Resident Evil Village’s first demo, titled Maiden, is now live — and it’s quite a teaser. The PlayStation 5 exclusive is no more than 15 minutes long and gives just a small taste of the survival horror game’s ornate castle and mysterious monsters.
While the quick demo serves as a tantalizing tease for one of the year’s biggest games, it’s even more effective as a showcase for one of the PlayStation 5’s less-discussed features: 3D audio.
Leading up to the PS5’s launch, Sony hyped up the system’s Tempest 3D Audio Tech as one of the console’s defining features. The in-house engine allows sound to come from a much wider range of sources. That means players can hear more specific directionality in games like Spider-Man: Miles Morales, with noises sounding like they are coming from above, below, and behind players.
When the PS5 finally launched in November, 3D audio played second banana to the console’s more immediate innovations. The DualSense controller’s haptic feedback and adaptive triggers were the star of the show right out the gate. That was due in large part to Astro’s Playroom, a free game that comes with the system and functions as a tech demo for the controller. By comparison, 3D audio was much less available to players at launch, as only a handful of launch games supported it. It also requires that players use headphones to hear the difference. Sony notes that all stereo headsets take advantage of the effect, though the website for its Pulse 3D headset says the audio device is “specifically tuned to deliver 3D audio.”
While there hasn’t yet been a compelling reason to buy Sony’s $100 Pulse headset, Maiden makes the best case for the technology so far. Early in the demo’s opening sequence, the player must escape a dingy dungeon. While it starts off normally with key hunting, the situation quickly gets supernatural. Some sort of invisible specter starts causing a ruckus in the room, knocking things over and generally clattering around the claustrophobic space.
Listening through a standard TV soundbar, the moment doesn’t sound that out of the ordinary. The spooky bumps in the night sound about on par with what I’ve come to expect from games like Resident Evil 7. I tensed up and jumped at some loud noises, but that’s par for the course.
It’s a completely different sequence through a compatible headset. The sound design is chaotic, with loud bangs coming from every direction. A wooden rack falls to my right, causing me to instinctively swing a hard right on my control stick to pinpoint the source. As I turn my field of vision, I suddenly hear shuffling behind my head, causing me to swing another 180 degrees. The noises become overwhelming as I desperately try to scan the room for whatever’s making them, snapping to every direction.
Unable to find the source, I make a beeline for the exit and slowly start picking a lock. All the while, I hear spectral wailing right at my back, as if something is leaning over my shoulder to growl in my ear. Certain something’s about to kill me, I get the door open and book it out of the room as fast as possible. It’s a moment that feels physical in the way that only VR really captures.
Reactions like that are present throughout the demo. At one point, a moment of quiet is interrupted as the mysterious Lady Dimitrescu says, “I’m watching you.” With a normal audio setup, her voice just awkwardly hangs in the air around where one would expect to hear voice-over in a sound mix. With headphones, her voice comes from directly over the player’s shoulder, as if she’s been following you this entire time. I instinctively snapped around only to find an empty staircase. Knowing exactly where a sound is coming from but not being able to catch it is almost scarier than actually finding the source.
Considering how much audio plays a role in the demo, it’s unsurprising that Maiden is exclusive to PlayStation 5. Other consoles will get a completely separate demo sometime closer to Resident Evil Village’s May 7 launch. In some way, Maiden feels like a tech demo for 3D audio in the same way that Astro’s Playroom showcases the DualSense.
Resident Evil Village is set to utilize Sony’s 3D audio on PlayStation 5, and that fact is more exciting than ever. After playing through Maiden, I’m left feeling convinced that PS5 will be the ideal way to experience Village. Between 3D audio and haptic feedback, the demo promises a more immersive horror experience that could up the ante when it comes to digital terror.
Just don’t check how much it’ll cost to find a pair of headphones that take full advantage of it, unless you want the biggest jump scare of all.
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