The pressure is starting to get to you. You have three rounds left in the chamber, not nearly enough to take on the shambling horde that’s trudging towards you. As your back reaches a wall and the looming figures draw near, you twist your head this way and that, looking for any small sign of salvation. An explosive canister sits just meters away. That would be your answer but the undead have reached you, one lunging forward to seize you by the shoulders. The figure’s decaying skin drips flesh onto you as you scramble out of his hold and kick him back into the crowd. It’s bought you a precious few seconds in which you line up your sights with the canister. There’s only enough time for one shot; you have to make it count.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to Resident Evil. Veteran fans will fondly remember the series’ earlier days where horror was king. Players would wrestle with limiting controls while sheepishly creeping through rustic mansions and ruined cities, keeping stock of limited ammo supplies and avoiding confrontation as much as possible. That all changed in 2005 when Resident Evil 4 redefined both the series and genre with a new take on survival. Shinji Mikami’s modern classic piled on the pressure as you faced unstoppable hordes of mindless enemies, forcing you to carefully calculate every bullet fired and every item used. Like one of its many brainless enemies, the series might have stumbled a little in recent years, but virtual reality (VR) could be the answer to getting it back on track.
When it comes to the original titles, there’s an instant appeal to pulling on a VR headset like the Oculus Rift. The isolation that headsets provide goes hand-in-hand with the dreaded atmosphere of early Resident Evils. Playing a horror title with the lights off is practically mandatory for the best results and there’s no better way to cut yourself off from the outside world than slipping on a headset and pulling the screen up close.
It’s hard to forget the first time you see one of the series’ blood thirsty zombies. Back in the 90’s you couldn’t help but freeze with momentary terror as one stumbled towards you, the puzzling controls only adding to your panic. VR has the potential to recapture those moments, with zombies coming to life in more ways than one. The sense of distance that the technology provides would emphasise the close-quarters struggles that are faced in dank corridors and tight stairwells, in which you scramble to get some space between the character and those that want to eat their face.
That said there would be some definite issues with compatibility. Much of the magic these titles drum up comes from the fixed camera angle that conceals the horrors waiting around the corner. This obviously wouldn’t agree with the head tracking technology used in most VR headsets, although there’s room for small innovations. Perhaps tilting your head for a better look around the room would be an option.
In truth, it’s the later titles that would really benefit from VR support. Scenes like that in the first paragraph are common in Resident Evil 4 and, to a lesser extent, Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil 6 too. VR could really evoke the mounting pressure that builds as enemies close the gap between you, especially when you come face-to-face with them. The head tracking would give you a better idea of where enemies are coming from, helping you formulate a plan as to where to go and who to kill. It would also help capture the sheer scale of some of the series’ most intense boss fights. Running through the legs of an El Gigante as it bulldozes its way towards you takes guts even without a headset. Now imagine weaving through those pillars of flesh yourself.
Whichever genre Resident Evil finds itself fitting into, it always manages to nail atmosphere. From the creaking floorboards and archaic architecture of the original’s mansion to the disturbed tranquility of Resident Evil 4’s opening village, each title manages to capture a certain feeling of fear or pressure. VR headsets have the tools to bring you closer to those terrifying emotions. Let’s hope Capcom makes the inevitable Resident Evil 7 available for VR headset users.
Make it a (Virtual) Reality’ is VRFocus’ weekly feature that takes the videogames we already know and love and looks at how virtual reality (VR) could enhance them. From retro classics to modern blockbusters, we examine the pros and cons of bringing a franchise to VR headsets.