Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, one of this year’s biggest projects, is now released and quickly causing contention, as many believe Capcom has sacrificed gameplay depth for VR incorporation.
The game brings survival horror back to basics, but possibly for all the wrong reasons. As you probably have seen in the demo, the entirety of the gameplay takes place within one house – the ‘family’s home’ that you, as Ethan, will explore.
The all-too-familiar, almost cozy ‘haunted house’ vibes are omnipresent, and add that kind of traditional horror immersion into the game. Reminiscent of a number of haunted house-type titles such as Outlast, Until Dawn or even Amnesia, you are led from room to room in a very specific sequence of events, clue-picking and solving familiar projection-puzzles. However, this was unfortunately not done with the idea of horror nostalgia in mind.
Indeed, the game’s linear development, limited movement structure, and even the seclusive elements of the plot are all centered around VR, first and foremost. The uncharacteristic shift into first-person perspective, as well as the simplistic battle sequences, further support this notion. Capcom have therefore attempted to reach that gleaming golden middle between on-screen gaming and VR, but arguably failing both.
In rushing to be the pioneers of AAA-game VR utilization, they have unfortunately created a game that’s too shallow for PC and platform players, and too overreaching and technically deficient for VR players. Within hours of its release, VR players (many of whom have invested in the headset specifically for this game’s release) have unanimously complained of motion-sickness, nausea, and disappointment.
These reactions are due to monumentally high motion sensitivity combined with the player’s constant need to look in all corners, expecting jumpscares at all times. VR games we’ve had until now were not focused on such prolonged exposure, and were mostly forward-facing stagnant developments, with a stronger emphasis on the immersion than the interaction.
Capcom’s ambition here has far overestimated the capabilities of the hardware. The sense of tension and build-up that they have so skillfully created becomes a downfall, making the player paranoically dart around and look back constantly, leading to the above effects. Moreover, the object-interaction is not quite up to par, making weapon pick-up and aiming in a fleeing situation yet more stressful.
Exploring the game headset-free, the game shows to be a lot more promising, but still underwhelming. Whereas the score, and the history of the established franchise, make this instalment atmospheric, the limited linear world and predictability of actions, and later scares, make it repetitive.
Although the developers included many throw-backs to the preceding games, such as collectible herbs, crafting abilities and even the original keypad sounds, it seems these inclusions are not so much nods to the loyal fans as they are reminders of which universe you’re in, since the world resembles little of the Resident Evil franchise otherwise.
I personally enjoyed the gradual build-up before entering the house. The graphics are phenomenal, the surroundings are haunting, and the silence deafening.
Once inside, however, events took off at such a tremendous speed that an hour in, I found the action almost comical instead of horrifying. Committing to the article title, I will not spoil any vital plot developments, but suffice it to say that Capcom drifted substantially away from the golden recipe of horror – ten parts tension to one part action.
By bombarding the player with one graphic scene after the next, each subsequent one yet more grotesque and fast-paced, they numb the feeling of dread to the point of comedy. If that would be the developers’ goal, I’d be genuinely impressed, as that effect is difficult to achieve.
Unfortunately, this comedic by-product seems to be unintentional. And, sadly, if you find yourself laughing while playing a horror game, then you’re not playing a horror game.
The widespread disappointment in the technical and directional aspects of the game are further substantiated by the fact that this is the Resident Evil. Although I wasn’t expecting another classic such as Resident Evil 4, or even 2, for the franchise to stretch itself this thin to cover as many commercial bases as possible, seems like a pretty blatant ‘kick me’ sign on Capcom’s own back.
Either focusing on the traditional PC and platform game version or focusing exclusively on a strong, coherent VR experience would have been a much more beneficial course. The fans would have understood and supported either approach. The way Capcom took is unfortunately the antithesis of killing two birds with one stone, ironically highlighting the vast and unbrigeable differences between successful VR and PC/console game development, instead of unifying the two. Hopefully lessons will be learnt.