With its launch today, Resident Evil 7 becomes one of the first blockbuster games playable entirely in virtual reality (provided you’re playing the PS4, that is). In theory, it’s a perfect fit. With its new first-person perspective, absolutely stunningly detailed visuals, and renewed focus on straight-up horror, RE7 is the most immersiveResident Evil yet. And when you strap on a PlayStation VR headset, you should only further be ensconced in this spooky, unsettling world. Unfortunately, there are a handful of compromises that keep the PSVR version from being the ideal way to play.
One of the most important compromises comes in the form of the game’s visuals. Part of what makes the standard version of RE7 work so well is how real it looks. Walking through the creepy Baker household, it’s impossible not to get chills from the tiny details; cockroaches scurrying through the walls, dried blood caked on a bathtub. But you don’t get that same sense in VR, as the visuals are significantly scaled back, to the point that they lose much of their impact. (Note: I played on a standard PS4, so things might be a bit better on the more powerful PS4 Pro.) Everything has a washed-out look, with jagged edges that tear as you move. It’s especially noticeable when you play in VR right after checking out the standard version.
Beyond just the visuals, playing in VR also created a kind of disconnect that I wasn’t able to get over. For one thing, there’s the way protagonist Ethan’s hands simply float in front of you, unconnected from a body, or how subtitles and other text often cuts through objects. There are also a large number of jarring transitions. When a cutscene plays, for instance, you watch it in a sort of theater mode, and when the gameplay starts up again you’re shifted back into first person perspective. It’s a strange and awkward effect, and makes the cutscenes lose some of their dramatic punch.
There are also some weird moments when it comes to getting around. The simple act of walking works well enough; you use the left stick to move Ethan, and when you run there’s a great blurring effect around the edges of your vision that gives the impression something might be chasing you. Other controls, like picking up objects or using weapons, work well, too.
The problem comes when you start to mess around with the camera. You can, of course, look around by moving your head, but you’ll also need to rotate the camera using the right stick. But doing so causes the camera to move left or right with a disconcerting lurch. If you need to adjust your view a lot it becomes disorienting. The same is true of when Ethan shifts position to do something like crouch or climb a ladder; the game simply jumps your view from one position to the next, as if a few frames of animation were missing.
The result of all of these aspects — for me, at least — is that it didn’t take long before nausea set in. I made it a little more than 20 minutes into Resident Evil 7’s relatively slow-paced opening sequence before I had to take the headset off and get some air. Considering my initial standard playthrough took just under a dozen hours, it’s hard to see playing the entirety of the game in VR.
That said, RE7 in VR does excel in one particular area: jump scares. RE7 is a game where things often pop out at you, from slimy monsters rising from the floor to killer humans smashing through walls. And these moments pack much more of an impact in virtual reality. Maybe too much, in fact. Sometimes I would jump so much that I’d get disoriented, making escape or retaliation difficult.