Ever since Resident Evil 7 and the PlayStation VR were announced, I have reserved judgement for what the actual experience would be like. The new numbered entry in one of my favorite horror series’ solidified my interest with the intriguing “Beginning Hour” demo, but I continued to wonder what the actual experience would be like. While I still have a few reservations about both RE7 and PSVR, after attending a recent showing on the Resident Evil 20th anniversary tour, I remain more optimistic than ever about both upcoming products.
The demo I got to play at the event is the newest version, codenamed “Lantern”, which was recently showed off to press at TGS 2016. It starts off with a brief message instructing you to run from a mysterious woman chasing you, and players are given control. The first thing I did was to look all around. As my first VR experience, I was immediately enamored with the novelty of head tracking, and surveying my environment in real time. The space around me felt big. As I gazed out into the looming darkness of the surrounding swamps, I felt a genuine sense of place. Proceeding down a fixed path, I came to a dilapidated shack, with part of the floor broken through. With the cries of my pursuer drawing near, I continued through the house, along a small path through multiple rooms.
The first real gameplay sequence came quickly, as I reached a dead end, only to turn around and see the woman emerging slowly from a door behind me. The first time through, I wasn’t quick enough and got caught, sending me to a game over screen. The second time, however, I learned from my mistakes and was a bit quicker, improvising and hiding behind a pile of boxes in the hallway. Immersion really took over as I tested my luck, peeking ever so slightly out of my precarious cover, testing the limits of the VR unit’s head tracking. It worked surprisingly well, even as I slunk back into my makeshift cover. She soon exited through another door, allowing me to proceed to the next room, where I encountered my first puzzle.
The next room consists of a light source projected onto a wall, with another door leading outside to some kind of patio. After another short encounter with the creepy presumed matriarch of the Baker family, players are left with some kind of small statue, which must be manipulated against the light source, casting a specific shadow against the wall. This puzzle struck me as a bit odd, if not in the same vein as classic Resident Evil puzzles. The shadow of a spider was slightly tricky—but not impossible—to manipulate, but even after finishing the demo, I wasn’t sure of the significance of the spider to any of the other proceedings. Still, it was an interesting bit of gameplay variety and the possibility of being caught again added to the tension as I furiously tried to get the shadow into position. Once completed, a door unlocked, and I was on my way again.
I soon found myself in a claustrophobic crawl space in between walls, and it was here that the level of immersion of VR really shined. I was constantly looking around as I shuffled forward, impressed by little details like spider webs and the wood textures themselves. As I emerged from the space, I entered the last gameplay sequence, hiding once more from Mrs. Baker. Cowering behind another conveniently placed rubbish pile, I took the opportunity to leave through the door which she entered through as soon as she turned her back. This led to a hole in the ground, which I hurriedly scuttled into as I heard her come back in my direction. I was met with another cramped space, impressively decorated with a bevy of candles and cobwebs, when the lights suddenly extinguished—with the not-so-lovely woman popping up right in my face.
The demo ends with your character, presumably the Ethan mentioned in the latest trailer, being tied to a chair and force fed something that looks suspiciously like human viscera. The demo plays out exactly the same as the trailer, and if you’ve had a chance to see it, it’s every bit as thrillingly unpleasant as one might assume.
Overall, I was very impressed by the demo. The redneck-horror aesthetic isn’t being taken lightly, and the attention to detail lends itself well to a first person mystery. But as I look back, I can’t help but be slightly underwhelmed by the gameplay aspects, which are incredibly slight. Granted, the demo is meant for maximum thrills in a minimum timeframe, as well as being easily digestible by anyone who walks in. But I was still feeling like it was a bit of a case of style over substance, as I didn’t get a feel for any of the games systems outside of basic stealth. Still, I am intrigued and am more curious than ever about the final product.
As for the headset itself, the PSVR fit very well onto my head, with a minimal amount of tinkering. While the headset was comfortable enough, and the supplied PlayStation Gold headphones delivered an immersive experience in spite of the loud surroundings, I have some residual worries about the resolution, specifically the grainy nature of the display. From the very beginning of the demo, almost my entire field of view was pixelated to an unbelievable degree, despite things looking clearer as I got closer to them. This was sometimes immersion breaking, especially in cases where characters hair or spiderwebs came into view, becoming little more than a pixelated mess. However, it appears to be something that I can change, given more time to tinker with the headset, something I was unable to do at the event. In any case, I was thoroughly impressed with the device’s head tracking capabilities, which only once didn’t work quite as intended.
When I walked away from my time with the Lantern demo, I had mixed feelings, though I was mostly leaning towards the positive. Despite the simple gameplay and lingering resolution quibbles, I remain hopeful for both Resident Evil 7 and PSVR, which launches later this year.