Resident Evil 7 and the Prospect of AAA VR Games

July 12, 2016 Written by Michael Briers

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Hold on to your butts; Resident Evil, gaming’s undisputed king of survival horror, is coming to PlayStation VR.

In a year when Capcom’s nerve-shredding icon is celebrating its 20th anniversary, E3 2016 brought news that the next numbered entry in the series, Resident Evil 7 (or RESIDENT EVII. biohazard, or Biohazard 7: Resident Evil or even BIOHA7ARD), can be played from beginning to end in virtual reality.

For a medium still in its infancy, it’s a massive coup. Though it may have strayed from its dark, putrid roots with recent outings, placing action first and horror second, Resident Evil is one of the industry’s few video game properties that transcends the line between niche and mainstream — thanks, in part, to Screen Gems’ divisive live-action movies.

Horror Comes Home

And now, two decades since Shinji Mikami’s humble original spawned a new era of survival horror on PlayStation, Capcom’s seemingly evergreen juggernaut is primed for a long-anticipated franchise revival.

What ensures Resident Evil 7 is such a natural fit for Sony’s soon-to-be-released device is that, for the first time in the series, the sequel will be built around a first-person perspective, placing budding explorers smack bang in the epicentre of horror.

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Going one step further, there’s more than a whiff of P.T. emanating from Resident Evil VII — the relentless atmosphere, the it’s-available-to-play-right-now moment, the enticing secrets — but in making the horror sequel “fully compatible” with PSVR, Sony and Capcom have lent the platform an early trump card in the form of an immersive, story-driven experience.

Because what’s a cutting-edge piece of hardware without the requisite software to harness its inherent horsepower? It’d be foolish to discount the exhilarating promise of Eve: Valkyrie, not to mention the oddball humor found in 100ft Robot Golf, but few franchises boast the production values and indeed gaming heritage of Resident Evil.

Road to Virtual Reality Greatness

Could Sony’s third-party partnership with Capcom be a sign of things to come? At least for now, PlayStation VR’s launch library consists of bite-sized experiences in the vein of Batman: Arkham VR and Rez Infinite, a nostalgic remaster that heralds the return of a cult rail shooter. Toss in the promise of VR support for Polyphony’s Gran Turismo Sport and Impulse Gear’s sci-fi shooter Farpoint and you have the makings of a relatively strong library, even if the latter is yet to pin down an official release date.

Resident Evil 7, then, represents one of the first blockbuster AAA titles to incorporate VR support into a single-player campaign. There’s no questioning GT Sport’s AAA credentials, but I’m talking about an intense white-knuckle ride of a story that has that PS VR strapped to your head for upwards of 15 hours — with a healthy amount of breaks in between, of course. That’s a point of contention that will no doubt come to the fore closer to January, and it’ll be fascinating to see not only how players react to such an intense VR experience, but also whether it encourages other developers to craft fully-fledged, first-person campaigns.

For now, we’ll leave questions of feasibility and motion sickness to the Powers That Be. Upon lifting the curtain on Biohazard at Sony’s E3 presser, Capcom also revealed that the much-touted Kitchen VR demo had in fact been something of a teaser for Resident Evil 7. A harbinger of things to come, if you will.

Last year’s “Kitchen” tech demo for PlayStation VR was in fact built on this new engine as well. With the RE Engine plus industry leading audio and visual technologies, you experience every abhorrent detail up close and personal in Resident Evil 7. Compatibility with PlayStation VR escalates the unsettling feeling of presence to a level that horror fans have never experienced.

That final sentence is the real kicker — amplifying the immersion to “a level that horror fans have never experienced.” Could Biohazard prove to be as much a benefactor to PlayStation VR as it is to the Resident Evil series itself? At its very best, Resident Evil is often imitated and rarely equaled, but as we mentioned before, that trailblazing terror has become lost amid a sea of interconnected stories and heavily-scripted action set pieces.

Now, as Capcom readies its franchise to enter the “third era” of Resident Evil games, the seventh numbered entry heralds some much-needed fresh blood, and the addition of PSVR support — thanks to Sony’s investment — comes as a surprising, tantalizing and ruddy terrifying bonus.

Entering the Third Era

Our own hands-on (head-on?) time spent in the title’s dark and twisted virtual reality revealed a reactive, dynamic experience that crafts a horror experience around the player — lean in closely to inspect an artefact, for example, and the game will respond to your no doubt skittish body movement — as opposed to simply plumping you down in a horrific scenario without a paddle.

For longtime fans, it has been championed as a step in the right direction and though many questions still remain — how will combat work in virtual reality? — Resident Evil 7 is shaping up to be one of the very first marquee (must-own?) titles for PlayStation VR.

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Indeed much like cockpit shooters, first-person horror experiences are a natural fit for virtual reality, and while developers such as Insomniac have experimented with third-person VR titles — a trend that will no doubt continue as the medium takes its formative steps into the market — there’s something to be said about the innate compatibility of FPXs. Experiences like Adr1ft, Eve: Valkyrie and even Farpoint showcase plenty of promise; plus, Sony has bolstered its development resources in anticipation of PSVR, with the formation of North West Studio standing as one of the biggest statements of intent.

Of course, it’s early, early days for PlayStation VR and until Sony’s bleeding-edge hardware descends on the market, there’s only so much we can hypothesize about its immediate future. Take nothing away from Resident Evil 7’s unveiling and VR support, though, and if Capcom’s franchise reset lives up to early expectation, we ought to be revelling in a new breed of terror early next year.

Resident Evil VII will unleash a biohazard like no other when Capcom’s sequel launches across PS4, Xbox One and PC on January 24, 2017.

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