Over the weekend, at the EB Expo, I had the good fortune to play Resident Evil 7 and Until Dawn: Rush of Blood in VR. Virtual Reality opens up a whole new dimension for horror games.
Perhaps more than any other genre, horror will benefit the most from the early shift to VR. These games showcase two new approaches to the genre that make great use of the technology.
Until Dawn: Rush of Blood in VR
Until Dawn: Rush of Blood has players sit in a roller-coaster, using two move controllers as guns to fight off enemies. Like the original game, Until Dawn is not subtle. It comes at you full force.
In the teaser, it starts off innocently enough, using ghostly figures to divert your attention before appearing behind and very close to you. This sort of sleight of hand isn’t necessarily new to horror but the VR headset makes it all the more effective.
Camera movements using a traditional controller are too slow to yield the biggest possible surprise. Almost instant camera pans in VR make this all the more effective.
Once the game gets going, however, there’s a lot to be said for Rush of Blood. In practice, it’s effectively a target shooting range with small targets dotted about the map.
Pass through the door into a dark room and you know you’re in for a treat. Lights come to life with the ferocity of huge stadium bulbs. Mutilated pigs are stacked on shelves as high as you can see. Other pigs, under the knife, are squealing.
The whole thing is sensory overload. Your little VR bubble is full of disorientating noise, grotesque visuals, and a few key tasks to draw your focus.
Shortly after, the traditional rollercoaster up and downs begin. Anyone unsure if they can stomach VR will probably start to feel somewhat nauseated here.
The demo’s final act was a generic shoot enemies trying to rush you affair. Thanks to VR, this wasn’t at all boring for reasons I’ll get to in a moment.
Resident Evil 7 VR Demo
Two teasers were available to play for Resident Evil 7: the kitchen and the lantern. Resident Evil 7 is set for full release in January 2017.
The kitchen had players largely immobile as they were strapped to a chair. An unidentified man scurries to cut you free before a ghoulish woman eagerly dismembers him.
The lantern allows players to move, avoiding detection from a mad housekeeper while escaping the dilapidated mansion.
Both are effective for similar reasons but show off something special. I’m going to talk about these in the order I played them.
Resident Evil 7: The Lantern
The lantern, as mentioned, has you avoiding a madwoman. It highlights the stealth elements of Resident Evil‘s gameplay as well as some puzzles too. I needed to sneak onto the balcony, retrieve a statue, use its shadow to make a spider, and sneak into the basement. How VR made this special was the ability to finely control the camera.
Although the DualShock could be used for large shifts in camera focus, the VR headset allowed me to poke my head around corners or through gaps in walls to get a better view. Previously, developers regulated this ability to lean or peek features but VR allows it to take on a more prominent role in gameplay.
The demo’s third act begins with the madwoman catching the player. Her and her putrid family – an older man and a young man – bound me to a chair around their dinner table. They were having dinner before the older man got annoyed by my lack of eating (the food looked awful).
His solution was to come around the table and shove the horrible food into my face. Because the screen was so close to my face, I instinctively pressed my lips together. After which he drove a knife into my eye.
Resident Evil 7: The Kitchen
My experience with the kitchen teaser was similar to the final act of the lantern. This led me to believe I played these in the wrong order.
Early periods of the teaser were relatively formulaic. Man tries to free you, woman shows up behind him, stabs him through the chest, and presses her disgusting face into yours. Following an altercation, both the man and the woman disappear from sight.
We find out the lady kills the man and hear the sounds of chains from behind you. Shortly thereafter, hands appear over your eyes and smear blood over your face. At which point, the enemy drives a knife through your eyes again.
What does this mean for Virtual Reality Horror?
Three short teasers allow us to see some of the early effects of VR in horror. Rush of Blood uses the space to great effect. Although the world isn’t any larger, it feels almost double the size.
Entirely down to the use of VR, anything behind us is not easily accessible; it’s not just a control stick away. So while we can move the camera faster, more effort is required to check anything outside of our peripherals. Distraction and sucker punches are all the more effective when they may not have been in traditional titles.
Wearing the headset and headphones puts the player in a small bubble of their own. They can’t see or hear anything that’s not in the game. No lamps in the living room, no cats wandering around. Aside from huge bonuses to immersion, this bubble means that developers have absolute control over sensory input.
Rush of Blood‘s squealing pigs overload the player’s senses, putting them in a state of artificial alertness. The great thing about hyper-alertness in horror is it makes people easier to startle as their body is energised.
Something Resident Evil did amazingly was, as astute readers may have guessed, use proximity of the player. The screen is no longer five metres away. Players are now face-to-face with the action and anything that gets close genuinely feels like it’s invading your personal space.
Games have, for the longest time, used a TV to indicate players’ eyes. But anything that gets close to the screen is still ages away. Now, however, the person shoving rotten food in your face is right there.
Trust me, you’re going to have some involuntary reactions to this.
Obviously, these two titles are within the PSVR launch period; Rush of Blood available at launch and Resident Evil in January. This is just the beginning of innovation using VR in horror games.
In time, as developers become comfortable with incorporating this new technology, we will start to see exciting new ways in which games interface with players. It might be pants-wettingly scary but I can’t wait.