Why I don’t like Resident Evil 7 in VR

To be clear — the version I played was on the Playstation VR.

I’ve tried a number of PSVR experiences — and I think the Star Wars Rogue One mission is the gold standard for me.

Not just because it’s so well suited to the small movement nature of living-room VR (since my body is basically static in the cockpit of an X-wing) but also because it’s a great combo of flying + fighting + being able to look around at the entire Sphere.

I expected Resident Evil to be able to elicit similar wow moments — but it absolutely didn’t.

RE7 basically feels like the VR mode was tacked on to the end as just a mode of the standard game — and it really shows.

From the very beginning the movement mechanic is awkward. You use the left stick to move the player — but the right stick to look around.

Hmmm…

I get the logic (since the game designers want to optimise the experience for a forward looking view) — the game as written demands that you twist and turn and with a corded headset we’d have all manner of player injuries as they twisted themselves like a pretzel.

So perhaps the designers did this simply to keep you looking forward (or as a conceit to the normal gameplay where you can only look “forwards” — but it’s sooooo disorienting and distracting.

At the very least I feel like the rotation of the “look control” — which is usually mapped to the right stick — should have been smooth rather than stepped as it is in the game. It just feels unfinished.

Dismembered hands also felt very very weird — especially since a plot point revolved around my characters hand being cut off with a chainsaw.

But easily my biggest problem was something that I had addressed before in my write up on agency and emotion — namely I wanted to interact with everything. You give me an Axe and I want to hack my way through doors — but the game disables this. This is extremely frustrating game design.

I’m 100% convinced that this problem is more pronounced in VR that in a normal game — because ultimately the more abstract a game is — the more we’re prepared to accept the rules of it (e.g. Candy Crush Saga) without worrying about realism — you try to make something real AND in VR — good luck — you start hitting the VR Uncanny Valley in a major way.

There is an excellent and fairly recent video on Physics and Chemistry in the latest Zelda game (it’s from GDC 2017)

The game designers talk about the joy of discoverable objects in the game responding to interactions with other objects. (could be as simple as using an axe to cut down a tree — but could be using fire to burn one object partially — and then using water to put out the fire)

These might seem like trivialisations of real-world interactions — but ultimately all gaming behaviours are approximations. I think that from a VR perspective many designers are aiming too much for photorealism and forgetting what makes a fun game.

Bottom line — if you’re gonna commit to do a VR adaptation of an existing title/genre — then fully commit.

They could have used the hand controllers as a flashlight and a gun (or an axe) and it would have been scary and AMAZING — but instead they made a bad imitation of the non-VR version of game — introducing a dizzying movement mechanic — in the process highlighting all the things in the game I couldn’t interact with.

Were there moments of visceral emotion — sure — opening up a pot of rotting food and seeing roaches running around — all of this stuff is good.

But not good enough.

I will never play the game in VR again.