Reviewed By Dave E In EGG #009: PlayStation 4
Virtual Reality has hit mainstream and Resident Evil: Biohazard is the first triple-A title that includes a VR mode, meaning that you can put that expensive PS4 helmet and camera to good use. And what better use than a gore-fest with jump scares and puzzles?
Now, whether it's because the VR format is still pretty breathtaking per se I'm not sure, but, on assessing Resident Evil: Biohazard I have to confess that I struggle to find anything negative to say about it. The game assumes no familiarity with any of the prior Resident Evil games and sticks you in the body of a new hero named Ethan. You start the game having received a message from a fetching-looking young lady called Mia telling you, in no uncertain terms, that she's probably dead already but you must definitely, definitely not come and look for her.
If you had followed her advice, then there would be no game. Instead, you've tracked her to a swampland complete with spooky old house and even more disconcerting inhabitants. The good news is that she's there, somewhat unhappily ensconced in her new adoptive "family". The bad news is that she, and the rest of the circus freaks, are in the habit of morphing into putrid, rotting zombies - and their hospitality extends only to inviting you for a bite to eat. I mean, taking a bite to eat out of you.
Resident Evil: Biohazard is a semi-linear game. By which I mean that there's a rough order to the puzzles that you need to complete, but you can often choose which "set" of puzzles to tackle first. Without giving away any of the game's secrets, you might typically be told (if you tap the triangle to bring up your current set of objectives) that you need to (a) acquire the shotgun (puzzle 1), and (b) to open the front door (puzzle 2). This usually means searching your surrounding locations for objects, and then using those objects to solve the puzzles you've been set.
As you wander the grounds of your prison, you'll be regularly set upon by the 'mold'. These vaguely-humanoid creatures spawn from walls, dark corners and ceilings, roar loudly and pace towards you. If you have a weapon, it is usually a simple matter to kill them with a few shots to the head. If they attack when you're unarmed, then you can often duck around them without taking too much damage (at least if you're playing on the 'Easy' level!) and try to hide out in one of the "safe" rooms until the coast is clear.
And, well, if my experience represents the norm, you'll therefore spend a great deal of time wandering around and around the different buildings of the game, not able to get any further and trying to work out exactly what you've missed. When the solution presents itself (or, more likely, after you've ripped off the VR helmet, wrenched out the earphones, and got the answer from the Internet!), you'll either find you can take a breather to buy additional weaponry or that you're faced with a "Big Boss Fight". The big bosses here are heavily mutated humanoids who attack you with everything from chainsaws to a huge, fly-infested vagina. Yes, you read that last part right. I don't know what Freud would make of the character designers responsible for that inclusion...!
The graphics in the game are exquisite and the sound cues are as creepy as the scores of the horror movies that terrified you as a child. Literally being inside of the game and peering out through Ethan's eyes takes its terror factor to a whole new level. There are plenty of horror cliches inside of the game, and some genuinely spooky moments reminiscent of The Ring movies, particularly after the little girl is introduced about partway through. As I scurried from room to room down long, dark corridors, I could hear the growls of marauding 'mold' that were clearly not far away. And something I particularly liked was that, instead of strafing around corners, my more natural instincts took hold as I took cover behind walls, peering with just my head into the corridor ahead, checking whether it was indeed empty, before proceeding.
However, there were a few elements of the game I did find confusing. Firstly, you start the game with quite a limited inventory space. Carrying lots of bullets, keys, and guns can quickly eat it up so that attempting to pick up newly discovered objects yields only the result "You don't have enough space". You can junk items you're carrying - and, after a few hour's playing time, I hadn't discovered any obvious use for the mass of antique coins I was carrying and so junked them to free up space. Shortly afterwards, I found that, had I kept them, I would have been able to acquire some heavier weaponry. Ah well, live and learn.
Another odd element is that the game includes flashback scenes - and one Escape Room game. These take the form of videocassettes which, when played in one of the video recorders scattered around, introduce some fairly long scenes, some of which break the narrative that you have become familiar with. This is particularly acute towards the end of the game, which takes place on a large, sprawling, ship with five decks. Although you enter it as Ethan, playing a video not only shows you what happened to Mia; you are expected to play through the whole thing as Mia. It's not only a fair few hours' work, it feels like an almost entirely different game... and when I did finally complete it (bearing in mind I was playing it on and off for a few weeks), I'd almost forgotten that Mia was way back in time and a future version of Ethan was, presumably, standing simply watching it unfold on video cassette the whole time.
Finally - and here I must confess as to thinking this so trivial that I hesitate even to mention it - there are a few scenes in the game that aren't in VR mode. These are very brief and I suspect they are only programmed that way because otherwise it wouldn't be able to project a sense of the 'scope' of a large explosion upon the VR player's senses. When they occur, the action changes briefly to a large cinema-style screen. But when it happens, and it's only during cut-scenes of course, it's disconcerting.
Lest it seem that my review so far may lead you into thinking you'll be pottering around a spooky old house simply scratching your head for long periods, let me stress that I do think that the Resident Evil game itself generally does a good job of directing you in where to go and what to do. It took me about twelve game hours to play through the whole thing, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, although one which left me somewhat sweaty... As I said at the outset, it's not really a question of why you would want to play it. It's rather a question of why you wouldn't...! And the only real valid reasons would be: (a) if you don't like horror films or (b) if your neighbours are the type who might readily call the police when they hear you screaming!
That's because, overall, Resident Evil: Biohazard in VR mode is amazing. It's totally immersive and very, very frightening. Now I'll freely admit that this may be in large part simply because the whole concept is new. But that doesn't take away from the fact that it's one of the best games I've played this year. And hell, it's likely to be one of the best games I'll play in my whole life.
Yes, perhaps once you've played it, it might be a few years until you feel the need to play it again. And perhaps all of the additional weapons, easter eggs and configurable difficulty combinations won't be utilised by the average gamer. But I can't really mark it down for that because, if you buy it, it's certainly a game you'll never forget. You'll be talking about it to your children, and possibly even your grandchildren. And that's not something you can say of most games, right?