It’s no secret that the Resident Evil franchise sort of lost its way. The series slowly moved away from its survival horror roots and became more action-oriented, with reception growing lukewarm over time. Recognizing this as an issue, Capcom met the criticism head-on by developing the latest Resident Evil game as a return to the straightforward horror stylings that make the series successful in the first place. The result is an experience that, although flawed, should please die-hard fans and give scare-junkies something satisfying to indulge in.
I was able to secure some time with the game’s newer Lantern demo on the PlayStation VR, which tasks you with fleeing from a maniacal old woman in a creepy, derelict house. Fans of older games in the series will be pleased to find the tank-like controls making something of a return; though you can look around freely with the VR headset, actually turning your character requires the use of the right analog stick, and you can only turn 30 degrees at a time. Everything from crouching to sprinting – and when you’d want to do so – feels very tight and methodical, as you’d hope it all would. Since you have free cranial motion, you can peek around corners or through cracks without compromising your position, and that heavily contributes to the immersion.
Resident Evil 7 incorporates lots of what makes a survival horror game great. Its environments are claustrophobic and moody. The threats against you are well-defined and menacing. The demo aggressively echoes Alien: Isolation in that regard; both games feature an indestructible antagonist that you need to hide from and can kill you instantly. In those moments, the demo was at its best, when you’re hunting desperately for somewhere to hide as certain death closes in on you. Its ambiance succeeds in setting the stage for some genuine scares throughout, and the controls help it remain something quintessentially Resident Evil.
One of the biggest issues I have with survival horror games is that it’s very difficult to maintain that tense, edge-of-your-seat atmosphere. Anything from jerky animations to bugs and performance issues can break that fragile veil of illusion, and sadly, Resident Evil 7 does succumb to these issues at times. It’s easy to see when the old lady switches between active animations, and the relatively murky presentation didn’t help matters either; I’ll partially attribute that, however, to both the found-footage cinematic filter and the fact that I never could get the headset perfectly situated. I actually managed to break the demo as well; after dying toward the end, neither the headset nor the TV would display anything, which forced Capcom staff to totally reboot the game.
True survival horror on a AAA scale can be something of a rarity in today’s gaming landscape. When Resident Evil 7 was announced, many people were taken aback by Capcom’s willingness to take a risk and go that route again, and that risk has not gone unnoticed. While I’m not convinced that the VR elements of the game will break new ground, those who begged for Resident Evil to return to the genre that made it famous will certainly find something to enjoy here.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard launches on Xbox One, PS4, and PC on January 24, 2017.