Okay so - I have finished Resident Evil 7: biohazard I am informed, in a brief round-up of stats after the closing credits, that my total play-time was 10:47 minutes, restarted 18 times, and finished the game on “normal” difficulty.
I’ll briefly talk about how I feel about VR and then give a non-spoilery review of the game. I thought about adding some spoilers-text at the end, but it’s ultimately unnecessary. The game isn’t particularly twisty or turny, but it’s a much better experience played blind, so to speak.
The most salient question is whether VR is worth the investment for a ten hour game. That can be answered fairly simply - no. VR, at this point in time, is extremely expensive for what it is and cane be uncomfortable at times. If there was a decent library of VR dedicated games out I would have a different answer, but, as of now, the only “killer app” for PSVR is Resident Evil 7. That’s a very expensive investment for an experience which is relatively short and offers only a little replayability.
The experience itself is quite amazing - as I noted up thread the initial immersion you feel is astounding and everything that has been designed to scare you does. Sound is unnerving and there are probably 10 or 15 really good jump-scares scattered through-out the game that, no matter how resolute a person you think you are, will catch you and send your heart-racing. It’s quite a thrill, and the initial hour or two of the game can be really unnerving and anxiety inducing.
With that said, there is a natural period of climatization. The game does a very good job of keeping the experience fresh (more on that latter) but after you’ve been scared a couple of times, you grow more-or-less expectant of what the game can do - you’ll probably swear loudly and maybe even move back in fright a couple of times in the first two or three hours, but after that you’ll have grown a thicker skin. This doesn’t really lessen the VR experience at all (and I maintain that VR can really ONLY be the way to play this game) because the game is largely excellent at delivering an anxious atmosphere through it’s music and direction which lasts the whole experience, but you are swearing much less by the games end.
This is the type of elicitation of emotion that you will ONLY get in virtual reality - while all of the same points as above should ostensibly apply to just playing it on the telly, they don’t really, looking around a room for possible creepies or crawlers is just a different experience if you do it on your television as opposed to actually doing it yourself. While the PSVR has a small opening at the bottom of the visor to show you your lower body (this is done to prevent motion sickness) the experience is still very immersive. That said the immersion does lessen over time as your brain slowly starts to grow accustom to the concept that this is a video-game like hundreds you’ve played before.
One of the most important things I realised was how important sound was to the experience - there is absolutely no point playing VR without good headphones that can provide a surround experience. I say this because so much promotional material you’ll see people just wearing the goggles but it is truly only half the experience - when the game-developers want you to think that something might be behind you, they do it through sound - so when you hear something that comes from behind you, you WILL turn around to see what it is, and that sort of sensory-locational stuff is absolutely essential to the experience.
I will avoid spoilers here for obvious reasons - I will say something very briefly about the plot though. The Resident Evil franchise is one of the most beloved horror games on the medium but they are hokey as fuck - the more recent iterations of the franchise paint a picture of a world where warring pharmaceutical companies compete in a sort of arms-race to develop horrible mutated monster bio-weapons, which inevitably go haywire and one of any number of dedicated military-style special ops forces have to go in and clear it out. It’s the sort of shlocky bad sci-fi that could only be the story of a video-game and it comes packed with weird conspiracies and clones and a rotating list of fairly two-dimension heroes and villains. And yet all these huge global outbreaks and massive government-made monsters have become par for the course in this reality, and life for some inexplicable reason, mostly proceeds as normal.
I write this preface because it’s important to realise how personal and intimate Resident Evil 7 is in comparison. The basic story is about a man who’s wife has been missing for three years; his last contact with her was hastily recorded footage of her warning him not to come looking for her. Nevertheless, three years passes, and he inexplicably stumbles across a lead drawing him to a large plantation somewhere in southern rural America . The plantation is home to the Baker family, who seem to be quite private folk, but nothing particularly odd about them other than they live on a large plantation.
As Ethan (the main protagonist) searches for his wife it becomes clear that Baker family are not at all normal. The game is roughly themed around different areas of the Baker Family estate and, as you progress from one area to the next, you eventually encounter all the members of the Baker family. The Bakers, are, at all times the villains of the game and yet in the same breath they are not. They are not hillbillies or cannibals or any other trope you’re thinking of and the game manages to successfully make each member scary or threatening in their own way - although, it must be said, the earlier encounters with the Bakers are a little more inspired then the later ones, as the game segues into more contemporary horror tropes.
There are, of course, weapons and enemies, it’s not just a game where you run around anxious about what’s going on. Each encounter is life-threatening, which is particularly important in VR, but once you learn how best to prepare yourself for these encounters and how the enemies behave, they’re more or less manageable - particularly by the end. With that said, the game only offers a handful of different types of baddies and they don’t grow or gain more health in any significant fashion - so that you’re ostensibly facing the same foes throughout the whole game and yet they’re still threatening and compelling is a testament to the developers direction and planning.
There are also a handful of Boss fights - Boss fights are common tropes for Resident Evil games and here they are both similar and different - there is one or two inspired encounters that feel drawn straight from horror films and then a handful of others that don’t seem very well thought out or interesting. It’s sort of a double-edged coin - and the game’s biggest disappointment, really.
The real achievement here, though, is how exceptional the mood and tone of the game is. Each area of the plantation,and each major encounter, kind of has it’s own theme that harkens back to familiar horror movie tropes, be it a Slasher movie or what not, without feeling too contrived. It’s quite clever as you segue from section to section, task to task, plot to plot and every time there’s subtle (or overt) variations so the atmosphere never grows too stale or oppressive.
There story is at all times personal and intimate and yet touches on some of the bigger goings-on in the world of the games, the final quarter is ostensibly different then the first bit as pieces of the mystery start to come together. There’s also lots of clever little mechanics and plot-changes to keep the mystery afoot for the most part, and one of the cool additions is that you can come across video-tapes of past events and play them on a VCR - which means the game then plays as the events of the video tape.
In the end I have to say I was quite impressed. It’s definitely a shot in the arm for a franchise that had grown a bit convoluted and derivative. There’s quite a lot borrowed concepts in this, too, and although everything is, for the most part, played straight, the developers don’t seem to be trying to hide their inspirations.
There are a handful of DLC add-ons out and coming out over the next couple of months which I plan to get - if only because spending time in this world is actually such a novel experience.