Review: TRANSFERENCE Is A VR Experience That Tests Your Sanity With Menacing Environment
After the release of The Inpatient, a rather lackluster horror VR game delivered to audiences in January from Supermassive Games and set in the Until Dawn universe, I was left with a small void in my heart. After the utter success of Resident Evil 7 as a medium to convey just how effective horror can be in the VR space, I was constantly on the prowl for the next great immersive horror experience, and The Inpatient was originally at the top of that list. Now with that proving to be simply OK, the painful wait continued. I am glad to report that my patience has finally been rewarded. Released on September 18th, allow me to introduce you to Transference, the new collaboration between Ubisoft and movie/game hybrid production company SpectreVision (who also just released the hypnotic and kinetic Nicolas Cage art house/horror flick Mandy on Blu-ray and VOD). This engaging experience clearly shows what is possible when the right concept, visuals and an assured sense of atmosphere can truly do for the horror genre as seen through the world of the VR. Check your sanity at the door before entering.
The premise is fairly straight forward but allows for a lot of wiggle room in terms of exploring the ideas and concepts that are bandied about. Before you even begin, you are greeted by Dr. Raymond Hayes, a brilliant scientist who has finally cracked the long-standing project he has been working on, which is the digital mind replication of the human brain within a digital space, and his first test subjects are himself, his wife Katherine and their son Benjamin. He has tasked you, the “player”, to go into the digital environment that he has created and fix various glitches and errors that have popped up in multiple locations. Along the way, you discover more and more about this seemingly happy family, and soon learn to realize that perhaps they aren’t the content and stable familial unit that Raymond initially portrays. Obtaining the ability to bounce between two parallel versions of the same environment – one tranquil, the other more foreboding – you must work to fix the corruptions and finally figure out just what was the state of mind of each inhabitant, and if there is something more sinister and manipulative behind Dr. Hayes creation than originally expected.
Transference, first off, is not a long gaming experience. Clocking in at around two hours (if you take your time to explore), it might seem like your actual hands-on time is truncated, but I am actually satisfied with the length it chose to be. Sometimes, games can overstay their welcome, and when coupled that this is meant to be experienced in VR (though you can play in non-VR….but why?), two hours feels more appropriate. Overall, Transference is quite the moody gaming venture and is simply SOAKED in atmosphere from top to bottom. Taking place essentially in one location, the multi-room apartment of the Hayes family, the game is primarily a puzzle adventure with horror elements and effective jump scares sprinkled throughout to keep you constantly alert and on your toes.
The game immediately presents you the ability to hop between two forms of the digital environment via light switches placed throughout the world. One seems to come off as a fond recalling of memories, very mellow and bathed in natural colors but filled with numerous computers and digital equipment that makes it feel more like a live-in lab. The other, however, is immediately more menacing, drenched in various hues of red and burgundy, and effectively conveys pure dread and a sense of unease and uncertainty as you roam around. I also found it to be quite refreshing that the puzzles, the main crux of gameplay, are actually challenging from time to time. You will most likely never get stuck at any point during your playthrough for more than a few minutes, but I did have that revelatory “oh yeah” moment a few times when I cracked a conundrum that was stumping me. The graphics are also nicely detailed and completely suck you into the world by giving the player a sense of space and believability that this entire location actually exists, with detailed environments of various bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens, outdoor sitting areas, etc., which is something that VR games can tend to not convey if care is not taken. The environment is also complete with a substantial amount of items and artifacts that you can view and observe from all angles (most don’t serve any gameplay purpose, but are used to convey the relationship of the family in this virtual headspace and provide crucial backstory) plus a generous helping of various audio/video logs that even further develop the family life of the Hayes’, and why this virtual existence may have not been the best course of action.
Transference is a good example of the kind of storytelling that VR games need to reach past the initial wow factor of the technology. Creating a core concept, developing it within a completely virtual world that feels alive to the user, and provide compelling enough gameplay to keep the player from ditching it after 15 minutes and moving onto the next venture are all needed for success. Does this game work in non-VR? I’m sure it does, but after getting dropped into this VR space, and letting all the neon drenched colors of the corrupted environments bathe you on all ends, why would you just want that confined to a single screen in front of you? While definitely not the quintessential VR experience out there - Resident Evil 7 still owns that title for sheer audacity to have a six hour tension filled endeavor through one of the best horror series ever, and NOT losing any momentum – Transference is a great template that should be looked at for horror titles going forward, and is a great example of doing everything right that The Inpatient simply didn’t hit. In the end, it’s never a good idea to enter the mind of someone else, especially someone who might be a little….off.