Resident Evil 7 has a door problem

For several years of this website’s existence, our most-read post was my short, hasty, freeform, crude, drunken poem lamenting videogames’ excessive use of locked doors to gate progress or pretend that an area is larger than it really is. I’m not proud, not even slightly. But it is a universal frustration, which is why the piece took off as it did. So very often, we play as action heroes capable of amazing feats of strength, skill and survival, but give ’em a wooden door or chainlink fence and they’re totally confounded.

Resident Evil 7 [official site] is my favourite new game of January, a master-crafted slice of tension and gross-out excess, yet its over-reliance on evidently flimsy yet entirely impassable obstacles is very nearly its undoing.

To be clear, I’m not wailing ‘but why are there even doors?’ here. Structurally, the entire game depends on being locked into specific areas – in terms of design, your ongoing challenge is to find a way out, though in the latter half of the game it’s more about finding a way into hitherto inaccessible areas. This is an escape room writ large in some respects, and devising how to make your way through it and eventually, maybe, out of it, is absolutely fundamental to its being.

Single-glazed windows, my old enemy, we meet again!

In terms of tone, the overwhelming menace and shivery anxiety of never knowing where a threat will appear from next – but being quite certain that you cannot simply flee far from it – also depends on fences being insurmountable and doors being indestructible. And, without wishing to spoil plot (Resi 7’s other weak link), later on the player-character is also given certain reasons why he wouldn’t want to simply run for the hills too.

I get it. I understand why Resident Evil 7 effectively depends on locked door syndrome. I simply wish that it wasn’t so damned obvious about it. This is a game that excels at environmental subtlety even when it’s simultaneously being the exact opposite of subtle – this is how it builds its masterful atmosphere of dread and paranoia. Yet its great efforts at coherence and consistency seem to stumble when it comes to barriers.

My mother told me that if I touched wood with my bare hands, all my skin would drop off

Early on, the lead character, Ethan, begs someone on the other side of a window to help them get out of this house of uncertain horrors. Ethan has already experienced and survived tumultuous events by this point, but either cannot bring himself to or does not even think to try smashing said window. Not even when he obtains a knife strong and sharp enough to kill a man moments later. The knife can swipe and stab at that glass to precisely no effect. Instead, though desperate to escape, Ethan is willingly threaded through a maze of vicious horror instead, suffering terrible injury in the process. Far more so than had he just punched a window.

Later, part of the house is dramatically remodelled during a fight. Ethan’s own body quite literally knocks down a wall. But he will not try to smash that window, or kick down the front door.

Later, in the garden, simple and clearly rickety picket fences prevent him escaping entirely and going in search of the help he desperately needs. He could push that fence over. It would require a kick, at worst. He does not. He cannot. Instead, he walks through the one gate that will open, on to another part of the house, and into fresh hell.

If only I had some kind of stabbing implement to hand

Later, he obtains a chainsaw. He uses it on one lock, and one specific lock only, before discarding it. No other lock can be cut.

Later, he obtains a flamethrower, and a grenade launcher. He tries the lock on a series of standard wooden interior doors and is told that there is no way to open them without the correct key. That flamethrower could spurt fire for an eternity without effect.

He finds plastic lunchboxes and fragile desk drawers that can only be opened with few-and-far-between lockpicks. He finds tree stumps he cannot step over, short stretches of water he cannot paddle through, locks that require hanging a specific item on a pair of scales rather than attempt to place random objects of similar weight, and so much wood and so much glass and yet no entry, no exit, no progress until exactly this requirement is labouriously met.

Silly me, I must have picked up one of those cold flamethrowers by mistake again

The game works. This broken and arbitrary internal logic can of course be accepted (because we have accepted it so many times before), disbelief can be suspended, and it can be understood that certain things must be done, because the experience of trying to survive in this hideous house is so darkly delectable. But I wish they’d simply tried a little harder to disguise their working.

Make those doors iron and a foot thick. Make that fence three times as high and electrified. Barricade those windows to the point of absurdity. Make those lunch boxes into steel safes. Put barbed wire and broken glass and iron bars and gas traps and live wires everywhere. The family who live in this place don’t want anyone getting out – we would understand if it was made obvious that they’d gone to great lengths to ensure that was the case.

This place is quite literally Fort Knox

I suppose it would disrupt the festering hillbilly house aesthetic. The fantasy depends, to some extent, on the place looking run-down to the point of abandonment, not a fortress. And the family believe that they themselves are all the security that is required. But when the result is a protagonist that does not, cannot, will not even try to break down barriers an eight-year-old could defeat, credibility flounders.

Resident Evil 7 is the most effective horror game I’ve played in quite some time. It’s horrific where it needs to be, and it’s hilarious where it needs to be. I only wish it had a little more interest in internal logic.

The Umbrella Corporation has genetically-modified wood to be as strong as titanium

Or: maybe don’t give the player a flamethrower if your game’s setting is primarily wooden.

28 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Cooper says:

    Woah. Are we, here, witness to the death of the RPS Alt-Text?

    • FuriKuri says:

      We can only hope.

      Although true victory will only be achieved if XKCD does the same.

      • ThePuzzler says:

        Alt-text is one of the greatest artforms of the twenty-first century, just ahead of VR, and just behind tweeting.

    • gwop_the_derailer says:

      Death is the alt-text? Not as long as Alice is alive!

    • Premium User Badge

      subdog says:

      I hate to be a spoilsport, but it always has kind of bugged me how RPS uses alt-text as a joke (which is usually pretty funny!) instead of using it to make the site more accessible to all visitors.

  2. Ootmians says:

    I enjoyed the game a lot, too, but this also bugged me. I never bought that a man armed with all kinds of weapons had no way to escape the property. It also relies on that old horror staple of requiring people to act stupid. Dunno about you, but I would have called some type of law enforcement before going in–and if I found a videotape of someone getting slaughtered in a secret pit area, I sure as hell wouldn’t immediately go down there! Or wade through the neck-high sewer water for, oh, pretty much anything.

    Still, it’s a great game. I think of it in a cartoon sense, like Evil Dead.

  3. Culby says:

    I haven’t played it, rather I’m watching the Let’s Plays… has it been explained how is it some characters need to search high and low for you, while others (both friend and foe) know exactly what you’re doing and when’s the best time to give you a call?

    • HothMonster says:

      No, Zoe’s mysterious phone powers are never explained. Maybe that is her gift…

      • Ootmians says:

        Not only is she psychic, she knows how to make the phone work long enough to make a call, then it goes back to being dead. Unless she cuts the line again afterward, which makes even less sense.

    • Flopdong says:

      Nope! that bugs me a lot too

  4. qrter says:

    I’m not that far into the game, but it’s a strange mix of visceral, near-realistic horror and stupid game “logic”.

    Everytime I come across one of these locks (and there are a LOT of them), my mind instantly translates it to “oh, game logic, it’s a puzzle, need to find the right piece”, which is okay, but is almost diametrically opposed to creating any kind of immersion.

  5. HothMonster says:

    The chainsaw blade breaks when you cut that one lock, so in that single case at least there was a reason he discarded it. I want to know what that garage door is made out of that can withstand a car ramming it without so much as denting.

    • thiswillbeyou says:

      I went through the trouble of registering just to make the same chainsaw comment that HothMonster posted…. I feel somehow defeated, or robbed…

  6. fray_bentos says:

    I thought precisely the same thing about windows/flimsy doors just from playing the demo.

  7. sneetch says:

    Well, suspension of disbelief remains important for enjoying games. Like every game ever where your weapons are apparently glued to your hands in such a way that you can’t use them to climb over waist high walls.

    Best to ignore these things, I think.

    • ColonelFlanders says:

      Well no one’s going to be staring in disbelief at MY willy suspension!

  8. moryseth says:

    Dude you forgot something even dumber, “a security tape that cannot be removed by hand.” Are you shitting me!!! are we in idiocracy and I am the considered the idiot.

    But this has always been like that, think of how many RPG where the character will do crazy moves in a fight but he can’t climb over a low wall or table to grab the chest hidden behind.

    I think the reason why it still exist is because they count on our good will to accept it.

  9. cardboardcity says:

    ha ha ha Right see this in so many games. It’s like a dogma. You can’t jump over that 3-foot-high wall, you have to have the special key that opens the gate.

  10. thekelvingreen says:

    In fairness, this is not a new problem; it’s been with the series since the beginning. Oh, you may well have a rocket launcher, but this wooden door won’t open until you’ve put the gold and silver crests in the fountain in the courtyard.

    It’s part of the reason why I prefer the Silent Hill games — well, the first two, anyway — because you still get the artificial, gamey puzzles, but at least the world of Silent Hill is supposed to be surreal and artificial so it’s not as jarring.

  11. Premium User Badge

    Andy_Panthro says:

    Everything makes a lot more sense in that opening section, where you don’t have a weapon. It’s also where the game is most atmospheric and creepy. After that, it relaxes into being a “proper” resident evil game with all the puzzles and weird logic that goes with that.

  12. GameCat says:

    The worst offender is Dark Souls 2 where you literally hunt 4 super bosses in order to unlock the door in the forest so you can go to the other side of path that was blocked by some rubble that a child could pass. What?

    • Jekhar says:

      And sadly, that’s not the only place. Dark Souls loves to block passages with rubble or other obstacles, often not even knee high. But hey, video games.

  13. eyecandy says:

    Would you mind writing a paper on 3D arena fighters comboing f*ckall for ages while their enemies sidestepped 10 moves ago? That and running against walls, willing to save the world, kicking dragons’ asses but unable to jump. That’s the kind of thing that makes video games retarded.

  14. fabrulana says:

    So the doors is a thing then …

    Resident Evil 7 Definitely Got The Doors Right

  15. Pantonin says:

    The door problem is actually an Ethan problem: from someone not slightly surprised by his discoveries I understand that jumping over the fence in the backyard is out of the question.

    Outlast had the exact same character problem I remember. Amnesia had found an interesting answer to this with the risk to die of fear and the necessity to use light.

  16. Chairon6x3 says:

    I think a lot of people are complaining too much about a game. If every game played the way you really want them too, they would be short, uninteresting, and NO ONE would want to play them.

    Locked doors whether made of flimsy wood or no are a blockade in a game. They are there to create tension, mystery, and sometimes purpose. What you have to do to get to the other side, whether realistic or no, is part of a game. Going to repeat that one word for all you locked door hating trogolodytes… GAME. Figuring in stuff out while in an intense situation is our goal, our purpose.

    Just to satiate all of you complainers let’s consider a few things. 1. You’re not a buff hero in RE7. So the notion that you could just bust through something because you can weild a gun is probably the dumbest bit of human logic I can find. Did you see his forarms? He isn’t even physically fit. So go away with all your silly notions that you know exactly how mechanics should work. 2. He wasn’t kidnapped… well initially. So he’s not just a helpless victim. He’s there for a reason. To find the girlfriend that disappeared 3 years ago that he found out was still alive. So why should he just leave the house when he knows she’s there? Not to mention the property you start out in isn’t the same property as the house. so if you escaped, where would you go? I guarantee the keys to the cop car are nowhere to be found. Then there is the point yet again that you still really want to save your girlfriend. 3. This one is for the silent hill comment. Really, Resident Evil isn’t supposed to be surreal? Considering the fact the original title of the game is Biohazard, the main characters who GET BIT several times never turn, gigantic snakes, flower monsters with men inside them, TREES THAT WILL ATTACK YOU! but no… Silent Hill is ok with locked doors because it’s supposed to be surreal. Good job on pointing that one out nub.

    4. I’m separating this on purpose. The author of this article is whiney little baby that wants all of his puzzles handed to him because he is so hard placed in reality that he can’t enjoy titles that force him to suspend his disbelief, even if for a moment. He can’t enjoy the thrill, he can’t just enjoy the ride. He’s that snot nosed little twit that at the end of anything will look back and say well actually, then proceed to following with a long string of personal insite because he wants nothing more than to strip the fun out of everything that surrounds him. That is the person that wrote this article, and also a great many of you that wrote in comments in support.

    • Fenixp says:

      “The author of this article is whiney little baby that wants all of his puzzles handed to him because he is so hard placed in reality that he can’t enjoy titles that force him to suspend his disbelief, even if for a moment.”
      Said author wrote this:
      “The game works. This broken and arbitrary internal logic can of course be accepted (because we have accepted it so many times before), disbelief can be suspended, and it can be understood that certain things must be done, because the experience of trying to survive in this hideous house is so darkly delectable. But I wish they’d simply tried a little harder to disguise their working.”
      Read first, write second. It’s a good way to avoid calling people that communicate with you politely “whiney little baby”

    • thekelvingreen says:

      Yeah, okay.

      My point is that Resident Evil is supposed to be set in the real world, or a version of it at least. All the monsters and weird stuff are intruding into the real world.

      Silent Hill is different because during the game the protagonist tends to move from the real world into a strange side-dimension where the usual rules do not apply.

      So when you have a flimsy wooden door that can only be opened by twisting the nose of a gargoyle over in another part of the building, that comes across as incongruous in RE because that’s not how doors work in the real world, but it’s more plausible in SH because that setting works more on dream logic and symbolism.

      Is that more clear?