When it comes to supporting VR, it takes a village
Virtual reality has been lauded as the future of gaming for some time. In 2021, however, it is a reality. PSVR has become a welcome success for Sony, surpassing five million units sold last January, and the Oculus Quests 2 has provided a relatively cheap access point for those eager to experience VR. Sony has even taken to its *checks notes* blog… to announce the next-gen iteration of their PSVR, showing that the entertainment giant still has confidence in the platform. Yet despite PSVR still having a future, there is a notable absence from its 2021 release calendar that has me concerned about the reductive variety in VR games that may well lay ahead.
That absence is Resident Evil Village, the sequel to the brilliantly terrifying Resident Evil Biohazard. Upon first purchasing my PSVR, I was thoroughly hooked on slicing boxes with lightsabers and doing my best Neo impression as I dodged bullets in slow motion. It was, and still is, a safe space for fun arcade-like games that could be picked up and played in short bursts – and titles such as Tetris Effect, Pistol Whip, and the referenced Superhot VR help that space thrive.
These were the kind of experiences I expected from VR, but my expectations and needs were completely upended when I experienced RE7. A mere two minutes into the game, I stood at the doorway of a dark and neglected building, too afraid to push through. I knew the door to the outside world would unavoidably slam behind me, but the very real darkness that would literally consume me as I entered the Baker Estate was terrifying. And I loved it.
Emerging victorious from the Baker Estate, I was ready for more. However, since Biohazard’s release, there has been an indisputable lack of these AAA immersive experiences, with Blood and Truth whetting the appetite, The Walking Dead Saints and Sinners providing intuitive motion controls and the inaccessible Half-Life Alyx teasing PSVR players around the world. Without many big-budgeted story experiences, I had yearned to return to that inescapable sense of dread that Biohazard elicits with the eventual release of Village. However, a mere three months from release there has been no word on whether the game will be playable in VR, and I’m starting to think it won’t be.
With large looming gothic castles, giant hammer-wielding monsters, and the fiendishly tall, mother of simps Lady Dimitrescu, Village seems tailor-made for the VR experience. Playing through the Maiden demo – which acts as a tease of the game’s setting – I couldn’t help but fantasise seeing the dingy dungeons seep their way into the lavish hallways of Dimitrescu castle before my very eyes in virtual reality. But while it may seem fit to VR, and there are a lot of games that do, the validity of making such a game for companies like Capcom and Sony comes into question.
Despite critical acclaim and an ample 1.25 million VR player count, Biohazard’s success may have just not been enough. Across its run, Biohazard sold 8.5 million units, meaning that only 15% of its player base accessed the VR experience. Looking ahead to Village, launching within a six-month window of a new console generation and murky PSVR compatibility issues with next-gen hardware – brought to light by the Hitman III VR dual download fiasco – could all be contributing factors to its absence. That with the now announced next-gen iteration of the PSVR still at least a year away, there may be too much going against Village to warrant its existence.
Nonetheless, whether a VR mode for Village is worth the hassle, is a worrying precursor of the future state of the VR games market. VR is in a constant uphill battle, trying to convince players to move past its money-barriers and potential space issues, and a variety in its content is key to winning that battle. For many players a half-hour session on Beat Saber or becoming the caped crusader for an hour in Batman: Arkham VR isn’t worth forgoing hundreds of hard-earned pounds.
Yet a full-length AAA experience like Village is a system seller and pushes VR beyond its capability as a fun gimmick. For VR to truly thrive, big companies must offer up AAA experiences so that while we can have fun, we can also be transported to new worlds, living through new stories. VR doesn’t just need Village; Village deserves VR.