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Since its blockbuster release in 2005, Resident Evil 4 has found its way to countless platforms over the years. Its legacy as one of the finest games ever made is absolute, with developer Capcom keeping Leon Kennedy’s battle against hordes of mutants relevant for over 15 years. From its origin on Nintendo’s Gamecube, to polished up versions for recent consoles and even scaled-back highlight reels for mobile phones.
Its latest guise is the survival horror’s most notable departure yet. Set to arrive later this year on Facebook’s increasingly popular Oculus Quest 2 virtual reality headset, Resident Evil 4 VR turns the action first-person for a title that redefined the third-person action game. A significant and potentially transformative switch that, interestingly, came from Oculus Studios rather than Capcom itself.
“It was a strong request from Facebook,” says Capcom’s long-serving Resident Evil producer Masachika Kawata of Resident Evil 4 VR’s genesis. “The title was initially made from a third-person perspective, so we anticipated it would have a lot of difficulties and hurdles. Facebook loved the original game. And if they had not been so passionate, enthusiastic, and up for the challenge, Capcom may not have collaborated in this project.”
The game is being co-developed by Armature, a Texan studio that has worked on Fortnite and previous Oculus Quest game Sports Scramble. Capcom itself has dabbled in virtual reality for Resident Evil before too. The entirety of Resident Evil 7 is playable in virtual reality on PlayStation’s PSVR, while that game’s terrifying demo, The Kitchen, was also experienced through a headset. More broadly the series’ traditional roots have evolved from a fixed-camera, to Resident Evil 4’s third-person action, to the first-person-perspective in Resident Evil 7 and the upcoming Resident Evil Village. Each shift has found notable success.
However, despite the fact that this is a retooling of a 2005 game, it is the first Resident Evil to be developed with VR primarily in mind. Players will be able to dual-wield weapons, move during combat (a previous no-no for Resi 4, with enemy attack patterns altered to account for the change) and offer puzzles and exploration with more tactility.
“We are still in development, but the specifications of the cameras have been changed quite a bit,” says Kawata. “Various tests on third-person perspectives were conducted since the team at Facebook were still not satisfied. We went through multiple revisions, including gameplay, to make sure that the scope of the game fit VR standards. It’s gone through so many variations and changes that I don’t think it would be fair to call it a simple remastered title at this point.”
Resident Evil 4 VR has already been in development for a few years. While the game retains Leon’s search for the US President’s kidnapped daughter, the geometry of its environments have been changed to better suit the first-person perspective. Items and ammo are now physical objects you need to squirrel out of nooks and crannies. Guns need accurate manual reloading in the midst of a panicked fire-fight against the game’s zombie-like Ganados. Health and other HUD elements are now on a watch on your left wrist.
You can certainly see how the game’s tension-fuelled combat would play out brilliantly in VR. Desperately boarding up windows in a village cabin as waves of Ganados crash over the building, towering boss fights or the exquisitely terrifying breath of the Regeneradores slithering through your ears.
More challenging for the developers might be the game’s locomotion, as you move through the village and its surrounding castles in search of your quarry. Resident Evil 4 VR will have full analog control along with room-scale movement, allowing you to explore areas freely, plus comfort options for teleportation to avoid motion sickness. Virtual reality developers are still wrestling with how to comfortably provide in-depth games that are dozens of hours long.
“Developing a full VR game is extremely arduous,” admits Kawata. “But despite all the hurdles and challenges, it’s a challenge that can still be overcome through experience and tenacity. As VR hardware evolves, the gaming landscape will change. The potential is immense.”
Indeed, in recent months virtual reality has seen arguably its first real killer-app in Valve’s Half-Life: Alyx. There is a certain serendipity in the two famous series being at the forefront of ‘proper’ virtual reality games, with both sharing an eye for tension and excess. You may have played Resident Evil 4 before, so the argument goes, but not like this. Oculus and Capcom will both be hoping that this raiding of the past will be another step forward in the tentative VR revolution.