The Horror Crown Reclaimed
LOW Trying the game on a television after experiencing it in VR.
WTF There is a severed hand in my inventory. Also, it’s mine.
Sometimes being first is enough. There are swaths of games that are remembered fondly and have strong historical standing not because they were exceptionally good or well-designed, but because they were the first to appear on a system or they pioneered a new genre. Resident Evil 7 could have benefited from similarly low expectations by positioning itself as the first triple-A VR title, or even as the first major franchise to offer a fully VR-focused game. Capcom didn’t have to turn out something incredible to earn a positive response, but by being incredible and likely the best game in the series, the accomplishment of RE7 is that much more astonishing.
At first glance, RE7 doesn’t seem to fit into the franchise. There are no preposterously young special forces vets with ludicrously colorful body armor, no zombie dogs leaping through windows, and certainly no chess-based puzzles. It isn’t a high-octane globe-trotting action game either — it’s something entirely new, while still being well-rooted in the franchise. Although it might not be obvious at first blush, the devs took the best parts of the best RE games — the creepy mansions full of secret rooms from RE1, the item crafting from RE3, the best monster from RE4, and even draw some gloriously over-the-top boss fight designs from RE5 & 6. Miraculously, all of these influences work together flawlessly, contained within and elevated by the best story the series has ever offered.
Things kick off when main character Ethan receives a message from his wife Mia, who mysteriously disappeared while on a job overseas three years earlier. He’s led to Baker Farm, where he finds far more than he bargained for.
I can’t offer more details without running the risk of spoiling the incredibly twisty plot, but it’s the most emotionally resonant tale seen in a Resident Evil. By making the protagonist a regular person from outside the world of bio-genetic warfare, RE7 allows players to see what these horrors look like from ground level. While experienced zombie-killing vets Claire Redfield or Leon Kennedy might walk into the Baker Farm with guns blazing, every threat is a potential killer to Ethan, leaving the player vulnerable and scrambling for safety most of the time.
RE7 has an unusually strong sense of pacing. For the first third, players will find themselves playing something closer to Outlast than any previous RE title – it’s full of grueling and disgusting sequences meant to wrench the stomach and make the player feel powerless and toyed-with, like a bug whose legs are being systematically removed. Then, gradually, weapons start entering the mix, and players are reminded why it’s called survival horror. Secrets are revealed, the world opens up, and it begins feeling like classic RE. By the end, it successfully makes the argument that all kinds of stories can be told within Capcom’s flagship universe, and that focusing on the victims of biotechnology gone mad can be even more interesting than the heroes fighting it.
Technically, it’s not exaggerating to say that RE7 is the best PSVR experience currently available. Having the freedom to move and look around the gorgeously detailed environments creates a sense of place that no other title has come close to. From the opening seconds wandering through an oppressively humid swamp, to crawling through the dripping tunnels beneath a sprawling plantation house, to sprinting through a truly unexpected location, this is the most complete and real location yet created for PSVR.
Beyond the graphics, every part of RE7 works better in PSVR than it does with a standard control scheme. Navigation, searching through cluttered rooms, aiming weapons — simply turning my head to accomplish these things is simpler and more natural than using a thumbstick or mouse. The game even offers a VR tutorial and a wide suite of options designed to ease players into the controls and minimize the possibility of queasiness, allowing them to decide exactly how fast they want the thumbsticks to move Ethan through the world.
Additionally, the biggest advantage PSVR mode has is a greater sense of situational awareness. While the sound design does a good job of letting players know when something is sneaking up behind them, being able to see movement out of the corner of my eye and effortlessly glancing to get a better look is huge. This is especially true in the boss fights, which require precision shooting at moving targets — simple enough when players need only look at the glowing node they want to blast, far more challenging when they have to direct an aimpoint around the screen with their thumb.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is a tour-de-force. It is scary, disturbing, thrilling, heartbreaking, and intensely satisfying. Played on a television, it’s an exceptionally high-quality first-person horror game. Played in VR, it’s a whole new world of survival horror. This is the best game I’ve played in ages, the strongest argument for purchasing a PSVR, and an exciting new direction for one of gaming’s premier franchises.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Capcom. It is currently available on XBO, PS4, PSVR, PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PS4, both with PSVR and without. Approximately 16 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode – 10 hours in PSVR, 6 hours standard – the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains blood and gore, intense violence, and strong language. No kids. If they’re under 12 they shouldn’t be using the PSVR anyway, but that’s beside the point. Gruesome violence, cannibalism, dismemberment, torture, violence against children, constant swearing… there’s nothing that kids should be allowed to see in this game. At all.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: It’s going to be rough. There are subtitles for all the dialogue, and none of the puzzles are sound-based, but being able to hear approaching monsters and the location of bosses is pretty key for survival. You may be forced to play the game on easy.
Remappable Controls: Only certain functions are remappable. You’re able to swap around which shoulder button does what, so lefties who’d rather shoot with their left index finger and aim with their right will be fine.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.