We go exploring in a hands-on demo of Resident Evil 7: Beginning Hour on PlayStation VR.
Months ago, one of my friends predicted that the new Resident Evil game would have some sort of connection with VR when it was eventually announced. I don’t think he, at that point in time, expected the long-awaited sequel to be entirely playable on PSVR, all the while being available to play normally on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. During Resident Evil 7’s announcement at the Sony press conference, the game’s demo — titled Beginning Hour — was launched for PlayStation Plus members. I had the chance to check out that demo at E3, albeit with Sony’s PlayStation VR headset on. And while there are still a handful of caveats to iron out with both the game’s use of the headset and the game in general, I still think there’s a lot to be excited about with Resident Evil’s return.
Starting out in an old, decrepit house, and with just one goal — that being to get out — I quickly adjusted myself to get comfortable with the PlayStation VR headset and set off on my journey. I wasn’t quite sure of what to expect from Resident Evil 7, either. There are some fantastic VR horror experiences out there already, with most relying on jump scares and atmosphere to push the horror, and, to my surprise, it was the latter that Resident Evil 7 relied on. As I made my way around the house, inspecting the run-down, torn up pieces of furniture and wallpaper occupied by bugs and other nasties, I was already feeling a bit creeped out. This was further reinforced by noises coming from all directions — some above me, some around me, some behind me. It created a sense of unease, and of course built tension in the confined world.
The overarching goal in the demo is pretty straightforward, and it didn’t take me all that long to figure it out and get around. I’ve read that there are a handful of different endings you can get, and I think it’s fair to point out that I took a fairly direct route in my approach — not favouring the idea of exploration as I was focused on advancing the tidbits of story constantly hinted at throughout the 15 minute demo. After finding a pair of bolt cutters and thereafter grabbing a key, I was able to access a videotape and watch a video that took place shortly before I’d arrived. The cool thing about this was that I was teleported into the video I was watching, taking the role of the cameraman, walking with two others who were investigating the house.
This experience was actually more tense than my solo expedition through the house, as the banter and chat between the three characters felt natural, in turn making the creepy house have its own presence and quickly establish a sense of unease among us. Unlike the experience prior, I was able to react with the other characters who were with me. That said, I still had no real idea regarding what the hell was going on. Whether that’s a bad or a good thing, especially in the knowledge of Beginning Hour not even being included in the main game, is up in the air. I feel like this demo is more of a proof of ideas for Capcom, with Resident Evil 7 taking certain ideas and situations seen in Beginning Hour and placing them into a bigger, better world full of jump scares and creepy encounters.
Nonetheless, the psychological scares Beginning Hour relied on were usually effective. I’m a pretty hardcore horror fan and not much seems to get to me anymore, but there were a few key moments in my time with the game that I genuinely felt uneasy and was overcome with tension. I hope that this is a constant throughout Resident Evil 7 — especially given how action-focused the last couple of games have become.
On the VR experience — I’m still a little wary over what to think. The PlayStation VR is a great piece of tech, it has a lot of potential, but it’s still on the lookout for its killer app to really push it into the mainstream. I don’t think, at least from this experience, that Resident Evil 7 will be that killer app. Beginning Hour did not look all that great in VR — edges were extremely rough almost everywhere I looked, the audio seemed to be very low quality, and having to use the right thumbstick to control where my character turned — all the while using the headset to look around — was not an entirely pleasant or natural experience. I’m glad I’ve had time to grow my ‘VR legs’, as they say, because I’ve heard bad stories of how other attendees have ended up after trying out Beginning Hour on VR during the show.
In saying that, I’m still definitely keen to try out Resident Evil 7’s fully-fledged experience on PlayStation VR. It adds a different dimension to the game, and the menus and integration work in VR’s favour — it feels like a natural fit, bar the issues I mentioned above. Had I not had expo music and lots of little noises bleeding through my headphones, I would have probably been fairly immersed in the setting Beginning Hour set up. The comfort of the headset, as many have mentioned previously, also made the experience less strenuous on my eyes and didn’t leave me with a mark on my face, which is always a bonus.
As a horror fan, it’s difficult not to feel excited about a Resident Evil game that’s going back to its roots, and one that’s going to be entirely playable in VR. While it has its issues, I’ll be keeping a close eye on Resident Evil 7 and how it’s shaping up prior to its January release next year. The experience I had was a positive one, albeit with a few major issues, but I can look past that for now and see what comes of Capcom’s latest Resident Evil next year. Hopefully it’s pulling back the curtains to unveil a survival horror experience that will be reminiscent of the older Resident Evil games, and that’s something I would be extremely excited for.
Resident Evil 7 launches on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation VR, and Xbox One on January 24, 2017.