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‘Resident Evil 7: Biohazard’ VR Review – Bringing The Survival Back to Horror Games

by David Jagneaux • January 23rd, 2017
Platforms: PS VR (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC.
Positives

- Terrifying sense of desperation
- Robust narrative with great pacing
- Pulse-pounding gameplay
- Well-balanced blend of puzzles, exploration, and combat

Negatives

- Some enemies are more frustrating than scary
- Minor VR integration issues

I can no longer tell if the heavy breathing I hear is coming from my own mouth, or from the mouth of Ethan, the main protagonist I’m controlling in Resident Evil 7 on PS4 using a PS VR headset. Using my actual body, I lean forward on my couch, craning my neck around the in-game corner to my left, trying to see if Jack, the hulking mass of seemingly invincible mutated flesh, has passed by yet. Just before I take my step around the corner, much to my horror, Jack grabs me from behind and for a moment it’s as if I can feel his breath and spit on my face. He throws me to the ground, cursing at me, and raises his shovel high above his head. With a loud thud, he slams it down into my shin, slicing my leg in half. For a split second there’s the illusion of pain — a sudden twitch of realism — before Ethan bleeds out and dies not just before my eyes, but within myself, as I sit there stunned inside the immersive power of virtual reality.

Honestly, I don’t know if the world is ready for a game like Resident Evil 7: Biohazard in VR and that’s exactly what makes it so exhilarating.

For years, the survival horror genre was synonymous with Resident Evil, until things started to change. The first few games did their part to popularize the entire concept of horror games as a whole, but ever since the universally acclaimed Resident Evil 4 Capcom has struggled to recapture that magic. In an effort to rediscover what made the franchise so special to begin with, Capcom chose to mix things up once again by shifting to a first-person perspective and for the first time ever, offering full VR support. It’s a glorious return to form that shakes up the formula just enough to feel both fresh and familiar.

I played the entirety of Resident Evil 7’s 12+ hour story from start to finish inside of the PS VR headset and it was absolutely incredible. This is the first game that I’ve seen that features a fully developed and realized single player story that lasts longer than a couple of hours and can be played entirely inside of a headset from the first-person perspective. There’s full locomotion movement with the Dualshock 4 gamepad (no Move controller support) with a suite of customizable comfort options to adjust rotation speed, FOV dimming, and several other options. Capcom listened and has crafted a game with choices to alleviate sickness concerns for most that would be impacted. However, it is worth noting that I don’t personally and have never suffered from motion sickness in VR. Your mileage may vary and I’d recommend mixing VR and non-VR modes during your playthrough with frequent breaks.

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The narrative begins with the game’s main character, Ethan Winters, on the hunt for his missing wife, Mia. His search takes him to the  derelict and disturbing Louisiana swamp property of the Baker family. Things quickly unravel once you’re on the scene and all manner of horrors reel their grotesque heads in your battle to survive and escape.

If you’ve ever played a Resident Evil game, then you know they’ve always been from the third-person, which makes Resident Evil 7 a major departure from the series’ roots mechanically. However, despite that shift, its tone, pacing, and gameplay elements feel much more like Resident Evil than anything Capcom has released since the late 90s. And by the end of the story, it all ties back into the core mythology of the franchise very nicely.

The story is told through a mixture of first-hand accounts taking place in real-time and video tapes found that recount past events. Ethan and Mia are the focus of the story, but you’ll play as a handful of characters throughout the haunting adventure.

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Significant portions of the first half of the game revolve around you participating in a deranged series of hide and seek chases with various members of the Baker family. Hearing Jack whisper and yell things like “Come out, come out, wherever you are!” never ceases to make my skin crawl. Above all else though, where Resident Evil 7 truly excels most, is in its ability to craft a believably desperate and overwhelming sense of danger.

No matter how many times I’ve traversed a particular hallway, I felt the urge to walk — not run — and take my time just in case. And it wasn’t arbitrary fear, because new dangers were literally lurking around every corner. Taking a note from the original Resident Evil’s playbook, you won’t find massive hordes of zombies in this game. The most enemies I ever did battle with at one time when playing on the Normal difficulty setting was around four or five, but that’s not to say it wasn’t difficult; every single enemy is dangerous enough to kill you. There are no filler creatures in Resident Evil 7 because every encounter is a life or death situation.

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Plenty of other genre staples are featured front and center in this installment as well. I found green herbs scattered throughout the game for healing, managed my inventory in a pseudo sub-game of Tetris, and searched high and low for keys and other necessary items. My loadout included pistols, machine guns, a shotgun, flamethrower, and more — complete with tons of enemies and entirely unique boss fights to test out my weapon skills. There were also a litany of dastardly designed puzzles. Some of them involved simply decoding small riddles or flipping paintings around in the right order, while others are full-on “Escape the Room” dungeons with multiple layered problems to solve.

After playing for long stretches of time in VR, it became physically difficult for me to continue. My body was sore from tensing up so much and I wasn’t sure how I could press forward due to the sheer number of ways the game was designed to scare me. There are all manner of jump scares sprinkled in for good measure, along with slow-building moments of tension, a wonderfully haunting soundtrack, horrendously disgusting creatures designed to make you sick, and the ever-present anxiety of running out of ammo or supplies — it’s all here. Pick your poison.

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While plenty of VR games have already captured the elusive sense of immersive realism — and presence — they seldom wrap you up in the emotions of the world around you, only to saw off your hand, stab you in the eye, and kick you through a wall at the height of your mental sensitivity. If nothing else, Resident Evil 7 is relentless in its pursuit of your fear.

Playing Resident Evil 7 outside of VR yields a better visual experience due to the increased resolution and higher fidelity, but it’s overall less immersive. Flicking a thumbstick is a poor substitute for physically moving my head in the world. I also realized a noticeable improvement in my aiming while in VR due to the subtle head tracking movements I could make when looking down the barrel. However, there were distracting technical hiccups like pop-in textures inside VR that weren’t apparent outside of the headset. The menus could also have used some work as they didn’t always display properly.

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If you want to switch between VR and non-VR mode, you have to exit all the way to the main menu. And for whatever reason the game only displays each hand and wrist in VR for most scenes — not the entire arms or the character’s whole body, but everything is fully animated outside of VR. Some of the enemies were more frustrating than they were scary in certain areas as well. Dealing with small and fast flying enemies like moths and swarms of bugs is just never fun. They’re tough to kill and serve no purpose other than annoying you.

All that being said though, I’m hard pressed to levy any serious criticism. Horror icon H. P. Lovecraft once wrote that “the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” — while that certainly may be true, fear has a new name now in 2017, and it goes by Resident Evil 7.

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Final Score: 9/10 – Amazing

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard sets a new bar for survival horror games and stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the best games in the franchise’s long history. By uniting elements from the past, such as the slow pacing, focus on exploration, mind-bending puzzles, and desperation for survival, with the pulse-pounding first-person gameplay of the recent era of horror games, Capcom has crafted a veritable modern classic. Resident Evil 7 embraces virtual reality as a medium and proves that you don’t have to cut corners or make sacrifices to create a compelling VR experience.

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard releases on January 24th, 2017, for PlayStation 4 with optional PS VR support, as well as Xbox One, and PC. It may come to other VR headsets in 2018. Read our Game Review Guidelines for more information on how we arrived at this score.

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  • Josue Feliciano

    Great review. I just can’t do it in VR, though. Maybe I’m just a coward, but I can’t willingly immerse myself in a horror game, it feels too real for me.

  • 1droidfan

    I hope some hackers get inside the PC version and get a VR mode working. I doubt they deleted all the VR code in the PC version, its likely just a global variable turned off that can be found with a hex editor. Waiting a year for this will basically rule it out for most people because it will be long forgotten by next January.

    • You’re probably right. That being said, I still highly recommend playing this even if it’s outside of VR.

      • 1droidfan

        Now that I have been introduced to VR I have a hard time getting excited about any non-VR game. Maybe once the shine wears off it I will go back to 2D games but for now I cant see myself spending what little game time I have being immersed so much less.

        • Bundy

          Agreed. It’s like playing Elite normally, and then playing it in VR. Entirely different game.

        • James Logan

          I totally agree, PSVR has hooked me. And playing non-VR games is not the same anymore. I normally would have completed COD,but find myself going back to Thumper, or the RE7 Demo just to play a game in VR

    • Doctor Bambi

      If RE7 manages to capture the spirit of great Resident Evil games before it, then I’d say there’s a good chance it could gain darling child status among the community and command staying power well past next year. Especially *if* they are able to integrate full motion controller support for Rift and Vive in that time. That’s a big ‘if’ though seeing as Capcom’s said nothing to imply that would be the case.

    • Gerald Monroe

      It’s a long wait, but remember – probably over the next year there will be updated VR headsets with higher visual fidelity, or at least better ergonomics. More powerful GPUs as well (well, at least with competition from AMD, the 1080 class GPUs will probably be significantly cheaper), and the VR related bugs will probably be fixed. Not to mention all the DLC for the game. So waiting may suck, but the ultimate experience should be superior.

  • Sebastien Mathieu

    Great Review Thanks!! do you think it will eventually come on the VIVE ???

  • Joe Banes

    I get this being on PSVR first as a bit of an exclusive, but man, they are missing out on some VR folks on the PC side who are chomping at the bit for a great game like this (seems like it would make a game like Arizona Sunshine cry just a bit). As others have said I will not play this until there is VR support. Reminds me of Alien Isolation. I played that on the PC a bit and it was okay, but when I put on the VR headset and did the work to unlock the previous native VR it was a game like no other. I moved slowly, took my time going into rooms, looked for my hideouts, kept looking over my shoulder, and every noise made me stop and look around or listen more intently. It just cranked up the tenseness and anxiety. These games really don’t scare me on a normal monitor. Can’t wait to check this out in VR if they make it for PC. I’m certainly willing to wait if they add Touch or Vive hand controller support. Though I’d deal with a controller as well. Dualshock works just fine on my PC.

    • polysix

      Think about it, PSVR needs ‘amazing’ exclusives like this to gain traction, it’s important for ALL of VR that PSVR above any succeeds right now (to attract developers) which will have a positive knock on effect for PC VR. So it’s not so bad it being VR exclusive for a year to PSVR imo.

      Also, frankly, GEN 1 PC VR isn’t good enough yet (yes it’s better than PSVR in many key ways but also behind in others inc price, comfort, plug and play ease) so I think when Vive 2 shows up end of this year or early next year, then Resident Evil VR (PC/VIVE/RIFT) will be a killer app for it.

      Disclaimer: Have owned (and sold) Rift DK2, Vive 1, and PSVR. All cool but not quite there yet for me. I think Vive 2 has a good chance of being the real deal finally if they can get costs down a bit. Rift? I’ve given up on oculus doing anything above and beyond the minimum for PC VR any more.

      • Joe Banes

        I agree that PSVR needs to be successful. I certainly want it to be. I am a lover of all VR. But not above all VR. PSVR is stunted from the start as all consoles are. It’s a great entry level for folks, especially if they have a PS4, but PC VR will be what pushes the envelope and there are cheaper PC alternatives coming this year from Lenovo, Asus, Acer, and Dell. So cost is going to become less and less of an issue. The PC VR industry will be what draws most people into VR eventually because of higher fidelity, power, etc. PSVRs success or failure will not make or break VR. This is just the junk that journalist say to be edgy and to get clicks. People were excited abut VR before PSVR was announced.

        Again a brief timed exclusive is one thing. A year long exclusive that cuts out other VR platforms makes less sense and does not support the overall VR industry or community. Not when you actually created the game for the PC as well from the start. So they had the code made for VR. They built it for two platforms but chose to cut out a major one with PC VR. Perhaps they have good technical reasons for doing so (getting Touch or Vive controllers to work right) and that is what it is, but other than that there is no good reason for a year long exclusive. You run this risk of people forgetting about the title all together in a year on the PC side. I highly doubt it’ll have the same financial impact it would have had they launched this all together. I want the game for VR, but I will likely not even be thinking about it in a year with other great VR games that’ll be out and coming out by then.

        If this had been a PS exclusive all the way around and not made available on the PC then this would be a different conversation. I really don’t have an issue with exclusives be they Vive, Oculus, or PS, just ones with ridiculous times on them. We are in the early days of VR. Every platform needs to support to draw in developers. Though that’s not new because of PSVR. PS, Xbox, PC have always been looking to get the most developer support they can to justify you buying their platform over another. They’ve used exclusives for this and I get that, but let’s not turn them into white knights trying to save VR. They aren’t.

        They are trying to make a buck by giving people a great reason to buy PSVR and a PS4 if they don’t have one and want to play on VR. Maybe that will work out for them. I don’t know. PSVR already out sold the others and if you own one or both of the PC versions you are not likely to buy a PSVR if you don’t already have a PS4 and perhaps even if you do, because that PC VR was expensive. So Sony doesn’t really cut into their own profits on PSVR because that PC market that would buy their game is not going to buy their platform in enough numbers to justify a year exclusive. I think in the end this will affect their profits. But perhaps they’ll sell enough units by then that they just don’t care. Maybe they think the PC VR market is not worth the work at the moment and that could be fair if they really believe it. Seems to me most of the work is done, but it’s not like I’ve seen their code.

        In the end I don’t care either. I won’t even look at this game until it’s on VR. I will not be buying a PS4 (not because I don’t like it, I enjoy the PSVR, I’ve tried it many times) because I’ve got two PC VR headsets and there are more interesting peripherals coming out for them to try. So my bucks are going to that. Perhaps a cheaper PC headset which will be half again what it would cost me to get a PS4 and PSVR since I own neither. So if I remember it in a year then great. If not, oh well. There are plenty of great games out and that will be coming out for my headsets. This one sounds fun, makes me think of Alien Isolation with a VR headset, and I hope they change their mind on that year. I’m just one guy, so I don’t expect they’ll change much because of me. “Oh no, Joe is miffed he can’t play RE7, lets get on that code!” Heheh. I wish. I do look forward to seeing the VR footage on YouTube though. The screams will be hilarious.

  • James Friedman

    This makes me regret selling my PSVR. I can’t wait to try it on the Rift/Vive

    • polysix

      I sold my PSVR too (and my Vive/dk2), I don’t mind waiting for gen 2 vive and a BETTER version of RE7 VR for PC than waste this glorious moment on the PSVR (as cool as it is it’s not good enough for me – even vive on a top pc isn’t so… GEN 2 PC VR please!).

      • Hans Wurst

        Sucker.

  • leeleelee69

    This should be open to all platforms of vr, silly mistake!

    • polysix

      no it’s not. RE7 VR for PC will sell a LOT better and do more for PC VR when everything is ‘right’ (better / cheaper hardware in gen 2). Pushing the outdated old tech now is pointless with gen 2 on the horizon. Meanwhile PSVR needs all the help it can get – for the good of all VR – and it has the sales to back it up (comparatively). It’ll be fine. PC VR will get RE7 VR mode when PC VR is ready for it (and it’ll shit all over PSVR by then)

      • RealityCheck131

        *eyeroll* The game would do fine on a Rift/Vive, and it’s not going to “sell a LOT better” when the game itself will be old by the time the next gen is out. The current Oculus Rift & Vive aren’t “outdated” or “old tech” yet. The next gen is still years away.

  • patrick starofsea

    So RE7 : a incredible but not perfect AAA title in VR : Amazing 9
    Damaged core, a head wave shooter : 9.5 near masterpiece

    Seems coherent