E3 2016: You Can’t Escape the Terror of Resident Evil 7 VR
Virtual reality is supposed to provide an escape from the real world. But what happens when you want to escape virtual reality? Some of the experiences we've had with VR this past week have been tremendous. Resident Evil 7 VR is certainly a kind of experience, but tremendous isn't quite the word we'd use. Terrifying and unsettling are more apt, and its not just because being in a VR headset can be disorienting at times. It's because the horrifying images don't disappear when you look away.
Easily one of the biggest surprise announcements at E3 this week, Resident Evil 7 is shaping up to be a return to form for the franchise. After some interesting detours from the survival horror roots that earned the series its loyal fanbase, Resident Evil 7 is taking a back-to-basics approach. At least in the prologue demo we checked out this week. You can actually play it now too, just not in virtual reality. That experience won't be available until the game releases in January, but the regular game will be identical in every way save for the immediate closeness of all that nastiness lurking in the shadows.
Things stat ominously, as they often did in Resident Evils of the past. You're sitting in a room with a TV blaring static at you, and there's nothing to do but watch the tape in your inventory. After inserting it, you're transported back a short time in the past. A ghost hunter show is doing some preliminary work on an upcoming episode, and they're seemingly checking out the same cabin in the woods you found yourself in at the start. The house is decrepit, and to call it hospitable would be stretching the truth beyond the breaking point. Something bad has happened here though, and the impatient host soon distracts you with his complaints enough that you don't notice your producer has disappeared.
There are a lot of small details to take in, from the rotting food all over the kitchen to the family photos and heirlooms scattered throughout the home. There is of course a secret passage, which leads you to the basement. Nothing good ever happens in the basement of a cabin in the woods. We've all seen those movies. That holds just as true here, and with that turn of events, the game cuts back to the present day. The recording has ended and now you get to roam the house where you just saw some terrible things happen to a few innocent folks. To say tensions were high would be a grave understatement.
Even back in the current day, the house is still spooky as all get out. In fact, there are even more elements that weren't there the first time around to ramp up the ambiance. Dolls dangle from the ceiling. Animal carcasses flood the floors. Noises emanate from every corner. You shouldn't be here, and it's time to GTFO. If only you could find the key to the back door before whatever lurks in the basement manages to find you. Don't be fooled by the sunlight cracking through the windows. This cabin is a place of darkness and no good can happen here.
Unlike many of the other VR experiences we had this week, Resident Evil 7 didn't have any headtracking working. While that might not seem like a big deal, it's unsettling to be sitting still, looking straight ahead, and have the camera whip in any other direction suddenly. There isn't a jarring sense when you do these moves on your television because it's not immediately in front of your face, presenting a virtual world before your eyes. All your senses are tricked into thinking this is the real perspective, but when the world moves and your head doesn't, your brain and eyes don't process it very well. This issue can be alleviated by making sure to turn your head in the direction you move the analog stick. While it worked in the brief segment we played, there's no telling how well it will work when rushing and whipping around to avoid threats that aren't being doled out slowly to get you acclimated to the new gameplay style.
Fortunately, Resident Evil 7 and RE 7 VR are one and the same, so you can dip in and out of the VR gameplay any time you want if it gets to be too much. It was fun and terrifying and tense and atmospheric in VR, but we're not sure we could handle that kind of white-knuckled stress for long stretches of time. Giving us the option to swap in and out should make it a bit more tolerable, and can make having friends come over to try it out a bit more enjoyable. For us anyway. They'll probably need to bring an extra pair of pants along.
Resident Evil 7 will be available on Jan. 24, 2017 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.