Here They Lie is certainly one to look out for, with indie developer Tangentlemen demonstrating the true promise of VR.
One of the main difficulties with creating proper VR experiences is movement. Games get around this problem very differently, but most of the games we've seen so far get rid of movement all together. Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, some of the mini-games in PlayStation VR Worlds and even Job Simulator all allow you the freedom to move your head and your arms, but restricts character movement. When some of the finest designers in the world consider this a design issue, you have to take it seriously.
Cue the indie developer Tangentlemen and their PlayStation VR launch title, Here They Lie. We recently visited Sony's PlayStation VR Event to try out some of the games you'll be able to purchase and play around the launch of the headset on October 13, and while the game itself is atmospheric, spine-tingling and genuinely scary, it does present a viable solution to movement so obvious that it's baffling that more games aren't utilising the same control scheme.
It's very simple. You have a controller in your hand as you normally would, and move your head to navigate. In the center of your vision is a small reticule, and that's where your character points the flashlight. As you press the left stick forward, the character effortlessly travels towards the direction of the reticule. If you somehow need a movement reset, flicking the right stick in a given direction will move you a couple of centimetres. This relatively simple approach creates very cinematic movement, and never feels out of place or jarring. It's actually very natural, although not realistic, as you would usually be able to look in a different direction than in the one you're walking, but as a solution to a huge design problem which plagues many VR titles, Here They Lie keeps you in the experience.
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This level of immersion only makes the post-apocalyptic dreamy world even more horrifying and interesting. There's a whiff of abandoned London subway, but it's dilapidated, cold, a remnant of a civilisation that's been lost. It's filled with horrors, some supernatural, others relatively straightforward, and it's this mix that keeps the player in the zone.
Character movement is slow, the music is dark and brooding, and all you hear in the rounded subway tunnels are distant screams and far away footsteps. Occasionally you'll witness supernatural events, leading the player to wonder whether this is a vision or dream. A staircase leading down will suddenly elongate, you'll look down to see the floor's made of blood or motifs in framed paintings change shape. It's never scary in that immediate sense, but it's atmospheric like no other VR title that we've tried so far, and you constantly feel exposed.
Apart from the supernatural threats, there are certainly some very real enemies to contend with. These appear to be human, but with animal heads. In the section we played, a man with a pig's head haunted the subway halls, sometimes observing from the far end of a room, standing completely still, and other times lunging into an attack, hitting us over and over with a lead pipe.
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This can cause a death scenario, but the first time a death state was induced, it didn't end there. Instead we spawned into the blackness, where we waited anxiously, until a sort of portal was constructed before us with which we could re-enter. We did not, however, re-enter at the same place. Whether this is a part of the design, or simply to keep the player within the confines of a certain area is unknown, but one thing is clear: the mix between the otherworldly state of the subways we explored and the constant presence of the pig-headed man was terrifying, but it kept us interested in wanting to understand more about this dreamy world.
Imagine Twin Peaks' Black Lodge, only grey and more brutal. It's almost hallucinogenic.
However, what Here They Lie crucially proved was that a VR game like this, which is both heavy on the senses and tough on the mind, can keep you interested for more than 20 minutes. The other scary game on display at the event, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, is a glorified tech demo with not much to offer, but Here They Lie could potentially be a "real" game, and we'd be happy to continue our journey beyond the dilapidated subway, and learn more about the terrifying, broken world.
Paradoxically, it was not one of Sony's internal studios that proved the quality of a full VR gaming experience during the event, it was the small studio, Tangentlemen, that showed us that "real" gaming experiences can be found inside a virtual reality headset. It has now become the game we're most excited about for PlayStation VR on October 13.