When Transference was first revealed there was a suitable amount of buzz generated by the names involved, as not only was this a VR thriller game being developed by Ubisoft, but Elijah Wood's film studio Spectrevision was also lending a helping hand. Now, just over a year after it was first revealed, we have the final product to try either - in the world of VR or via a TV screen. Getting ready for some chills and some thrills, we headed off into the world of Transference with our PSVR headset attached.
It's hard to say what Transference's world is exactly, but essentially you're thrown into a fragmented virtual space packed with memories that you have to piece together, some of which have been corrupted. You have to solve puzzles to uncorrupt the pieces and advance, and all of the action takes place in and around one family's apartment, with the story gradually unfolding as you find environmental clues, listen to the audio around you, and perhaps find some monsters lurking in the darkness too.
Even by the end it's not entirely clear what the story is, because it's kept exceedingly vague throughout, and we're guessing this is in order to leave the interpretation of events up to the player and the morals of the entire experience ambiguous, especially with regards to the actions of the father and his treatment of the family. Certain facts do become apparent as you progress, but mostly it's about piecing together as much or as little as you want from the experience, as well as examining the optional data logs you find.
We mentioned earlier on that it can be played either in VR or on the TV, and that's important because we found ourselves getting rather motion sick despite the comfort options available to us, so we switched around halfway through (normally we're fine with VR, so this was a little surprising). Of course, this will be down to personal preference and tweaking the settings for each user, but it's good that the option of non-VR is there. That said though, the length of time it's with us (hovering around the hour mark) means that it's definitely a VR title at heart, and if you go into it outside of a headset and expect a full-length AAA title, you'll be sorely disappointed.
Motion sickness aside, virtual reality is a good medium for this game because the whole story revolves around one man's desire to replicate consciousness in the virtual space. It's easy enough as well, only requiring you to pick up, interact with, and examine objects with very few buttons on the DualShock 4, but be warned: the developers aren't shy with jumpscares, and that's something to bear in mind when strapping on your headset.
Because of the simplicity of the controls the puzzles are never too complicated, and they usually require you to find an item and put it somewhere to push the story on, which is perhaps why the team slowed the walking pace to an almost unbearably slow speed so as to keep the game with us for a bit longer.
The environments are detailed though, although that obviously takes a knock when in the VR space. There's an oppressive darkness over the whole journey, and lighting is used to great effect, upping the tension when you walk into dimly lit corridors and rooms bathed in red light, illuminating the maniacal scrawls on the wallpaper. There's also a rather clever feature in which you use light switches to change the layout of the rooms and corridors a bit, allowing access to new areas in different periods of time to help you solve puzzles.
Another element we rather enjoyed was the use of FMV clips on computer screens, monitors and the like. They're used sparsely and with far less cringe-worthy action than we saw in the '90s, with most being video logs from the father. These do a good job of conveying narrative alongside the audio clips we're given, like unnerving whispers and snippets of conversations between the family, and help to increase the immersion in the world when you see real faces.
It's worth comparing Transference to Observer, because if you've played Bloober Team's horror game you'll recognise a lot of the same notes here, from the corrupted technology that blocks off access to the mysterious dark monsters that stalk the game. In fact, we felt Transference was a VR equivalent in what it was trying to do, especially with regards to the investigative gameplay, so if you liked Observer, it's worth checking this title out too.
After the credits rolled on Transference we couldn't help but feel a bit disappointed. Sure this is a VR game at heart, and they're often short, but this was with us for such a brief time and didn't require enough of us to get us really excited and involved. It's worth one quick run if you want an interesting VR experience with a few spooks and interesting use of FMV, but with very basic gameplay and a painfully slow walking pace, it might be more hassle than it's worth.