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SYFY WIRE Resident Evil

Resident Evil comes to virtual reality: How Oculus reinvented Capcom’s classic scares

The studio behind the RE4 remake explains how VR transforms Leon Kennedy's terror quest

By Benjamin Bullard
Resident Evil 4: Oculus

One of the most enduring horror classics in all of gaming has just gotten a new lease on life — of the parasite-slaying kind, of course — with this week’s Oculus Quest 2 launch of Resident Evil 4, completely retooled and reimagined as a first-person virtual reality experience.

Smack in the middle of this year’s 25th anniversary celebration of the wider Resident Evil franchise, Capcom teamed with Oculus and developer Armature Studio to immerse players in Leon Kennedy’s skin-crawling adventure in a way that’s never been done before...despite the immensely popular game’s years of re-releases and platform ports.

For the first time since RE4 stalked onto the Nintendo GameCube in 2005, players can finally see the world directly through Leon’s eyes in a first-person view — and they’re completely surrounded, in VR, by the full array of haunting sights and sounds that players could previously only imagine as existing beyond the edges of their 2D screens.

It’s a big change; one that comes with virtual reality touches both obvious and subtle — and bringing it all together to refresh a beloved game more than 15 years old was a passion project for the Armature team, as senior producer Tom Ivey recently explained to SYFY WIRE.

Filled with players who revere Capcom’s groundbreaking game the same way any fan would, Armature knew it was onto something special when the team first saw the effect their VR efforts had in transforming iconic moments from the original game — moments like Leon’s early encounter across the bridge in the hostile Spanish village.

“To be honest, for most of us  — and certainly myself — that moment came when we got the first village fight fully working with all of the new VR mechanics, and had our first pass of art and lighting integrated,” Ivey said. “Just seeing this world we were so familiar with and had such a love and respect for — seeing it presented in this completely new perspective, just being completely, completely, immersed in the experience. It was just — you know, you have these intense memories of playing the original game on GameCube, and that fight is such an integral part of that memory for me.”

Resident Evil 4: Oculus

He’s not joking. Asked to describe those “aha!” moments that show off VR’s potential to transform RE4, Ivey sounds like any longtime fan who’s seeing a familiar favorite, for the first time, through a fresh set of eyes.

“That introduction to a entirely fresh Resident Evil experience in the initial moments of the game, rushing around the village, freaking out as you run from building to building with all these villagers hunting you and feeling like you have no way out, only to barely squeeze through alive again and again…” he mused, evoking the same fear-soaked feeling millions of players have experienced in the game’s original third-person setup.

But, he added, the switch to VR took all of that to an entirely different level. “Now here we were, truly inside that world in this whole new way, looking around at this awesome environment, and seeing the crowd of Ganados with their arms outstretched coming after you, and suddenly you’re pulling your gun off your hip and making an amazing shot like some kind of super soldier, dodging an axe that’s flying past your head,” he explained.

“And then you hear that sound — that particularly terrifying sound of a chainsaw revving up — and you turn to look over your shoulder and he’s right there, and your heart just leaps up in your chest and you lose all your cool and you’re dashing around the village again, just like all those years ago, giddy and laughing but also scared out of your mind, and realizing how, because of this new perspective and all the work the team put in, it feels even more intense and amazing than before. It was a defining moment, like ‘I can’t believe we get to do this! This is going to be so awesome!’”

Resident Evil 4: Oculus

RE4’s village set piece is meant to be a major head-turner, whether you’re playing in traditional 2D or in VR. But the chance to remake the game in virtual reality also gave Armature the chance to rethink a lot of RE4’s smaller, more subtle touches.

True 3D immersion means more than just being surrounded by a massive, malevolent horror atmosphere, explained Ivey: It’s also about tons of smaller, quality-of-life details that build out the idea that you’re really walking through this haunted world as Leon Kennedy — a guy with a limited bag of precious survival gear and an ammo-starved pistol on his hip.

“Items and weapons have been re-engineered to become physical objects that players can interact with so that you can pick up things like ammo, keys, and treasures, as well as load, aim, and fire weapons in VR,” Ivey explained.

“You’ll also be able to switch weapons by grabbing them off of your body instead of going into a menu, and you can wield separate weapons with each hand. A ton of effort has gone into making weapon interactions smooth, satisfying, and responsive, including two-handed weapons like shotguns and rifles. Even RE4’s famous menu is no longer a pause’s an interactive tool.”

Among eight main games and countless remakes, spinoffs, and re-releases, Resident Evil 4 remains for many fans the definitive Resident Evil experience. It’s also a title that, to this day, gets its fair share of mentions in the never-ending conversation surrounding the greatest games of all time. If you’re new to the franchise, the VR remake is an ideal place to start…especially if you’re on the Halloween hunt for a full-on terror spree that’s late-October timely.

Resident Evil 4 is available now as an exclusive virtual reality experience on the Oculus Quest 2.