Smile for the camera
*Demo Spoilers Below*
In the opening moments of a five minute demo of Resident Evil 7, I knew this experience would yield something fresh. In the fabled story of Resident Evil, fresh is something that fans desperately require. After the raging and moderate successes of Resident Evil 4 and 5, respectfully, and the generally frowned upon 6, Capcom and its developers had nowhere left to go. How do you top the grandiose cinematics and plot of Resident Evil 6? The entire world was ravaged by the most recent biohazard (and, by the way, fire every anti-bio terrorist organization in the history of Resident Evil; at the least, figure out a preventative means rather than a reactive means of dealing with potential attacks).
So what does a company do with a franchise that has completely backed itself into a narrative corner? In Capcom’s case, they nearly hit the reset button. With the information available on the secretive Resident Evil 7, I can’t, with certainty, explain the plot to you. But anyone who played the original demo knows a little bit about the house you awaken in. What Resident Evil 7 appears to be doing is limiting the experience to a very personal level – confined in a terrifying and closed house. This setting, if truly the majority of the game, allows Capcom to craft a narrative on a small scale, something which limits the chance of poor storytelling.
In steps Kitchen, the vague name for the demo of Resident Evil 7 on the PlayStation VR demo disc. As you load it up, you find yourself fully immersed in the rickety, rusty, and dirty kitchen from the initial demo. In front of you is a camera, probably recording your struggle. Your hands are bound, but you have free range of heat motion to examine the full surroundings of the kitchen. Soon, you’re prompted to thrust your Dualshock 4 controller forward (you see that the controller works as your hands, and moves 1:1 with the camera. Pushing your hands forward knocks over the camera and awakens your sleeping friend (this is all very similar to the video tape found in the initial demo).
As your friend hurriedly slashes away at your binding, you can glimpse the shadows of a girl or woman scurrying behind him. Here is where the VR ramps up the suspense; with the immersion, you really feel trapped in the moment, almost too afraid to look at or away from the scene. As your friend is dispatched and dragged around the corner of kitchen, you’re left alone. You’re hands and feet are still bound, and you can’t move; you can only look, only listen. Here is where the unique attributes of the VR shine – which is, essentially, what this demo is all about. As you wait in uneasy anticipation for what comes next, unsure of how to escape your predicament and listening to the clatters and clanks of the kitchen and its planked flooring, a pair of bloodied hand slap over your eyes. The hands scrape across your face, leaving a smear of crimson across your vision, before disappearing altogether. And then, suddenly, that woman, dirty, greasy, disgusting, swings over your shoulder and grins, giggles, before driving her knife into your eyes.
Where the Kitchen demo succeeds is its use of the VR. In the wide world of creativity, most narrative pathways have been explored; the trick is to create something fresh with this understanding. I’m not sure whether the narrative of Resident Evil 7 will be ‘fresh’, but its use of the VR – at least within the Kitchen demo – provides a new, unique experience. I have faith that Capcom will utilize the VR well, but its main focus will be to create a memorable, horror-driven game. And remember, Resident Evil 7 is not VR exclusive, so the final product will not rely on the hardware to cover its faults.
But this brings me to my final point. If Resident Evil 7 succeeds in VR, my hope is that more of the big game developers and publishes put forth additions to the VR library. Not limited in the ways the PlayStation Vita was, and enjoying more success (at the moment) than the Vita ever did, the PlayStation VR is on the proper initial path to maintain its momentum. If Sony and other large 3rd party companies support the VR in its newborn glory, then I see a bright future ahead. The Kitchen demo for Resident Evil 7 is just the first step in this process. For Capcom, Resident Evil 7’s success is huge, so this early testing point of the VR is huge for each player.
If you own a VR and haven’t experienced the Kitchen demo (vaguely named and without the Resident Evil logo) and enjoy horror, then take five-to-ten minutes of your day to give it a shot. I think you’ll agree that its use of the VR is innovative, and the first-person horror genre has a new outlet to explore – and thrive in.