Rated: M for Mature
Released: 24 January 2017
Completed: 31 January 2017
Resident Evil is constantly reinventing itself. With every third game in the storied and iconic franchise, it seems to shift – introducing new mechanics and gameplay methodology. The original three games were survival-horror adventures, filled with puzzles and light on resources. The next three games focused more on action and combat, shifting to an over-the-shoulder perspective. There were still puzzles, but they were seldom the obtuse brainteasers of the earlier games. Instead there were some amazing setpiece scenarios against massive enemies, but by the time the series reached the sixth installment, fans and critics alike started to feel like the franchise had strayed too far from its survival-horror roots, stripping it of what made it memorable.
So Capcom went back to the drawing board once more, and Resident Evil VII: biohazard is the result. By once again placing the focus on the horror and making the player feel helpless, RE7 is a fantastic return to form, albeit from a new first-person perspective. Taking place largely in a decrepit and foreboding old plantation house, one can’t help but be reminded of the original’s Spencer Mansion, except instead of being infested with zombies, you’re being stalked by the insane members of the Baker family – mother Marguerite, son Lucas, and papa Jack. They may look like hillbillies, but they’re formidable enemies who reinforce the need to run, hide, and think before you engage them and waste your precious resources. Each family member requires different tactics. Jack is a brute, but he’s simply too powerful to take down with conventional weapons, forcing you to run and think of other ways to injure him. Marguerite slowly stalks the player, requiring stealth to skirt past unseen. Last but not least, Lucas likes to lay elaborate traps for the player, reminiscent of the Saw films, that require you to use your wits more than anything. It keeps each encounter fresh and engaging. Oh, and there’s also Granny Baker, who just randomly shows up and stares at you from her wheelchair, which never failed to scare the piss out of me.
The first-person perspective isn’t all that’s new, however. Resident Evil VII is fully playable using PlayStation VR, complete with a bevy of options to combat the motion sickness that has plagued many users. This is how I played the entirety of the game, and it’s an experience I won’t soon – if ever – forget.
In its standard mode, Resident Evil VII looks amazing, but it’s all contained in the rectangular frame of your television, several feet away from where you’re probably sitting. The resolution may drop in VR, but it’s absolutely worth it for the enhanced immersion of the format. There is a world of difference between seeing a giant monster on a screen and looking up to see it literally towering over you. The disconnect between watching something happen to you on TV makes it more abstract and less frightening than when a crazed woman saws off your hand in VR. It feels like they’re there, in your personal space, but there’s nowhere to run. Even the passive moments where you’re exploring crawlspaces that feel claustrophobic or squeezing through a narrow wall when dozens of centipedes start crawling all over the woodwork feel so much more realistic, terrifying, and disgusting.
Resident Evil VII is part sequel, part reboot. There are unmistakable nods to past games, but it never feels beholden to the continuity of them. It is very much its own thing – a new corner you just haven’t explored yet but in a familiar universe. It carries the DNA of the series and tries to do something new without losing sight of what made it so great in the first place, and it succeeds pretty effortlessly. It borrows ideas from other modern horror games such as Outlast and the canceled Silent Hills, but I was pleased to see that the final product feels more like its own game than the demos, which I had jokingly dubbed “Outlast Hills.” There are plenty of classic RE tropes, right down to the fodder enemies that vaguely resemble the archetypes from past iterations (oh look, it’s a creepy, crawly monster that’s faster than the others…). There are still magic item boxes that allow you to store and access items anywhere, which is a necessity due to the limited inventory space. You can still combine herbs to make more powerful healing agents, though you can also now craft your own bullets too. It’s a classic case of the old being made new again by a simple twist.
The majority of the game is exploration, and in VR the house itself feels alive. Unexplained bangs and creaks will occur all around you, giving you the unshakable feeling that one of the Bakers may be right behind you at any moment. The level of detail in the house is stunning. Debris and refuse litter every room, and while some of it is reused (how many copies of those same books do they need?), it lends credibility to the world. As terrible a place as it is, I found myself wanting to explore every nook and cranny of the Baker household. In fact, one of my only real disappointments was the lack of interactivity with most of the objects in the world. Only certain drawers can be opened, and there’s no physics in place for a lot of the junk lying around so it just serves as a thinly veiled barrier to keep you from going where you’re not supposed to. You can backtrack to any part of the house, but the game is generally quite linear. That linearity also means most puzzles are little more than the “find the key for this type of door” variety. Even the shadow door puzzles are hardly puzzles at all. It felt a bit like a missed opportunity, but I guess the days of impractical locks that require several items and solving a riddle to open are a thing of the past.
The grounds themselves are large and interesting enough, including an outdoor area, an older, even more decaying house, and a greenhouse wherein my nightmares were fully realized in what is unquestionably the most terrifying boss battle I’ve ever encountered in a video game. Every combat scenario is harrowing in VR, but that one in particular left my heart racing to the point where I actually had to take a break for a bit to catch my breath. The last two sections of the game aren’t as memorable as everything on the plantation, but it feels like typical Resident Evil. These games have always veered off course in the final act. I didn’t dislike the ending, save maybe the laughably easy final boss, but it’s definitely not as strong as the earlier half of the game.
As I said, don’t expect stunning visuals in VR. If you choose to play without, the game looks phenomenal – if a gross old place crawling with roaches, and rotting wood or corpses everywhere can look phenomenal – but I have to say you’re really missing out. RE7 VR is, to me, the definitive experience. The visuals still look decent, particularly the character models (though the lip-synching is really off no matter what mode you play in), and the fully 3D positional sound the PSVR box pumps out is stunning. The voice acting is kind of hammy at times, but it always works at the very least – and the entire Baker clan are voiced very well.
What really impressed me was the myriad options Capcom thoughtfully included for player comfort. Motion sickness is VR’s biggest hurdle, and early on even I felt it creeping in, but turning on the field of view limiter and camera acceleration helped tremendously. After about an hour, I got so engrossed into the experience I never noticed it again, leading me to wonder if what I had felt before was purely psychosomatic. I opted for full range of movement, but you can also set the camera to turn in 30 degree increments, and several other options are available as well. It all goes a long way to convincing the player that they should be playing in VR if at all possible.
Another benefit of VR mode comes when fighting enemies. In VR, you aim simply by turning your head. It’s much faster and more accurate than using an analog stick to move a reticule, though some will argue it also makes the game considerably easier. What I’m trying to impress upon you is that the benefits of VR far outweigh the prettier visuals of the non-VR experience.
Whether you play in VR or not, Reisdent Evil VII: biohazard does for the series what RE4 did in 2005. It reinvigorates the franchise, resets your expectations, and stands on its own as a great entry and a great jumping off point for the future. It’s intense and absolutely terrifying, especially in VR, and more importantly just loads of fun. Truth be told, it might be my favorite RE to date because even with it handful of missteps, it’s one of the most unforgettable gaming experiences I’ve ever had. I suspect I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as I did if I’d played it in standard TV mode, but as a PSVR owner, this is now the killer app that justifies the purchase.
Resident Evil VII: biohazard was completed on a PlayStation 4 in VR mode with no cheats.