There are still a great many kinks to iron out for virtual-reality. It’s a developing technology that isn’t likely to meet its fullest potential anytime soon. The cost involved at a consumer level just doesn’t make it feasible. So, in situations like these, we make do.
PlayStation VR and its contemporaries, such as the Vive, are kicking down doors and giving us some deep, immersive examples of what can be done with the technology. Of course, as I discovered through Skyrim, it can sometimes sadly feel off-kilter as that lack of motion manages to stymy any sense that you’re there and present in a glorious, created space.
Two games I played at Ubisoft’s booth leads me to believe they’ve got a pretty good handle on what limits this technology and how to best work around it. Both running on HTC Vive I got to go hands-on with Transference, the eerie psychological romp with Elijah Wood’s name stamped on it, as well as Space Junkies. From its name, I expected some cute chibi outer space scavenging sim. Instead, I got a carefully crafted and high-octane arena shooter that lets you zip about in microgravity. They’re starkly different, though it has to be said they’re in the upper echelon of their respected genres.
Transference establishes its timeline-hopping rules very early, making it clear that a mere flick of a light switch will send you between the past and present as you aim to unravel the mystery of a traumatic event in the subject’s life. Oh, did we not mention that Transference places you inside the intercut memories of a man suffering from post traumatic stress disorder? It does, and it’s every bit as harrowing as that sounds. The developers avoided classing Transference as a horror title per se, preferring to dub it a thriller that’s best when you’re exploring and seeking out key items. Items of interest have a blue tint to them which helps the player along to the next revelation. Ushering in the experience is a totally trustworthy and convincing doctor type that ensures the player that the process is harmless and safe. Wish I remembered that as the snout of a shotgun was angled toward my face because I nearly slid straight off of my stool.
I can’t wait to see more of Transference, it’s certainly the most intriguing game I played at the show. It’s doused in mystery and looks to deliver on its promise of bridging the gap between film and gaming. Even if you’re not a VR adopter, it’s also releasing as a standard game on all consoles.
Space Junkies came next, which was a relief as my heart-rate had spiralled out of control with Transference.
I won’t lie, I’d never even heard of this game. It somehow had passed me by and, as I said earlier, based on its title, I thought it was going to be driftwood. I’m happy to confirm, I’m an idiot. Though it’s only coming to Vive and Oculus Touch, Space Junkies is crazy ambitious in its goal to create a fully realised sci-fi arena shooter where the player has full agency over their movements. The most incredible thing I learned was that the game has been developed in VR, allowing the team to carve out a more nuanced experience.
We were first initiated with a rib-tickling commencement speech, which, among other things, demonstrated both the game’s various hand gestures as well as the game’s top-drawer lighting effects. This was demonstrated by shining hand puppets onto a nearby wall. It’s a small touch, but it’s quality.
We played a two-on-two match as I found myself pitted against one of the game’s developers and another of my fellow journalists. The odds were against us, but due to the game’s yet-to-be tweaked weapon balancing, my teammate Andreas (whose heroics minstrels will write songs about) turned the tide of the match with a bad ass railgun. Despite my initial fears, locomotion within Space Junkies didn’t once turn my stomach, which the developer claimed was due to the intended, compact posture players find themselves in. It’s just a super clever design and while larger battles catering for a larger number of gamers is the hopeful end goal, Space Junkies is still a whole ton of fun.
Both Transference and Space Junkies release in 2018.