E3 2016 – Resident Evil 7 VR Hands-On Preview – Convincing Horror

In an epic reveal that won’t soon be forgotten, Resident Evil burst back into relevance with its seventh numbered entry at Sony’s E3 2016 press conference. Capcom graced us with some hands and head-on time with the ambitious VR title, and have our thoughts ready for your perusal.

Revamp Reality

Resident Evil reached the peak of its prowess with Resident Evil 4, and some say the series never reclaimed its greatness with RE 5 or 6. With a focus on more action and ever more elaborate plots, it seems that the franchise sort of lost its way. Now, suddenly, we are on the cusp of a breakthrough technology, virtual reality, which appears poised to enhance nearly every aspect of civilized life.

One of the biggest changes for this entry, apart from the VR option, is that Resident Evil 7 takes place entirely in first-person view. Perhaps owing to the success of horror games such as Amnesia and Outlast, it seems Capcom feels that the new perspective will change things for the better. While not every fan will agree with this, it is something you have to get used to, because it appears to be the way forward with Resident Evil 7.

Capcom’s booth was hard to miss at E3. They built a creepy-looking, full-scale house, replete with cobwebs on, well, everything, portraits lining the walls, and so much more. This was one of the better booths at E3, alongside 2K’s Mafia III New Orleans-styled city, Bethesda’s mini museum, and Nintendo’s outright shrine to Zelda.

Setting the Mood

We were ushered inside the house, and led to one of the house’s many rooms. Each room had slightly different themes, but the one we found ourselves in had an old, rickety chair positioned under a dilapidated fan in front of a flat screen television. I put the headset on, and was helped in putting on the headphones and grabbing the controller. Since VR is planned to be optional in Resident Evil 7, the game is simply played with the DualShock 4. Controls were on the light side, because this is a demo — there was no combat, only a few light puzzle elements.

Capcom seems to have nailed down ambiance. As I creeped my way through the house in which I found myself, I began to notice a feeling of dread. There was no music, or at least none that I could hear at this booth, and it made you listen to every noise in the area. Floorboards creaked, cockroaches scurried from beneath almost everything, but most of all my character was breathing fairly heavily. Every now and then, it sounded like there were footsteps behind me, but I realized these were merely echoes of my own feet.

As the demo progressed, I found a few slips of paper with ominous messages on them, and eventually a VHS tape. Slipping the tape into a VCR hooked up to a TV began playing a flashback, and the game’s camera zoomed into the scene playing out on the screen. I was now playing as a cameraman within this memory. In other words, I was playing a character inside a television, inside a game, inside a headset, inside a fake room, inside a fake house, inside E3. There’s an Inception joke here somewhere, but I was too busy taking in my virtual environment to come up with one.

Clues in the Past

Anyway, playing through the VHS memory left me with a few clues about what to do next. After figuring out where a hidden handle was, I found a key and was just about ready to leave this freaky place. Of course, things are rarely what they seem in Resident Evil, and this demo was no exception. Rather than spoil it entirely for you, I will say that mannequins can occasionally be even scarier than zombies, something which you just laugh at yourself for being scared of in the first place.

One subtle but incredible feature of the VR demo is that the PlayStation VR headset has positional awareness. With the PlayStation Camera tracking my every move, when I lifted up the pot on the table full of nastiness, I instinctively leaned in for a closer look. The game happily obliged, and actually changed my view to match. When a zombie dashed across a doorway in the corner of my eye, I slowly walked up to said doorway, turned, and leaned out to the right. Sure, there are button combinations in regular first-person games that accomplish the same thing, but it’s so much more believable, not to mention easier, to perform this in VR.

I can safely say that the slice of Resident Evil 7 that I played will make believers from many a skeptic of virtual reality. Something about a game that reacts to your every head movement makes the world more believable, and coupled with a decent pair of headphones, you’ll be whisked away to whatever world is being presented to you. For those who still feel virtual reality is a gimmick, Resident Evil 7 does not require it, and it appears the game can still stand on its own and bring in scares without the headset.