Later this week, owners of Resident Evil 4 and PS VR2 will be able to experience the survival horror’s VR Mode for no additional cost. Launching December 8, this DLC will allow players to step into Leon S. Kennedy’s shoes and experience the entire main story campaign in VR for the ultimate immersive experience. (And for PS VR2 owners yet to play RE4, a free demo drops the same day.)
To celebrate the release and learn more about the adaptation to PS VR2, we sat down to chat with Producer Masato Kumazawa and Director Keisuke Yamakawa, who brought RE4 VR Mode to life.
(Left) Producer Masato Kumazawa and (Right), Director Keisuke Yamakawa
Leveraging past experiences to encapsulate the thrill of Resident Evil 4 in VR
PlayStation Blog: Did you have VR Mode in mind when developing Resident Evil 4? When exactly did the development for VR Mode start?
Kumazawa: We announced the main PS5 version of Resident Evil 4 in June of last year, and a plan for VR Mode was already in motion back then. The actual development of VR Mode began early this year, soon after RE4 went gold. We completed it in less than a year, so we were on a very tight schedule. Nonetheless, we fully committed ourselves to bringing the thrill of RE4 to VR.
Yamakawa: Although we had to make some tough choices, we made sure to include all the essential elements that we felt were indispensable.
PSB: How did the development process of VR Modes for Resident Evil 7 and Resident Evil Village influence VR Mode for RE4?
Yamakawa: I also worked on VR Mode for RE7, and the Director who worked on VR Mode for RE Village aided us during the initial phases of development of RE4 VR Mode. I believe that the knowledge and expertise we’ve gained about VR over the years were put to good use in this game.
Kumazawa: Capcom has its own proprietary game engine called the RE Engine, and VR Modes for RE7 and RE Village were developed using this engine. Having that experience helped the development of VR mode for RE4 go more smoothly.
Yamakawa: Since VR Mode for RE Village was also compatible with PS VR2, we already knew what issues may stem from adapting to VR, as well as how the PlayStation VR2 Sense controllers can be best used for gun and UI mechanics. I think having this foundation allowed us to develop VR Mode for RE4 in less than a year and made it possible for us to achieve the final product.
For example, in RE Village, laser pointers that came out of both hands were used to navigate the UI. However, this caused a glitch where two items on the menu could be selected at the same time. So, in VR Mode for RE4, we made sure the laser pointer only came out of your dominant hand.
Kumazawa: Since the early stages of production, we asked for a lot of favors and may have made some unreasonable requests to the development team, so that we didn’t keep players waiting for too long after the release of RE4 [laughter].
PSB: Did you make any changes to Resident Evil 4 VR Mode based on feedback from players who experienced VR Mode on Resident Evil 7 and Resident Evil Village?
Yamakawa: Resident Evil Village revolved around the concept of playing as Ethan Winters, who was an ordinary man that got caught up in a chain of very unfortunate and horrific events. However, RE4 centers on Leon, an agent who works directly under the President, so the approach and experience for the players are very different between the two VR Modes. This isn’t necessarily a direct reflection of user feedback, but because Leon is a professional agent, we put an emphasis on incorporating actions that felt cool and stylish, such as parrying with a knife, melee combat, and one-handed shotgun pumps.
Kumazawa: Personally, I would really like players to experience the knife fight with Krauser. This sequence features an intense battle focused on parrying, and I highly recommend players try it out.
Yamakawa: In VR Mode, players can engage Krauser with a knife in both hands, which actually isn’t possible in the main game; you’re able to use both hands at the same time – only in VR Mode. This opened up new possibilities for us, and we made sure to incorporate mechanics and actions that leveraged this ability throughout the game as much as possible.
How the team took advantage of unique PlayStation VR2 features
PSB: How did you leverage unique PlayStation VR2 features like eye-tracking and headset vibration in Resident Evil 4 VR Mode?
Yamakawa: I really enjoy the adaptive triggers on the PlayStation VR2 Sense controller. In RE4, you have a variety of guns at your disposal. For example, there are two types of revolvers available, and the triggers will feel different between the single action and double action guns. If you like replica guns, I think you’ll be able to tell the difference and be quite surprised.
Kumazawa: You’ll spot a lot of hidden details like that in the guns in this game, so if you’re into things like that, I encourage you to keep an eye out.
Yamakawa: Also, when something happens that affects the environment, like explosives going off or the wind blowing, you can feel vibrations through the headset feedback. I think you’ll be quite shocked, especially when you get caught in an explosive trap. The headset also subtly vibrates when you’re riding a minecart or jet ski, which I think adds to the sense of realism.
3D audio is another key element. The sound engineer on the development team was very particular about it and came up with all kinds of great ideas without me even asking. We even re-recorded all the gun sound effects for VR Mode. We put a lot of effort into 3D audio, so you’ll be able to detect enemy positions from the sounds they make, and you can hear the gun clicking right in the palm of your hands when you’re tinkering with it.
PSB: Are there any improvements or enhancements compared to Resident Evil Village VR Mode, which also supported PS VR2?
Yamakawa: Definitely the attention to detail that went into the guns. We were particular about this in VR Mode for RE Village, but we wanted to achieve something that wasn’t possible back then.
Even if it wasn’t directly related to gameplay, we wanted to make the handling of guns feel as realistic as possible. So in RE4, players can hold or use guns in ways that weren’t possible in RE Village. For example, in RE Village, you couldn’t return a weapon to its original location or inventory slot after it was removed. So, if you let go of a gun or knife to place it back in its original place, it would just fall to the ground. However, in RE4 VR mode, you can place your weapons directly back into your inventory slot. And if you drop a weapon on the ground, it just takes a little longer for the weapon to return to your inventory. As an added bonus for knives, its durability will recover a little if you manually sheath it back. I think the act of returning a weapon to its holster adds to the experience of playing as Leon in VR, so I recommend players get in the habit of doing that.
Also, in VR Mode for RE4, you can shoot guns while crouching. There are sections of the game where you can shoot at enemies from positions that weren’t possible in the regular, non-VR mode, so it may be interesting to scout for opportunities like that.
Kumazawa: The main character of RE Village was a regular nobody called Ethan Winters, who had to survive a hellish nightmare where he was constantly near the brink of death. But this time, the main character is a seasoned agent who is capable of wielding all sorts of weapons to help him get through tough situations.
Yamakawa: One of the taglines for RE4 was “Cheat Death and Thrill in Conquer” and I feel like VR mode encapsulates this really well. If you own both RE Village and RE4, I think it would be interesting to compare the different concepts and approaches of the two games.
The change in perspective intensifies the tension of combat and the sense of terror
PSB: The regular non-VR mode is in a third-person perspective, which positions the player behind the character, while VR Mode drops the player into a fully immersive first-person view. How did this change in perspective impact the development of VR Mode and the overall gameplay experience? Were there any challenges?
Yamakawa: In order to shift the game from a third-person perspective to first-person, we completely reworked the system and mechanics related to weapons and character movements. However, we didn’t touch any of the content of the game itself. The biggest difference is that in the regular third-person mode, you control Leon with a controller, but in first-person VR Mode, you “are” Leon. In RE Village, the regular non-VR mode was also in first-person, so you were able to step into Ethan’s shoes in both modes. The regular non-VR RE4 was more about controlling Leon and making him do all the cool moves, while in VR, the players have to fully embody Leon and perform his stylish actions themselves.
Kumazawa: Since Resident Evil is a survival horror game, the first-person perspective brings the player closer to the enemy. The tension of combat sequences and the sense of terror from the horror scenes are much more intense.
One of the most exciting aspects of VR is being able to see how large in-game objects or characters are in comparison to yourself. I was shocked by how tall Lady Dimitrescu was in VR Mode for RE Village. I think we’re all excited to face bosses like El Gigante and Village Chief Bitores Méndez in VR Mode for RE4.
Kumazawa: Yes, El Gigante grabs you during one of the battles, and you’ll be able to experience that in first-person.
Yamakawa: When you parry a chainsaw attack, you’ll see the sparks fly right in front of your eyes as your knife connects with the chainsaw blade, which is also a very intense experience. However, some parts of the game can be switched to third-person, like moments when El Gigante grabs you. If you find the first-person perspective a little dizzying, feel free to switch perspectives.
This is also a small detail, but the camera for the first-person perspective is set a little lower than Leon’s actual eye level. If the camera is at the same eye level as Leon – who is quite tall himself – the Ganados (enemy villagers) will appear smaller. The Ganados approach and attack Leon from a low, forward posture, so if you get too close to them, you end up looking down at them which strips away the intensity. For this reason, we made some modifications, like deliberately lowering the camera, to make VR overall a more dramatic and impactful experience.
PSB: What were some of your favorite gameplay moments or discoveries you made during development of VR Mode?
Yamakawa: One discovery was the size of all the locations and how three-dimensional they were. I also worked on the main game so I have played the regular mode countless times, but I discovered many new things when playing in VR, like hidden details or objects in certain locations. I hope everyone who plays the game again in VR will make similar new discoveries like I did. I especially enjoyed riding the mine cart and other vehicles – so much so that I felt like that could be spun off into its own separate game. In the regular mode, there’s a section where you need to balance the mine cart by holding down the analog stick, but in RE4 VR mode, you can actually move your body to balance the cart.
PSB: In the regular mode, there were sections where you could dodge enemy attacks by using the crouch button. Can you do the same by moving your body in VR Mode?
Yamakawa: Yes, the game has two types of controls for crouching: using the controller buttons or actual body movement. Players who want to play while sitting can use the button controls like you do in the regular non-VR mode. Others who want a unique VR experience can choose to move their bodies in order to crouch, by toggling that option in Settings. And even if that option is turned on, you can still use your controller buttons at any time.
Kumazawa: Whether you want to play sitting or standing, the game’s settings can be modified to suit different playstyles, including how you crouch. We put a lot of effort into making the game easy to play.
PSB: Are there any other elements that are different between the regular mode and VR Mode?
Kumazawa: Although not all, some puzzles have been re-designed for a more intuitive interaction.
Yamakawa: Dial puzzles can be rotated with both hands at the same time to match the patterns, and for puzzles that require you to rotate and insert cubes at different angles, you can actually hold and spin the cubes in your hands. We made sure to implement features that players will expect from a VR game.
There is also a mode for viewing figurines that you’ve picked up along your way, and in VR, you can view the figurines in their actual size. For example, in VR mode you are Leon himself so you don’t usually have a chance to look at him closely, but in the figurine viewing mode, you can see his actual size up close. Bonus elements like these are sprinkled throughout the game, so we hope players find them and enjoy them as well.
Lowering the barrier to convey the fun of VR to as many players as possible
PSB: Like RE Village VR Mode, it is astounding that such a robust DLC is available for free.
Kumazawa: The entire development team believes that it’s never too late to start building knowledge and development experience for VR, especially when there’s a possibility for VR games to become even more mainstream. It is also challenging to showcase the fun of VR games unless they are easily accessible to the players.
Yamakawa: I think there is still a high hurdle for playing games in VR, but when you actually wear the headset and dive into a game, you’ll experience something special that is simply not possible in regular games. That’s why it’s important to lower the barrier so more players can experience the sense of immersion that is only possible in VR.
PSB: Lastly, do you have any words for gamers who are looking forward to the RE4 VR Mode?
Yamakawa: The tagline “Cheat Death and Thrill in Conquer” is something we always kept in mind when developing the main RE4 game, and in this VR mode, you can experience this with your own body and senses. We hope that many players will pick up the DLC and enjoy the game in VR.
Kumazawa: I think VR mode will be a completely different experience, even for those who have already played RE4. And for those who have not yet played RE4, we are so excited for you to experience RE4 for the first time in VR. We are really proud of what we achieved in VR Mode and cannot wait for everyone to experience it.