Cloudhead Games -The Gallery is an episodic first person adventure puzzle narrative driven, VR game available on the HTC Vive. The first episode “Call of the Starseed” is available to purchase on Steam right now. There will be four episodes in total.
The setting of Call of the Starseed is similar to an 80’s style action fantasy movie and takes place as you’d imagine in a coastal American town. It’s the kind of story where you wouldn’t be surprised if you came across the Goonies or even the Lost Boys when you’re exploring underground. Taking the role of Alex, who is either a girl or a boy as the game never gives you this information, so it depends on how you imagine yourself, you have come to look for your missing twin sister.
The game starts with a brief but handy (no pun intended) tutorial section where you are taught how to use your hands (Vive Controllers) to pick up and smash bottles. Then you are introduced to the blink system which you will probably become very familiar with this type of movement feature as you play more VR games. Blink works when you hold down a button on the controller and an aiming sight appears on the ground tracked by your head movement. When you look left and right it moves left and right then as you look up and down it moves closer and further away from you. When you let go of the button you are then teleported to that position.
From the tutorial, you are brought to the start menu but as this is Vive and VR, you find yourself standing in front of a table where you need to pick up a tape and place it into a tape player to load up the level. From here you are then transported inside a cave near a beach and are set loose to explore. You immediately just want to pick up every object you come across. This is where VR turns me from a nice guy into a bit of a jackass because I just picked up everything I interacted with and whenever I was done with it I would toss it away like some spoiled child. You can have lots of fun just picking up objects and interacting with them, like putting a candle out under water or cooking popcorn you find over the fire.
I was fully immersed in this world even if I constantly had the room limit appearing around me as I played, but it never really detached me from where I was. The only time I did get pulled out was getting up close with any of the NPCs as the graphics in the game were a little outdated but that didn’t really make any difference exploring around, you could believe that there was a kettle or a bottle in front of you waiting to be picked up. Unfortunately, you could never believe it was a real person talking to you.
As immersive as the world was the story never did draw me in. No real back story was given from the start and it’s mostly told through tape recordings you find and are played on your “tony talkman” as well as notes to read and talking with characters that the whole story unravels and even though the voice acting was top notch I was left feeling disappointed. It wasn’t until the second chapter, by not paying attention or missing it in the story, that I actually found out the girl who was talking to me through the tapes and who I was looking for was actually my twin sister. As the story is based on finding her and following her path further into danger I would have liked to have been more emotionally connected with her and with what was going on. I always felt a bit detached from the story. With the game being very narrative driven and besides a couple of puzzles and exploring there isn’t really a lot to do in the game so by the end I was starting to find myself getting a little bored.
The game’s strongest point is that at times you really feel you are in an adventure. It would be very hard to get that feeling of real excitement and adventure in another game, like the time when I was wandering around underground and I’d use the light in one hand to illuminate the map I was holding in my other hand. It wasn’t some computer character or movie actor it was me who was lost in the sewers. Even for a short game, about 2-2 ½ hours long each chapter brought a different setting to the game. The first chapter made me feel like I was involved in a mystery searching the beach and caves for clues on what to do next. Wading through the underground levels gave me the feeling as if I was in a horror game; VR me was waiting for someone or something to jump out at me while the real me was hoping I wouldn’t fall over when it happened and pull out every cable from the computer. Without giving too much away the later levels were more science fiction based.
The Gallery’s in-game inventory menu is lots of fun and a well-worked idea. You are carrying a backpack and when you need it you just reach over your shoulder and pull it out in front of you. It floats there as you select which item you need to remove and then when you are done you take it by the handle and put it over your back again. Any item that you are allowed to keep can easily be put in your inventory by moving your hand over your shoulder and when you release it will then drop into storage. The few puzzles are also enjoyable. You really get up close with them and using your hands as well as your head makes it feel more of a practical challenge then a puzzle. I did come across a few glitches where I had to restart a chapter-once when doing a puzzle and the other when I lost sound. Also some objects would flicker and be jerking when I interacted with them. I never had any issue with the comfort level and felt no disorientation or feeling woozy during my experience.
Reviewing a game in VR can be tricky as especially now when we are only just starting to play VR games, you don’t want to just get caught up enjoying the VR more than the game. This was my first real game on the Vive and it was nice to experience something other than a tech demo. When I first started playing I was giddy with the excitement of walking around and interacting with the world around me. But that excitement was perhaps caused more by the new experience of playing VR rather than for this specific game. From the start I did really want to enjoy my time in The Gallery but the story didn’t really help to bring me along with it and I even started to lose interest in listening to what the characters on tapes had to say and became more interested in throwing bottles against a wall. This is the first episode of the series and near the end it gave me flashbacks to some of the duller parts of the Assassin Creed games which I didn’t enjoy. I did feel like I was in that coastal area and now when I close my eyes I have my own memories of being inside of a sewer looking at strange markings on a wall. Getting that from a game is more than enough of a reason to slip on that helmet, load up The Gallery and head back to the 80’s.
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