When I wrote about my experiences with the PlayStation VR prototypes last year, I was pretty excited about how much of the experience could be transferred to other games. But I was also really apprehensive about totally embracing the medium – namely how it’ll be usable with more traditional games. I also lamented the lack of opportunity I had to experience the Kitchen demo – months before I even knew it was a prototype of sorts for Resident Evil 7.
The Resident Evil 7 demo was similarly an amazing experience but I couldn’t help but be incredulous when it came to how much the demo was an indicator of how the final game will play. It was a scary affair and one that I probably won’t forget right up until the point that I boot the final version when it releases in January. The change in pace and tone is remarkably different from Resident Evil 6, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that the VR support for the game was totally tacked on. After spending some time with the game in the VR space, I’m not only fully convinced, I truly don’t want to play the game any other way on my first time through.
On a recent visit to EB Expo I was fortunate enough to try both the Kitchen demo as well as the full “Lantern” demo of Resident Evil 7. I started with Kitchen, and I must have had lofty expectations as I came away feeling slightly disappointed. Don’t get me wrong – the situation itself was a frightening one – but coming off of playing the Resident Evil 7 demo it was hard to pretend I didn’t know what was coming. Kitchen was a great experience that really sold the passive experience of VR – I physically winced when the woman in the demo stabbed me in the leg – but it just was a bit too passive for my liking.
Fast forward to my time at the Resident Evil 7 booth. Decked out like the dilapidated plantation manor the game takes place in, the atmosphere was palpable just walking in. Following this, we were setup with the VR and given the opportunity to give the game a shot. I was nervous for a few reasons – namely that I’d heard that Resident Evil 7 in VR is nothing but nausea inducing. I’d also never tried a horror game in VR before and given how immersed I got into Ocean’s Descent (PlayStation VR Worlds), I was a bit worried Resident Evil 7 would be too much. Thankfully, I was so wrong.From the moment I jumped into the headset I was both tense and excited. My first order of business was to see if I could notice the visuals being noticeably downgraded to accommodate VR. I’ll be blunt – it’s obvious. The text is clearly not rendering at as full a resolution as if playing without VR, but was still readable. But as soon as that locale loaded everything I cared about in terms of resolution and framerate went straight out the window. Resident Evil 7 is a lo-fi looking game that’s meant to look like it was filmed on a long obsolete format – so the difference between VR and non-VR resolutions is almost negligible as soon as you start playing.
“The difference between VR and non-VR resolutions is almost negligible as soon as you start playing.”
As the demo opened, I was both excited and terrified. I walked along a bridge and slowly approached the house. From the start I noticed that the control scheme was strange. I could freely look around using my head but I could also turn using the right stick, but only in short 20-30 degree intervals. It’s a bizarre system but one that apparently alleviates motion sickness that free looking can induce, and one that I quickly grew attuned to.
What is amazing is just how much more freedom you have when the control itself doesn’t have to be used to look around. As I walked over a rickety drawbridge I noticed the Blair Witch-esque dolls objects hanging from the bridge, and could freely look at them without stopping to do so as I would with other games. Essentially, using the PlayStation VR I was able to look beyond the bounds of traditional dual analogue controls which provided me with a tremendous advantage during the demo.
The star of the demo is without a doubt Marguerite Baker, the matriach of the mysterious Baker family. In this demo we play as Mia, a young girl, who is running from Marguerite, a deranged old woman carrying a lantern. While playing the game normally I would usually have to crouch behind cover to hide from her and then stand back up to check if the coast is clear. With VR, I am not only able to do that but I can also peek around the corner of cover or peek through slats in the wooden walls to get a look at Marguerite and plan my course of action. It’s an amazing yet simple way to complement traditional controls.
The use of VR also helps to add to the game’s scares in not only building an atmosphere but also in bringing the scares right up to the player’s face, literally. From the get go, even during scenes where there’s more story being played out (such as the infamous dinner scene from the latest trailer) I was able to lean forward to examine items on the table in a way I couldn’t with a traditional controller. Finally, when the lights went out at the end of the demo, I feverishly looked around. On a TV I’d feel pretty disconnected from the action. At this point, I was all in, exploring the Dulvey Haunted House as if I was actually there. As the screen lit back up, Marguerite in my face, I let out a blood-curdling scream (in real life) which to me was testament to just how immersive the experience was.
“The use of VR helps to add to the game’s scares in not only building an atmosphere but also in bringing the scares right up to the player’s face”
I was pretty sceptical as to whether virtual reality would offer a meaningful enhancement to more traditional games. And I’m still not totally convinced. But Resident Evil 7 is without a doubt one of the best experiences I’ve had with VR. Not because it’s immersive as ever, but because it’s a traditional game that has been made even better with the technology. It still remains to be seen how this will stand up to extended sessions – I usually play my Resident Evil games for three to four hours at a time – but given how much I was expected to be nauseous and how much I actually didn’t, I can’t wait for Resident Evil 7 after a long wait to January. And I’ll be playing it in VR first.