No one does survival horror better than the Resident Evil franchise, scaring the bejesus out of us all with some frightening and memorable moments since its inception. Today’s video game landscape is a dramatically different one from when the original game by Capcom was released back in 1996, which is a testament given that the franchise continues to thrive, spawning several sequels and spinoffs throughout its run. Well, the gaming industry was no doubt turned upside down with the arrival of virtual reality for the masses, and for Sony and its still newborn PlayStation VR, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard was being penned as the showcase title for the system.
Knowing the shocks and surprises that Capcom has delivered with the series over the course of 20+ years now, the plunge into VR is undeniably the next step for survival horror. So far, the majority of PSVR titles released have been relatively short games and experiences, but Resident Evil 7 is gunning to be that must-own title that the system has been desperately craving.
Considering that Sony has been touting this game for some time now, it really needs to deliver to ensure that the PSVR is here to stay for the long-term. So what are our thoughts? Let’s dive in and see.
Having been an avid fan of the series since the beginning, besides missing out on the last couple of games, I’m pretty familiar with Resident Evil’s cast and backstory. As much as I was excited to uncover what shenanigans the Umbrella Corporation was up to in this latest installment, I wasn’t nearly prepared for the shock I was about to watch play out. Sure, it’s titled Resident Evil, but the storyline here really has no connection to the previous games – so you can say it’s a standalone.
The story revolves mostly around our protagonist, Ethan, who comes to the fictional town of Dulvey, Louisiana to find his wife, Mia, who has been missing for almost 3 years until Ethan received a message from her. Our character eventually arrives at this creepy looking abandoned house, where he proceeds to finally reunite with his missing wife, only to realize something’s amiss with her and the place.
We won’t get into the rest of the details with the story, but it’s a departure if you’re expecting familiar characters in the series – like Chris, Jill, Leon, Claire, and all the others. Our best description about the story is Psycho meets The Hills Have Eyes. That’s an odd pairing, but that sentiment becomes apparent when we’re introduced to the morbid Baker family. There aren’t zombies per se in this one, which to some might be a huge disappointment given the series’ history, but you’re nonetheless kept on your toes throughout the game.
We played the game on both the standard PS4 and its beefier sibling in the PS4 Pro. Sure, the PSVR’s displays aren’t the most detailed, but there are noticeable differences between the two systems – with the latter showing off slightly more polished visuals. We will say, however, that this is by far the best looking game we’ve come across in the PSVR’s collection thus far, even beating out our previous favorite in Batman Arkham VR.
Playing through the game using the PS4 Pro, there’s a substantial amount of detail seen on the faces of our characters – showcasing the kind of realism the series is able to achieve. Matching that as well is the overall eeriness of the game, such as in the way the game blends that sense of isolation when you’re walking in a dark room because you can only see what’s being lit in front of you. That sense of grotesque is achieved in how well the graphics look, evident in things like the rotting food cluttered around a dining room table, the black mold looking stuff that covers some areas of the game, and the rotting corpses.
While the same eeriness is still evident when playing the game with the standard PS4, the graphics are partly subdued – making it more distracting to the experience than anything else. It seems as though the processing requirement is just too much for the standard PS4 to handle, resulting in the visuals appearing to be softened. We can tell that it’s having a tough time processing the visuals because if you stop and stare at something for a little bit, the visuals become clearer, only to once again transform into this fuzzy haze.
One of the most integral aspects of the game is its first person perspective, which adds more of a thrill because we’re seeing everything that transpires through our character’s eyes. It’s frightening to say the least, more so when you quickly peek behind you to only come back face forward with someone attacking you. And with the introduction of VR, Resident Evil 7 manages to produce its own memorable moments.
However, it plays similarly to earlier games in the franchise, as saving ammo and picking your battles are crucial to your survival. Firing off a few rounds from your shotgun might be warranted because you’re spooked momentarily, but that can backfire later on when you really need precious ammo. Resident Evil 7 is all about evading enemies, making it more of an adventure-oriented game, as opposed to the more recent action-styling of the last several games.
This wouldn’t be a Resident Evil game either without being given an assortment of weapons to use, but since it leverages the Dualshock 4 controller, rather than the Move controllers, it doesn’t feel as immersive. Well, we will say that aiming is easier because it’s done using the headset – so headshots are a lot easier to pull off. Along with the weapons, it’s in Resident Evil standards because of the limited number of items we can carry with us. This, of course, forces you to choose what items to store in boxes.
Superficially, the game plays to the strength of the early Resident Evil titles. That’s great if you love that, especially with puzzles you’ll have to solve along the way, but those who’ve been spoiled by the action-sequences from the last few games, they might find Resident Evil 7 a bit boring. Comparing it to other acclaimed zombie games, such as Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, Resident Evil 7 has you more concerned about evading enemies and exploring areas constantly to solve puzzles.
Survival horror games make great virtual reality games! That’s mostly true here with Resident Evil 7, seeing that there are numerous moments when we’re scared out of our wits because something comes crashing down in front of us – or when we’re trying to escape from those ooze looking monsters that appear from the black mold seen throughout the game. We’re compelled to act instinctively, which is a testament to the sheer terror that’s instilled in us because of the VR element.
For being a virtual reality game, however, it’s lacking the manipulation and interaction from our part. Nearly through the entire run of the game, we’re sitting down with the headset on and the Dualshock 4 controller in hand. Sure, the first person perspective combined with the ability to inspect our surroundings in a manner that we haven’t seen before in the series is wonderful, adding to the game’s survival horror theme, but it’s still lacking the kind of impressiveness we’re beginning to see being exploited more in other titles.
Obviously it would’ve been swell if our hands in the game were manipulated by the Move controllers, but that’s not the case. Pulling down on the analog trigger to fire off a weapon just seems lazy, whereas if we’re to rely on the Move controllers to aim and fire, it would’ve definitely enhanced the experience. There are moments in the game when we’re forced to block, such as in the case when Mia attacks us with a knife, which would’ve been far more riveting if our actual hands were used to perform the movements.
There’s no shortage of thrills and scares here, thank to the heightened feeling of fright brought on by VR, but we wish there was more interaction on our part. Thankfully, though, we didn’t feel sick playing through several hours continuously using the PS4 Pro. Given all the news and talk about the game making people sick when it was first demoed, we were expecting the worst – but thank goodness that wasn’t the case.
Unfortunately, we can’t say the same for the standard PS4. Even though we still managed to play for a solid hour without feeling extremely woozy or sick, we can tell that there’s something there that momentarily made our stomach feel a little weird. It’s most apparent when you’re strafing left/right in a horizontal direction. We suppose that particular movement feels a bit unnatural (especially when we’re just sitting down in the real world), but we also suspect that the weaker graphical performance is a contributing factor to that feeling as well.
First and foremost, we’re extremely glad that Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is a full fledged virtual reality game. Up until now, most of the titles in the PSVR’s catalog have been mostly very short and costly games that never really validated their prices – take for instance RIGS Mechanized Combat League, which is a $50 title with the same repetitive gameplay. Resident Evil 7’s $60 price tag feels significantly more valid because of its polished graphics (for a VR game) and the fact that this is a full fledged game; not some sort of mini experience.
From a storytelling aspect, Resident Evil 7 does nicely to engulf us in this nightmarish house filled with horrors, thanks in part to how the story unfolds from a first person perspective. While we would’ve preferred more of the action styling of other recent Resident Evil games in the series, others will like that it pays homage to the earlier ones instead – while introducing totally brand new characters.
The only thing missing here from making it a perfect VR game is the apparent limited interaction on our part. Countless times we were startled because of some of the shocking sequences, which is intensified because of the VR element in play here, but it’s a game that has us still sitting and mainly looking around. If it were to add support for the Motion controllers, it could’ve been a substantially more compelling VR game.