlocked by beating the main mission, which has more cinematic flair than your average television show (similar to “smart TV” like Breaking Bad). The fantastic production values of Ground Zeroes has led some critics to compare it to the filmmaking of Alfonso Cuaron, a man who has risen to limited fame by copying the superior camerawork and framing of Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick.

Rather than do something shockingly different, Kojima hopes to outdo Jack Bauer when it comes to shocking darkness. Ground Zeroes entices its post-9/11 audience — what easy prey! — by blandly referencing real-life politics and war. Kojima believes that acknowledging Guantanamo Bay by itself will allow us to see video games mature before our eyes, but the director’s personal fantasy of revolutionizing video game content somehow results in the gore of Mortal Kombat.

The sight of a tortured woman’s guts in Ground Zeroes signals a new dawn in gamer confusion. At a very basic level, the scene raises the question: am I playing the latest entry in an action franchise or watching torture porn? Others will yell “Misogyny!” as those desensitized to grossness attempt to explain how tacky horror visuals fit into the “Metal Gear Solid universe.” This scene and the rape allusions might make and break connections between people in the video game community. This confusion allows Kojima to continue living his absurd dream of reincarnated film director and savvy television show creator.

Misogyny isn’t the problem with Ground Zeroes. The problem is that some feminists would love Ground Zeroes, and all of its meaningless political posturing, if it didn’t contain a tortured and raped woman prisoner and instead starred an “acceptable” female protagonist. Some gamers, of all political persuasions, have worshiped so much “AAA” and indie cynicism that they are no longer aware of what constitutes an imaginative video game. They don’t care that Ground Zeroes doesn’t innovate stealth (the bullet time is embarrassing shoehorning), contains less humor than the superior Metal Gear Solid III, and feels less fluid than the Arkham games. They just want more crap to talk about before the actual game, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, is released. Kojima, inspired by addictive and trashy television, is ever willing to serve a well-produced package of crap.