Unlike anything I’ve ever played
Due to the short development time developers have had with the Vive and Steam’s seemingly non-existent quality control, most things available for the Vive are cynical Unity store asset flips or simple basic experiences.
Currently, there are around 200 different pieces of software on Steam for the HTC Vive — and of the ones I’ve played, I can honestly say that The Gallery is my favorite, and the only game built with motion controlled virtual reality in mind that resembles a traditional experience.
The Gallery – Episode 1: The Call of Starseed (PC [reviewed with an HTC Vive], Oculus Rift, PS VR)
Developer: Cloudhead Games
Publisher: Cloudhead Games
Released: April 5, 2016 (HTC Vive), TBA (Oculus Rift, PS VR)
The Gallery is a puzzle adventure game — or walking simulator if you’re feeling randy — that puts you in the shoes of a man looking for his sister that has gone missing while investigating a strange artifact on a remote island alongside a paranoid professor. The story is told via collectible cassette tapes hidden throughout the over two-hour journey, as well as face to face with a couple of characters you meet on the way. The voice acting throughout the game is on point with a Hollywood grade script.
First-person controls don’t work all that well in VR often leading to players feeling a bit queasy, and players certainly can’t walk the actual distance needed so the developers use a solution they call “Blink VR”. Instead of walking, most of the time you’ll be pressing a button on your controller then aiming a reticle on the ground with your head to teleport to that position — the direction you’re facing can be changed by sliding around the trackpad on the left controller. It feels foreign at first but I found myself quickly getting the hang of it.
Otherwise, each controller is mapped to be your hands in-game, with the trigger causing them to grab items. While most every item you see can be picked up and thrown, though important items will be highlighted blue and will stay in your hands until you use them or put them in your backpack by physically reaching behind yourself and letting go. The inventory system is intuitive and I hope other games reuse the mechanic; you reach behind you and grab your backpack that floats in the air wherever you place it, and from there you can grab items from it. Most of the time this is only needed if you find a cassette tape and want to give it a listen, but a few times you’ll store a key item there for later.
Easily one of the most immersive games I’ve ever played in my life due to being able to grab items with my hands, turning them to look at them, and throwing them if I see fit to do so. All of the puzzles have you doing something with your hands, be it putting together a machine, shooting a flare gun, or grabbing fuses floating through the air to solve a puzzle. Unlike the Wii or the Kinect, the Vive hardware actually lives up to its promise and things just work as intended by the developers and it makes the immersion better than anything a flat screen could offer.
My only contention with this first episode of The Gallery is the price point for the short length. Yes, the game is polished all around, but $30 for just under three hours with no real replayability seems a bit steep to me. VR games, in general, are quite expensive at the moment, with an ‘early adopter tax’ if you will, which is only making the technology even less enticing to potential buyers. Not everyone can shell out $800 for a Vive and justify dropping hundreds of dollars on a few games that last them a weekend at maximum. I think $30 for the first two episodes would be a far better sell.
Yet, I can’t stress enough how much I loved The Call of Starseed, it hit all the right spots for me. The story feels like the dark adventure films of the ’80s and ’90s, the voicework is great, and the immersion is unmatched. If you’ve got an HTC Vive and can spare the $30, do yourself a favor and buy this game, you won’t regret it. Those holding out for PS VR and Oculus Touch are in luck as well, as The Gallery is planned to release for those too.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]