There’s a reason that I have to write a Part II to my last post, because for every good thing that happens in the first 2/3 of the game, there’s a forced or flat out boring moment in the final act that feels as if its trying to burn all the bridges with the player that the beginning worked so hard to build.
A friend of mine had me watch an old Leonardo DiCaprio film called “The Beach.” Despite the fact that DiCaprio’s recognized as one of the most prolific actors to grace the past decade or two, this film currently ranks at an abysmal 19% on Rotten Tomatoes. Knowing I might feel the same way as almost everyone else who’s watched the movie, my friend made it very clear that I had to go into the film with an open mind. Similar to the game we’re talking about right now, The Beach starts off on a very strong note. It’s the story of an apathetic American backpacker in Thailand who starts to feel a true purpose when he discovers the possible location of a hidden island paradise, and sets out with two other travelers to find said paradise. The first half of the film is well paced and, for the most part, well written. Spoilers will follow on the film, just a heads up.
Once the trio find this lost island, they meet other travelers who have built an entire community hidden away from the rest of society. It’s very happy-go-lucky as you see all the characters bond and hang out against the backdrop of a beautiful island, which works in the film’s favor. But about halfway through, there’s a drastic change in tone. Leo is blamed when two soon-to-be unwelcome visitors are seen in the distance and is forced to keep watch at the top of the island, never to return until he can confirm that the two interlopers won’t come to the island. To be honest, the film could have ended here. It would’ve been smart to keep the viewers happy but also leave them with a sense of doubt. Was this just a one-time punishment? Did this small society crumble soon after? Did Leo die of starvation or thirst since he never left that post? That kind of ambiguity would’ve been a great way to end a film where everything was too perfect.
But that’s not what happens. At all. The rest of the film tries to delve into something akin to a psychological thriller. Leo starts hallucinating due to the solitude, and begins to obsess over a society that he’s now an outcast from. He takes guns from pirates (who, despite being ruthless killers and drug dealers, are somehow totally fine with a bunch of white people loitering on the island they own) in their sleep, but he never shoots or steals them, he just points the trigger in their direction, puts the guns back and runs off. He regains sanity when he witnesses and helps cause the death of the two intruders he was meant to keep watch over, and eventually the entire community falls apart.
The only issue I have with The Beach is the same issue I have with Resident Evil 7. Their second halves, despite their flaws, aren’t that bad. But they’re so tonally different from their first half that by the end, you can’t help but wonder why these two different ideas got smashed into an uneven whole.
To be fair, the second half of RE7 starts off alright. There’s a whole section where you have to fight off Marguerite and her bugs and while it’s not “creepy” its certainly unsettling. This time it attempts to pay an homage to Saw, as Ethan is forced to play a twisted game of lighting candles on a birthday cake or fighting off waves of nightmarish creatures known as “The Molded.” For the most part, it’s scary and tense, which is great. But once all that’s said and one you fight Jack Baker for a THIRD time, and…well…
Now I understand some people thought this was a great boss fight, and I’ll admit hearing Ethan say, “This is getting old, Jack!” was a genuine treat since it was the game’s way of showing us just how much of a badass Ethan had become. But those tense sequences spent hiding from Jack while he scoured the mansion searching for you are long gone. The tension and horror is replaced with an overblown and ridiculous boss fight that feels like the opposite of everything the game’s been building towards. This isn’t even the end. There’s another four hours of the game, three of which are needlessly spent in an abandoned freighter backtracking and mindlessly shooting The molded to learn maybe five minutes of the plot. That last hour might be the worst offender, though, considering all that happens is Ethan walks in a straight line shooting enemies until he faces off against the true antagonist, which was actually the grandma this entire time, who’s not actually the grandma, but a preteen girl who vomits up black mold and mind controls people to turn them into the undead? It’s needlessly confusing, and again, this is all “explained” in about five minutes. By the end of the game, I couldn’t say I loved it because those last couple hours just felt like a needless amount of filler and sci-fi that belonged in another game.
In the end, the best entertainment is the type that stays within the genre boundaries, but is successful at changing how you perceive those genres. However the most disappointing books, movies or games always end up trying to break their own rules, in an attempt to be clever that instead comes off as forced and detracts from an otherwise great product. To anyone on the fence about RE7, the first eight hours are alone are some of the best horror I’ve seen in any medium; you’d make a mistake if you missed out on them. But it’s worth noting just how jarring those last couple hours feel, since they’re so disappointing. I still say this is my favorite horror game because what works, works incredibly well. With Outlast 2 on the horizon, maybe that’s going to change, but let’s hope developers learn from the highs and lows of this game and set a new standard for what a truly atmospheric, pulse-pounding horror game looks like.