So when I recently got an Oculus Quest 2, I was downloading The Room VR: A Dark Matter even before my fellow puzzle enthusiasts suggested it. It was the first experience, after showing my daughter Tilt Brush, that I tried out with the headset.
I can not describe how magical it is.
This episode doesn’t make any radical gameplay changes: you’ll have to fiddle with knobs and put things in their proper place and solve some somewhat tricky puzzles while using magic lenses to see invisible things, all while following a story about people discovering the deadly Null element.
But as well-executed as these games are on mobile devices, it is so different to solve them in VR that the familiar mechanics feel fresh and alive and awe-inspiring. After the tutorial room, the game transports you to a room at the British Museum. And you’re there. You’re in the room, moving around (via a teleport option that should help prevent nausea for those prone to it). While there are only four or five spots you can actually be in, you can look all around the large workroom and take in the statues and the storm raging outside the high windows.
I’m only about halfway through the game—a fairly short installment—but there are so many moments that take my breath away, I’m already dreading finishing. To take just one, there is a sequence of steps you need to follow to get an organ working in a high-vaulted chapel, itself an impressive space. When you finally solve it, you are inside the organ itself. And a giant door opens in front of you to reveal the heaving, bellowing internals of the organ. This would be satisfying on a mobile device. When you see it happen in VR, it’s so stunning it makes you gasp.
The game is so immersive that I occasionally stumble trying to rest my elbows on a virtual desk. I almost dropped the controllers once because I needed to adjust something and went to set them on an in-game pedestal at the height of my chest. There are numerous points where you’re standing high up above the ground and your brain absolutely wants you to stay away from the edge, even though you know that if you step over the edge your foot will just touch your own familiar floor. Also note that the series has always had a creepy vibe to it, and creepy things in VR are way more creepy; A Dark Matter is probably at my personal—admittedly low—threshold for too creepy.
One of my favorite tricks the developers use to give you that “you are here” feeling is when you go into one of the series’ now-ubiquitous mini worlds inside an object. In the mobile games, you are simply looking at new screens. In the VR game, it’s really as if you’ve been shrunk; the space you came from looms behind you, just as it was but at Brobdingnagian scale.
Of course, the V in VR is “virtual,” and you do, even in this game, run up against the restrictions of the medium. Playing the organ in A Dark Matter is unsatisfying because you can’t feel the keys. Puzzles that require you to turn things with your fingers make me feel like I’m trying to do fine work while drunk. The puzzles where you have to grip something with your hand—turning a big wheel or pulling ropes on a pulley—work fairly well because you are, in fact, gripping the Quest controllers. But the incredible feeling of being in these spaces more than makes up for the occasional disconnect.
If you’ve got any device it works on, I highly recommend this game.
This post was last modified on December 12, 2020 1:43 pm
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