"Do you like Resident Evil?" the helpful Sony booth assistant asked me. (Well, she said Biohazard, but let's not split hairs.) "Sure," I replied. "I'm glad!" she said. "But this one is really different. You don't have a gun or anything — you just have to run away and hide."
Let it be said that I am completely on board with Resident Evil 7's new direction, which exchanges the cheesy action bombast of recent games for slow-paced, first-person horror. I enjoyed the first demo, and the new Tokyo Game Show trailer above does nothing to make me want to play the final product any less. (It also has guns in it, for what it's worth.)
I played the first demo, which sees you exploring a creepy old house, in the comfort of my own home. I don't mind admitting I scare pretty easily with horror games, and playing them in a dark living room is the best way for that to happen; a crowded Tokyo Game Show floor isn't quite the same experience. But this time around I was playing Resident Evil 7 with PlayStation VR, which does a pretty good job of blocking out raucous surroundings.
I was a little fearful of checking out Resident Evil 7's VR incarnation, though, and not just because of the horror. A lot of reports from E3 suggested that the game was making many players nauseous, and I had no reason not to believe them — I've played enough VR games with similar controls to similar effect, which is why most VR developers now avoid traditional first-person movement.
Capcom has apparently taken some of this feedback on board, because the controls have been tweaked a little — the right stick now makes you turn in 30-degree-ish jumps rather than giving you full analog movement. This seems to have improved things, because I didn't feel too bad after playing through the demo, and neither did other people I spoke to at the show. There is still a slight element of discomfort, but the game's slow pace and the new control tweaks seem to have afforded players' brains more opportunity to process what they're seeing.
'Resident Evil 7' still doesn't really feel like a VR game
But Resident Evil 7 still doesn't really feel like a VR game. A Capcom developer I spoke to said he doesn't expect people to play it in VR for hours on end — it's more like an extra option. That's fair enough, and I rarely play any single game for hours on end myself these days, let alone in VR. It's just that the VR mode is a straight translation of the regular game, and there's little about it that feels built specifically for Sony's hardware. You're sacrificing something, too — Resident Evil 7 isn't a bad-looking game, but current VR builds make it look like it was released in the early days of the PlayStation 3. Maybe Sony's PS4 Pro could improve this, but the majority of PS VR owners are unlikely to be blown away by Resident Evil 7 on a visual level.
There is one way in which VR makes sense for Resident Evil 7, and it was very apparent in this demo. The TGS demo's premise is that a deranged old woman is chasing you through a house as you find hiding spots and escape routes. This means you spend quite a bit of time staying still, waiting for her to pass and wondering when she'll leave; this is a situation where it's very helpful to be able to gradually peep around a corner or out from cover, and the PS VR's head tracking is more than up to the task. I'm not sure whether the game logic takes account of your head position to make it more or less likely that you'll be discovered, or whether the ability will prove all that useful throughout the rest of the game, but it did add a significant new layer of tension and immersion to the TGS demo.
I'm looking forward to playing Resident Evil 7 when it comes out on January 24th, but I'm unsure how much I'll want to play it in VR. While it's cool and unusual that Capcom is giving the option to play through the whole game this way, at this point it feels more like a curiosity than a fundamental part of the experience. Chances are I'll rather see the game looking and controlling its best in 2D.