In the middle of 2018, you’ve likely seen one of the dozens of reviews of Capcom’s 2017 terrorfest Resident Evil 7, so you should have a pretty good idea of how it went. One of the original survival horror series, Resident Evil has been plagued in recent entries by increasingly convoluted storylines and forced co-op whose AI was about as intelligent as a sponge cake. Resident Evil 7 stripped things back down to the quiet, creepy isolation of the original title while offering a first-person perspective to shake things up and released to critical acclaim. But the VR component of the title was so unique and remarkable that it deserves a second look.
First, a quick summary. In Resident Evil 7 you take control of Ethan Winters, who, while searching for his missing wife, arrives at a plantation in Louisiana owned by the Baker family. The Bakers are almost immediately revealed to be a cannibal redneck family somewhere between Deliverance and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre who – along with their enormous plot of land occupied by tarry monsters – terrorize Ethan throughout his 9- to 12-hour romp through the game. Ethan tirelessly traverses the Baker plantation, unraveling a mystery that weaves into the Resident Evil series while simultaneously offering a new narrative that never grows tiresome.
One of the first things VR players will notice is the wonderfully thorough VR implementation that Resident Evil 7 offers. Early in the game, Ethan finds himself working to open a padlocked door. While the game does this for you automatically, I was thrilled to find that I could still freely look around to ensure no danger was approaching while Ethan studied the lock. It sounds like the tiniest difference, but I’ve spent nearly 20 years in survival horror games wondering if something was creeping up behind me or to the side while I furiously picked at a lock, tried to open a jammed door or spoke with someone through a barred window. Having the freedom to check behind and around me made me feel far more immersed in the game than having a locked gaze. I also found I could stand facing a corner in a hallway and physically move my own head to make Ethan peek around said corner without walking out into the open and compromising his safety, which I appreciated. And of course, being able to duck and look under tables or stand on my tiptoes to peer over cupboards or stacked boxes proved to go a long way in putting me in Ethan’s shoes.
But, in terms of gameplay mechanics, perhaps the most impressive use of the PlayStation VR headset was aiming my gunfire. Rather than rely on a clunky thumbstick or overly sensitive PC mouse, I found that aiming in Resident Evil 7 was a simple matter – and when I say simple, I mean simple – of looking at whichever body part of a monster I wanted to target and pulling the trigger on my DualShock 4. No, the PSVR doesn’t utilize eye-movement tracking, but the white dot reticle on-screen quickly tricks your brain into believing it’s the center of your focus, so moving your head to place it over an enemy forehead, a weak spot or an explosive barrel can shave precious and life-saving fractions of seconds off your aiming. This especially comes in handy in the middle of the game when players find themselves in a secondary house trying to shoot oversized bugs who swarm with nearly as much speed as their counterparts in an on-rails shooter like House of the Dead – you know, those unstoppable leeches who exist only to eat your pocket change? The rapid and intuitive aiming in RE7 greatly assists in neutralizing them.
Every step of the way, the Baker house comes alive in VR. From refrigerators full of rotting food to basements with rusting lawnmowers, the ambiance of the environment is more than just believable – it’s flat-out convincing. Of course, as veterans of the game know, your seemingly random encounters with the Bakers are another major part of the title, and they’re also enhanced by the 3-D of the virtual reality headset. Whether Jack Baker is crashing through the walls of the house in pursuit of you or his wife Marguerite eerily stalks you as you navigate the property, the threat is made especially real when they seem as though they’re really grabbing you. I found myself repeatedly jerking backwards or hunching my shoulders when the Bakers got too close; I could only play when my daughter was at school because my wife said I yelled and cursed too much when the game scared me.
And I think this is the ideal place to mention my primary takeaway from the game’s VR support. I don’t know what Resident Evil 7 is like in 2-D, nor do I know what it’s like playing on a TV when your peripheral vision allows you to see your living room wall, your stereo and all the other comforts of your own home…but I do know this. I played through the game upon its release, when the PSVR was pretty new, and people asked me what it was like going through the game in virtual reality. “It’s like going through one of those haunted houses at an amusement park where they have the people jump out and scream at you,” I said, “but it lasts 11 hours and they’re allowed to kill you.” And if that’s not an experience worth writing home about, I don’t know what is. I’m giving Resident Evil 7: VR a perfect 10 out of 10 score.