Project Morpheus is an upcoming virtual reality headset for the PlayStation 4. Like the Oculus Rift and SteamVR, it transports the player inside the game world with every head movement faithfully recreated onscreen. At E3 2015, we tried out a haunted house game called The Kitchen that takes its cues from grueling survival horror movies like The Evil Dead. It was hands down the most disturbing gaming experience of my life. It also convinced me that virtual reality is the future of home entertainment.
The Kitchen is a virtual-reality tech demo from the demented minds at Capcom. We were given a brief taste of the game at Sony's E3 booth, which was more than enough to get our heart pounding. Enduring more than five minutes of this game would probably be hazardous to people's health. [Note: We weren't permitted to take photos at the event and no screenshots have been released so you'll have to paint the images in your head.]
After sitting in a chair and donning the Morpheus headset, I was abruptly hurled into a nightmarish scenario. Now looking through the eyes of my avatar, I found myself tied to a chair in front of a tripod-mounted camera with a dead man lying directly in front of me. Was I in a snuff film? Was I a victim of the mob? I jerked forward in an attempt to break my bonds, which caused the tripod to tilt over and clatter to the floor. This wasn't a timed animation -- my physical movements in real life accurately affected objects in the game world.
I then turned my head from side to side to get a better sense of my surroundings. It didn't look good. I appeared to be in a severely dilapidated kitchen piled with filth and junk. The sense of abandonment in this place was palpable. Wherever I was, it was far away from any kind of help.
Suddenly, the corpse in front of me groaned and got to its feet. My immediate assumption was "zombie" which would have been unpleasant, if a bit predictable. But no. He was simply another terrified, wounded victim of whoever tied me up. Screaming that we had to get out of here, he picked up a machete and attempted to slice through my bound wrists. This time, the animation was preset, with my character's arms lifting of their own volition (my own hands were still in my lap).
This took me out of the moment a little, but before I had time to dwell on it, something truly horrible happened. Out of nowhere, a crazy-eyed demon witch leaped out of the shadows and proceeded to butcher my would-be savior in a violently gory manner. It was one of the most visceral sequences I've encountered in the video game medium -- a legit horror moment to rival anything from James Wan's cinematic oeuvre.
At one point during the murder sequence, the possessed killer decided to take some time out to torture me instead. She licked the knife she was brandishing, cackled inhumanly and shoved the blood-smeared blade into my leg. The fact I was inside the movie instead of watching it on a screen made it infinitely more terrifying. My brain actually triggered a spasm in my thigh as the knife went in.
After finally murdering my fellow captive, the demon dragged his corpse out of the room and into the shadows beyond. A few moments later, his decapitated head was tossed at my feet. Oh screw this shit. I now desperately wanted out of this game. But The Kitchen wasn't finished with me yet. Not by a long chalk.
Over the next few minutes, the demon continued taunting me relentlessly from the shadows, because that's what demons do. I could hear her scurrying all around the room including directly behind me and in the rafters above my head. While looking around desperately, I spotted the knife on the floor which must have been dropped during the previous scuffle. If I could somehow reach it with my foot...
It was at that moment that the worst part of the demo transpired. The demon's gnarled fingers slowly slid over my eyes from behind...and yanked my head back hard.
This was incredibly disconcerting. The vision in the headset tilted upwards which means my eyes were pointing in a completely different direction to the way I was facing. It was a deliberately disorientating effect that caused a huge rush of vertigo; probably the worst I've ever experienced. And with that, the game cut to black.
There is now no doubt in my mind that modern virtual reality is the real deal. Simply put, no other home entertainment experience provides this level of immersion. I've quaffed the VR kool-aid. Or maybe it was blood. In any event, this is definitely where the future of gaming lies and I'm excited to see more. When it comes to The Kitchen though, what has been seen cannot be unseen. Maybe I'll stick with one of the racing games instead.