Youre trapped in a colourful mansion with a man who doesnt literally exist and a Portal-style gravity gun. What could possibly go wrong?
If youve never tried it before, your maiden voyage in VR is astonishing. Like the first time you saw a Mega Drive after years of 8-bit gaming, or playing Ridge Racer on your own TV after a lifetime of sprites, virtual reality feels like a whiff of the future. And once youve tried it the first thing you want is more. That has meant a drive to get games on the market, which has quickly produced, on PlayStation VR especially, a large catalogue of titles. The problem is that developers are still figuring out what to do with their newfound powers.
Our review of Astro Bot later today shows a game that takes advantage of VR in some very clever and unexpected ways, but all too many VR games are just wave shooters or walking simulators. Torn fits firmly in the walking sim category, taking you on a tour of a mansion formerly owned by mad scientist-type Laurence Talbot. When you meet him hes no longer in human form, but is instead a spark of energy that hovers around the place offering up clues and speaking in a mock English accent that unintentionally sounds a lot like Stewie from Family Guy.
Youre a vlogger called Katherine, whos determined to record the peculiar goings-on for her channel and goes about filming and narrating everything you find. That involves exploring the mansion, solving puzzles and spending the interludes speaking to Talbot, whose memories you gradually return to him. Its reasonably effective and the plot, while minimal, soon reveals more about the good doctor, his wife, and the stacks of ageing Russian electronics youll find in every room.
The house itself is clearly not quite what it seems and the bundles of cables and pipes bursting through floors and ceilings are only the start. Theres also what appears to be poltergeist activity – paintings twitch, books fly off shelves, furniture shifts about uneasily – but it doesnt feel spooky so much as playful. Talbots chivvying and frequently repeated audio loops of encouragement make it all seem pretty friendly, even if it does spin out its mystery for as long as it possibly can.
The meat of the game is a series of elaborate room-scale puzzles, which require you to complete electrical wiring diagrams by moving pieces of furniture to match components and activate pressure plates on floors, walls, and ceilings. Its a process that isnt difficult but is oddly satisfying. Clicking the right nodes into place and twisting them into position feels good, and while its not particularly challenging, it does at least give you something to do as you work out what on Earths going on.
To solve puzzles, your primary tool in the game looks like Doctor Whos sonic screwdriver and behaves like the gravity gun in Portal: lifting objects into the air, then pushing, pulling and rotating them. Its surprisingly intuitive and also lets you work out any moments of frustration by hurling sofas and armchairs around the room. Whats far less intuitive is the locomotion system.
Forgetting all Skyrims good work in first person motion and control, Torn instead forces you to use step rather than smooth turning, which immediately reduces the sense of immersion. It also defaults to a sub-glacial walking pace, which even with the run button held down makes you drift about as though walking through waist-high mud. But it gets worse.
Unaccountably theres no way to reverse, so although youll regularly find yourself needing to approach objects, if you happen to get too close or misalign yourself theres a painstaking process you need to go through. At the most comfortable 30 degree step turn rate, itll take you six button presses to lurch round 180 degrees. You then lumber forwards at your comatose doddering pace, before another six twitches gets you facing your objective again. Dont even think about what happens when, in your haste just to get on with the game, you get too close again. Its the stuff of aneurisms.
Despite its glue-like walking speed and facepalming control scheme, there are some nice touches that make the process more than bearable, from the Commodore 64s youll find scattered amongst the musty old technology to the beauty of the scenery. The house blends colourful faux-Victoriana with 20th century technology and looks like a Disney Imagineers vision of what Brunels house would have looked like. It may be a bit blurry, but its also pretty and atmospheric, making your wanderings that much more pleasurable.
Torn is a long way from being revolutionary and its controls never feel right, but the cheerful ambience, passable voice-acting, and satisfying-but-simple puzzles make it a pleasing jaunt – even in moments of aimless wandering trying to work out which door youve missed. Theres undoubtedly a lot more to be done in VR, but this is an agreeable way of passing the time while youre waiting.
In Short: A walking simulator set in a colourful, rather than spooky, mansion with rewarding puzzles, a cheerful atmosphere, and a locomotion system from the seventh circle of Hell.
Pros: Beautiful scenery, puzzles that feel good to solve, and a gently expanding mystery to investigate at your own pace.
Cons: Simply moving around is a mildly frustrating chore, theres no particular challenge, and the walking simulator genre is in danger of being overdone in VR.
Formats: PlayStation VR (version tested), Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive
Developer: Aspyr and Perp Games
Release Date: 28th September 2018
Age Rating: 12
By Nick Gillet
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