This is a psychological horror and you can immediately see why this would work in a virtual reality world. There is intense claustrophobia in that headset that can heighten the effect of a game that plays tricks with your mind. The basic premise of the game is nothing exciting, as you are left to explore the scary Rickfford Mansion. You are left to explore the many mysteries within the mansion and your hope is that you maintain your sanity while you do this.
At its heart, this is a puzzle game. It is a little like an escape room but you are compelled to stay because you want to solve the enigmas that are inherent in the setting. It is a game that relies on the detail and interactivity with the environment, without those moments of combat that normally feature. This is a thriller and chiller rather than a shocker, so don’t walk into this experience expecting too many jump scares. The game plays on human psychology rather than any lavish set action sequences.
The vital details
Release Date: Rift, Vive, WMR 10th June 2020
Developer and Publisher: Come Over Gaming
Supports: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Valve Index, Windows MR
Play area: Seated, Standing, Room-Scale
Input: Motion controllers
Comfort levels: Moderate
Why have you never heard of this game if it has been out for a long time – well – to be honest – it is boring. It is like going to a theme park and finding yourself in an art gallery. There is nothing wrong with an art gallery and for some people, the beautifully rendered environment that is fully interactive will be astonishing. However, this is not the target demographic of a gamer who wants to be scared.
The story of the game should give away the basics of the play. You are an electrician who has been called to a mansion. It is deserted and you decide, when not met at the gate, you inexplicably decide to trespass and have a wander around. This is the sort of 1980s horror behaviour that makes people mad – why would you meander down to the scary basement only armed with a lighter and a perky expression?
Your character is then met with a host of apparitions and visions that when pieced together resolve the mystery on Rickfford Mansion. It is all very atmospheric and there is a sense of dread. But, and it is a big but, the character is never in any perceivable danger. There is no health meter, no sudden attack, you are just wondering around a spooky place in the full knowledge that nothing can hurt you. So, you know, so what?
The developers would probably answer this question with the idea that you are a detective looking for the clues to piece together the mystery. However, you are not given any reason to want to solve the mystery other than the natural nosiness of your character. There is also no sense that you will be rewarded for your efforts. There will just be that “oh right” moment, which is fine for a two-hour film, but not for an immersive gaming experience.
The developers might also point to the scares you get when there is a loud jolt in the soundtrack or there is a slamming door. Yes, this works once or twice – but it is the only trick in the arsenal of this game and becomes tiresome. It is a perpetual fairground haunted house that is great for half an hour and then you want your candyfloss.
The graphics are beautiful. The soundtrack is excellent. Put these two elements together and you get the most perfectly rendered virtual reality environment. If this was 10 years ago, this game would have been celebrated as cutting edge and users would be in awe of what developers could achieve. But, it is not 10 years ago and this now feels like nothing more than an interesting extended demo that is being coy with the action sequences.
The game relies on the cleverness of the environment. You are in a well-crafted maze and the layout of the building does lead to some interesting moments when you are looking to get out of an area. There are some really confusing puzzles that help you find out the history of the house, which in turn help you to find your way out. While you pick up keys and the odd item for a puzzle along the way, you mostly find yourself searching for batteries for your torch.
Technically, the developers have done impressive work with limited resources. There are lessons to be learned here by other franchise titles that are looking to make better use of the virtual reality functionality. The clever environment forces you to pay attention to where you are and to get your bearings in a three-dimensional environment. For those bigger titles that put you on rails, this is something to definitely pay attention to.
Where this game falls down is on some fundamentals of extended gameplay. There is no narrative backbone to this game, it is weak and fluffy and told through letters and articles read by a terrible voice over artist. A fundamental error was made when the voice-over guy also voiced one of the characters that kinda gave away the ending. Therefore, you were dully walking around a place where nothing happens and knowing the inevitable conclusion to the mystery. This is a kinda massive problem for a game of any type.
Our brief takeaway
It seems that there is a reason why a game falls into obscurity – it is because it is really not great to play. This is not a terrible experience at all and does a lot of things right. However, DreamBack failed at the fundamentals of producing an immersive experience, it did not spend enough time on the intricacies of the story and the emotional reaction of the user. Clever graphics, interactivity and sound are for purist developers who geek-out at the technology. It is not the way to encourage a sound following.