If you’ve not played Resident Evil 7’s demo yet then maybe get on that. Firstly, it’s an interesting turn for the series: a first person reboot with a very contemporary horror feel (and no sign of zombies. Yet). And secondly I might spoil things a bit because I can’t really talk about how PS VR changes the experience without describing it.
The demo itself is very like the doomed Silent Hills teaser PT in nature as you explore a spooky house in first person. There’s hints of things like Blair Witch or Texas Chainsaw Massacre and tonally it’s a total break for the series’ previously increasingly action movie leanings. There’s no melon-biceped Chris Redfield here. No explosive boss battles. Just a creepy old run down house. The most terrifying kind.
The demo’s already scary, with dark corridors to cautiously explore in first person. Tension and fear await the usual TV playthrough. VR, though? VR makes it an almost unbearably fraught experience. Put on the headset and you’re trapped in that house in every sense. It’s not confined to a screen in front of the sofa that you can look away from, it’s all around you - turn your head, look about, and the rotting walls and exposed ceiling beams encase and imprison you.
I spent far longer in the first room - a derelict lounge full of shedding walls and mouldy furniture - simply because everything terrified me. Turn around? Let me just work up to that. Open the door? Yeah, I’m going to need a moment. Look around the corner? Oh HELL no.
In VR, corners become the biggest monster. When you’re wearing that headset there’s no easy way to beat them. The head tracking has just enough give to let you peek, peering inch by inch until you’re sure (ish) it’s safe. All the time it’s like the game is physically pushing further into your face, filling your field of view and making it clear there’s no escape.
At times you become your own worst enemy. Despite being terrified - almost trying to push back against the game by not progressing in the hope of delaying an inevitable scare - occasional sound effects and events in the game made my head spin uncontrollably. A creaking ceiling snapping my eyes upwards; a noise behind me yanking my head round - all with the ‘oh shit what if there’s something there’ thought lagging a few precious milliseconds behind.
When you’re playing a normal game with a controller it’s easier to moderate your actions. When it’s just a case of glancing, instinct takes over and you do it before you even realise. In a game designed to scare you to death that’s a terrible idea. Realistically, there were only about three jump scares in Resi 7’s demo but the pressing closeness of VR made every turn, every corner, every darting look a moment of heart stopping terror.
If I’m honest, I skipped an entire section of the game because i just didn’t want to do it. The haunted house has an upstairs area that I couldn’t bring myself to explore because have you not been listening? I’m told I didn’t miss anything but a few collectibles but at the time the only thing that would have got me upstairs was if something worse was downstairs.
The addition of VR to horror is a terrible, hidous, brilliant thing. When every turn of the head is a mini jump scare and the walls feel so close you can almost smell the hanging strips of greasy, peeling paper, every blink is terror. Playing Resi 7 has made me realise why so many scary movies use the motif of a victim staring, unmoving, at a wall inches in front of their face - it’s honestly the only time I felt safe.
If you need me? I’ll be here. In the corner. I’m fine. Honest.