DEC 07, 2021
Resident Evil 4 in VR shouldn’t work — but somehow it does
OCT 20, 2021
A VR adaptation with a reason to exist
I didn’t have stellar hopes going into Resident Evil 4’s virtual reality adaptation.
VR versions of non-VR games are often at best superfluous and at worst painful — sometimes literally if you’re prone to motion sickness. Resident Evil 7 supported VR to questionable effect in 2017. And Resident Evil 4 in VR, an Oculus Quest 2 version of Capcom’s 2005 GameCube game, makes a lot of tradeoffs that sound compromising on paper. But the weirdest part by far? It mostly works. Resident Evil 4’s VR version retools a horror classic with VR combat satisfying enough to make up for its myriad rough edges, producing something surprisingly fun.
Unlike Capcom’s recent Resident Evil 2 and 3 console remakes, which were heavily reimagined versions of their source material, RE4VR (technically simply named Resident Evil 4) is a nearly beat-for-beat copy of the original’s narrative, enemy encounters, and level layout. It’s got crisper textures and spatial audio upgrades, but if you’ve seen the game’s high-definition rerelease or the even more HD fan-made remaster, it’s not an extraordinary graphical overhaul. Instead, port developer Armature Studio has focused on translating a third-person console shooter into a first-person headset-based game.
More accurately, Armature is translating part of the game. The bulk of RE4VR’s gameplay turns your over-the-shoulder view of protagonist Leon Kennedy into a first-person experience with a pair of disembodied hands — wearing Leon’s trademark fingerless gloves, of course. The game’s heads-up display is a wristwatch with details like your health and ammo count, and the inventory menu is lightly revamped with a more 3D look. If you’ve played a single-player VR shooter like Half-Life: Alyx or Arizona Sunshine, you’ll probably find this mode familiar.
RESIDENT EVIL 4’S DESIGN PUTS THE MOST PROMISING ELEMENTS INTO VR AND CORDONS OFF THE REST
But Resident Evil 4 hasn’t been totally VR-ified. During cutscenes, the game throws you — virtual hands and all — into a black void to watch the action on a flat screen. (You know those dreams where you’re watching a person from the outside, but you also are that person? It’s sort of like that.) Many of these scenes originally had quicktime events that involved pressing buttons, and in RE4VR you’ll see a flat overlay telling you to shake your controllers or pull the triggers at those moments. Outside of cutscenes, kicking an enemy or pushing an object will also briefly shift your viewpoint to a third-person camera so you can see what Leon is doing.
The clunky mix of formats feels almost retro, but I think it’s the right choice. Armature effectively cordons off the parts of Resident Evil 4 that would be least compelling as first-person motion-controlled experiences, then puts its efforts toward building a VR shooting experience that’s smoother than many native VR shooters.
RE4VR’s combat is tactile and satisfying without being punishingly difficult or complicated. It uses the original’s familiar outlay of handguns, long guns, and a knife for close-range fighting. But in addition to selecting them from your inventory, you can map individual weapons onto different parts of your body, grabbing a chosen rifle or shotgun by reaching behind your back or a pistol by reaching to your side. You can also dual-wield weapons — which usually isn’t productive but enables specific scenarios like shooting your pistol at a zombie on your left while knifing one off a ladder to your right.
The system is natural and makes swapping between weapons — and assembling the right loadout — an integral part of fights. Physically slashing at boxes or zombies feels exactly right. The game ramps up tension by making you grab ammunition and feed it into guns, lending more interactivity to Resident Evil 4’s delightful reloading animations. What’s more, Resident Evil 4’s original levels are compact and don’t come off as designed for traversing at inhuman speeds, a common hazard for VR versions of non-VR games. RE4VR lets you pick between teleporting around and using an analog stick for free motion, but I much preferred the former — which more closely mimics the original’s cadence of running, stopping, and shooting zombies while stationary.
Armature’s careful design and the game’s source material set RE4VR apart from the Resident Evil 7 VR mode. Resident Evil 4 was already at the more action-oriented end of the franchise, and RE4VR adapts it to fit an established VR shooter formula instead of going for a grueling survival horror experience, which makes the game’s dozen-plus hours a lot less stressful. (I played the game’s HD version on PlayStation 4 a few months before this review, and I’m pretty sure this iteration is also far more generous with item and money drops.) It’s based on a substantially older game that the Oculus Quest 2 seems totally capable of rendering, while the PlayStation VR’s low resolution and muddy screen hamstrung Resident Evil 7’s VR mode.
Most importantly, RE4VR is promising a genuinely different experience — not just a VR retread of the same systems. It’s not a replacement for the flatscreen original, and if you’re absolutely a purist, the developers have removed a few (honestly cringeworthy and missable) lines from the cutscenes. If anything, it’s the kind of thing that’s great to play after you’ve worked through the game’s puzzles and boss strategies outside VR, so you can focus on the new elements.
IT’S AN EFFECTIVE VR SHOOTER, IF NOT A REVOLUTIONARY ONE
RE4VR doesn’t revolutionize VR shooters the way Resident Evil 4 transformed console games. There’s nothing as distinctive as Half-Life: Alyx’s gravity gloves, Phantom: Covert Ops’ kayak combat, or the obsessive gunophilia of Hot Dogs, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades. Features like firearm reloading, which can confer a sense of mastery in games like Alyx, are more like additional flavor than complex mechanics.
There are a few minor but legitimate misfires. A couple of the game’s already frustrating scripted sections, including its very last scene, become even less fun with motion controls that aren’t quite as intuitive as you’d hope. Miming the use of two-handed guns is a little bit awkward. In a more literal example, you can accidentally pull grenade pins while trying to put the grenades in your inventory, a fact I learned repeatedly the hard way.
Moments like these remind you that VR’s conventions are still in flux, and the fluidity of motion controls can also make them seem unreliable. But those exceptions notwithstanding, the game feels undeniably good. RE4VR is a new twist on the bizarre and atmospheric world of Resident Evil 4 and a solid addition to the still comparatively short list of robust headset-based shooters, as well as evidence that a VR adaptation doesn’t have to be seamless — it just has to find a core element that really works.
Resident Evil 4 for VR will be released October 21st exclusively for Oculus Quest 2. The game includes the Resident Evil 4 story mode; it does not include the Separate Ways, Assignment Ada, or Mercenaries add-ons.
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