Before Resident Evil 7 came out, there wasn’t much incentive to care about whether or not I could play with an HTC Vive or an Oculus Rift on our PCs. After the disaster we call Resident Evil 6, I think we all just wanted it to be good. Now it’s out and not just good, but intensely great. Andy called it ”tense and refined survival horror with a brilliantly bleak, grimy atmosphere” in his review. So for those with access to VR headsets, the inability to step into that grimy world ‘for one year’ thanks to an exclusivity deal feels more like a hard kick in the shin than a simple missing feature.
I replayed the first three hours on a borrowed PSVR headset to see what PC players are missing out on, and even on lesser hardware, Resident Evil 7 is the first fully-featured game that doesn’t feel compromised by VR design. If not for the low res textures and jagged edges, I’d step away from the PC version and play the rest of RE7 with a headset blotting out the rest of the world. Best of all, despite directional movement detached from my body, I didn’t get motion sick once like I normally do, and I’m incredibly sensitive to VR games.
Spoiler warning: I mention events from the few hours of the game beyond this point.
Why it works
The first 30 minutes of Resident Evil 7 feel built for VR. From the garish, low-res foliage on your initial walk into the house to the numerous up-close skirmishes with your mangled, bloodthirsty girlfriend, you’re driven forward through a series of haunted house surprises feel too contained and slow on the PC. But in VR, watching her rip through your wrist with a chainsaw or old man Baker try to pry your mouth open with a knife—well, it’s extremely disturbing. Giving scale and dimension to otherwise flat (literally, as in on a screen), goonish characters takes a bit of instinctual and emotional recalibration. They stop feeling like videogame enemies the moment your brain interprets that hunched man power-walking your way as a genuine threat.
Wearing the headset, I naturally became one of those stupid teens from a horror movie, constantly looking over my shoulder, crouching around a corner to catch my breath, and peeking around to check for danger before—here’s the part where you’d yell at the screen—heading directly into it.
The controls work well too, even though I prefer to not play first-person games with analogue sticks. Lucky for us mouse-and-keyboard trained, weapon aiming is tied to where you look. It feels as accurate as any mouse, but does require a bit more effort to move around. And if someone is behind you, there’s a quickturn option that dulls the edges of your screen with darkness so you don’t get dizzy spinning around to take on enemies behind you.
All sorts of other accommodations have been made to stave off VR sickness, and the most jarring might be the incremental turn controls. By default, turning happens in degrees. One tap of the analogue stick left or right snaps your character 10 to 20 degrees in that direction. There are options to change the increments in which he moves, and you can turn it off for a smooth movement, which typically makes most people sick, including myself. But it doesn't in Resident Evil 7.
Sprinting, hectic combat encounters, and UI juggling has yet to make me feel even the slightest bit sick. According to our friends at GamesRadar, some reviewers still felt ill while playing, so the PSVR version isn't a completely safe bet yet. A PC version could stave off sickness further with a higher refresh rate and better resolution, but the PSVR version is still impressive. I’m usually clutching my stomach and done for the day after 10 minutes in similar VR games. I’d be impressed that the PS4 can maintain such a high refresh rate if not for the obvious hit RE7's graphics take to sustain it.
That scene where Mia saws off your hand? On the PC, the depth of focus shifts in and out to a stump spurting out quarts of blood by the minute. In PSVR, it’s just a dull, bloodless nub. Shadows meant to have smooth edges cast in serrated zigzag patterns, and intricate wall and floor textures, are so blurry they only imply what they are. Wood. Wallpaper. Blood maybe?
Note: the video captures footage as the hardware renders it, not the image as you'd see it in a headset, which would be much closer to the eye. Aliasing and texture resolution are worse than they appear as a result.
When you're moving around, the low-res textures are easier to dismiss than normal due to the sense of space in VR, but because the Baker plantation is such an interesting, detailed setting its overall power is wasted in PSVR. As soon as you stop to examine a room the disgusting props and the story they’re trying to tell blend into a noisy backdrop of muddy textures and thorny aliasing. The PS4 just isn’t capable of giving Resident Evil 7 its due in VR, and knowing that capable PCs and headsets could is a huge disappointment.
By the time VR support does arrive on the PC for Resident Evil 7, the majority of fans will have played it by then. And while any excuse to give it another go is welcome, I’d rather have the opportunity to remember the Baker house as a novel, unknown place rather than a videogame level. As is usually the case, modders are working on ways to implement VR functionality with or without Capcom’s support. Progress is slow—the limited FOV and stereoscopic vision is still an issue, but modders always find a way.
For the VR enthusiasts that can weather a year of waiting, much respect. That’s real survival horror.