The Invisible Hours seems like exactly the kind of experience that’s tailor-made for the virtual reality world. Hot on the heels of 2017’s The Sexy Brutale, which impressed me greatly, Tequila Works presents another mansion murder mystery, only this time in a much different fashion. Though it plays just fine without it, the up-close and personal feeling created by VR deepens the experience exponentially in a title that’s highly recommended for anyone who loves a great yarn told decidedly well.
The setup doesn’t exactly sound like it’s breaking any new ground: famous inventor Nikola Tesla has invited five strangers to his secluded New England island mansion, for reasons only he seems to truly know. But when the guests arrive, they find their would-be host has been murdered, marking at least one of them as a cold-blooded killer. Think of it as Clue with a dash of historical fiction mixed in, as one of the guests in attendance is none other than Thomas Edison.
Calling The Invisible Hours a “game” is a difficult claim to back up; there is very little for the player to actively do apart from finding collectibles and interacting with a handful of items to examine them. This is because, despite the cast of multiple characters, the player is never given actual control of any of them. Instead, you are essentially a free-floating camera, able to move around and explore the grounds of Tesla’s mansion at will, independent of where the action is taking place. Detective Gustaf Gustav, one of the guests, will conduct his investigation whether you are paying attention to him or not, and the linear story plays out right through to its conclusion without any assistance from you.
That is kind of the point of The Invisible Hours. It offers a unique sense of observation bordering on voyeurism; an exploration of the mansion, yes, but primarily of the personalities that reside within it. While this limits what you are able to do – drawers, cabinets, boxes, and suitcases, for example, cannot be opened and searched – it offers a great sense of freedom in another respect. At no point are you tied to a particular character, or even a specific piece of narrative that is unravelling. At any time, you can simply walk away to pursue another area of interest.
The cast of seven characters (including Tesla’s servant and ex-assistant) is rarely assembled in the same place. Rather, they spread out across the many rooms of the two-story mansion, following their own motivations, interacting with each other, or even just pursuing a silent task by themselves. Secret alliances, rivalries, romances, and even violence are occurring throughout the mansion at any given moment, following a schedule set by the developers, whether the player is there to see them happen or not.
Following the first big commotion of the discovery of Tesla’s lifeless body, Gustav, assuming command of the situation, begins a series of one-on-one interrogations with the remaining guests in the dining room. You are certainly free to remain by Gustav’s side, listening to one alibi after another, but you can also decide to follow the blind butler on his errands or tail the flirtatious actress around to discover what else is going on. For instance, while two characters may be having an innocuous conversation in one room, elsewhere in the building a different guest may be in mortal peril.
The game is really more of a collection of scenes (the developers, realizing this, even thank the player for attending their “play” in the closing credits) taking place simultaneously and in real time. The entire length of The Invisible Hours, when taking just one straight path through the story, is only a little over an hour from beginning to end. Of course, the temptation to veer off and experience other activities extends its longevity, and spending time with the cast of characters in this way is the game’s true heart and soul.Continued on the next page...