Virtual Reality is the fastest-growing technology in gaming, as was evident with the VR saturation of E3 in June and San Diego Comic-Con this week. Due to the immersive nature of VR, it's perfect for creating an alternate reality that is both believable and all-encompassing. As a result, horror games seem to be a natural fit, and both Resident Evil 7 and Paranormal Activity: The Lost Soul had playable demos at Comic-Con. One game left a lasting impression on me while the other was rather forgettable.
Paranormal Activity: The Lost Soul
Up first is Paranormal Activity: The Lost Soul. I was told that this game is the official continuation of the popular movie series and takes place in a large, multi-story house. The demo starts off in the dining room filled with items like a dining table, chairs, and a dresser with items on it. I have virtual hands that I control using dual controllers. Clicking on the trigger button lets me open and close each hand, and there's a directional pad that lets me move forward and backwards but not side to side. Pressing left and right on the D-pad accesses the inventory, but it wasn't used in the demo.
This VR experience is very linear. Even though I was free to explore, game events are only triggered when I move to certain areas. Most of the doors were closed and cannot be opened, which severely limited my freedom. This reminds me of old-school linear games where my only real path is the one the developers created. On the other hand, I did enjoy the freedom to walk around and interact with the environment in certain areas. Is it odd that I actually enjoyed picking up objects and throwing them around or placing them on top of other objects?
Anyway, I walked to the bedroom and grabbed a battery for my flashlight and fired it up. Then I made my way back to the hall and as I was walking towards the dining room, I heard a voice say, “Behind you.” When I turned around, there was nothing, but when I turned back, the chairs had been moved on top of the table. That was cool.
Soon afterwards, a scary-looking ethereal figure appeared for an instant and then vanished. At another point in the demo, a little girl ran down the stairs to warn me that “she's coming” before running back up. When I walked down another hall towards a different set of steps, a dresser was tossed at me and blocked my path. When I turned around, a scary-looking ethereal ghost lunged at me and the demo ended.
Resident Evil 7
As for Resident Evil 7, I was allowed to play the “Kitchen” tech demo that was the precursor to the E3 demo. It starts off with me sitting in the kitchen of a run-down house that is rendered in great detail, right down to dirty dishes and gritty hardwood floorboards. An unconscious man on the ground wakes up, grabs a knife, and starts to cut through the material that's binding my hands together.
Out of nowhere, an extremely creepy female humanoid creature appears and silently sneaks up behind him. Apparently, I'm also gagged and my feet are tied because all I can do is helplessly watch him get attacked and then stabbed through the back with his own knife. How gruesome.
Then the creature drags him into another room, from which I hear some gnarly cutting sounds. And suddenly, his head is tossed into the room, bounces off the wall, and lands at my feet. All I can hear is the sound of the creature moving around, but I cannot do anything besides struggle to get free. The sound moves around to my backside, and her hands soon grab my face from behind. I see her raise the knife into the air to strike me, and then the demo ended.
While both games are both in the horror genre, they incorporated different factors to induce fear. Just like the movies, Paranormal Activity: The Lost Soul mostly relies on jump-scares to startle players and get their hearts racing. While this is effective for many people (I literally heard screams from other players), I didn't find it to be very scary. However, I did enjoy the creepy feeling I got when things moved around on their own and when the little girl warned me about the poltergeist. I'm sure that fans of the movies will enjoy playing the game, but I think that both the sound and the VR aspect were underutilized. Due to the reliance on jump scares, this is also a game that has no replay value.
RE7 was a completely different experience. Even though I couldn't do much more than sit there and struggle to get free, I enjoyed this demo much more. For starters, the visuals and sound effects are much higher quality than PA: TLS, which helped to immerse me in this horror fantasy. It's hard to describe the feeling of dread I had when I knew the creature was in another room planning to do something to me, but all I could do was listen and wait. In addition, I was really creeped out by the scary creature in RE7, but the ghost in PA: TLS was just a typical floating woman in white lunging at me. It was more laughable than scary.
It's not surprising that RE7 comes out victorious in this VR horror-show smackdown. After all, Capcom has hand much more time to cultivate their series and figure out how to scare gamers than newcomers VRWERX. It seems like RE7 is created for core gamers while PA: TLS is geared more towards casual gamers. Nevertheless, they're both good stepping stones for VR horror, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what developers do next. After playing both demos, I should have some "interesting" dreams tonight…