Many adventure games can end up being quite dialog-heavy in telling their stories, but Planet Alpha is one of those few games that attempts to tell a compelling tale without ever uttering a single word. Admittedly, the game is more of a puzzle-platformer, with the occasional bit of stealth thrown in. But that doesn’t keep it from weaving an intriguing narrative, even based on the first chapter I was able to play through.
Players take on the role of a being (possibly human, possibly otherwise) who has just awoken on a foreign planet. While it’s unclear who you are or how and why you’ve arrived here, the fact that you spend your first few moments of gameplay alone, limping away into barren nothingness suggests that this isn’t how things were planned. After several scenes of dragging yourself progressively slower through various landscapes while opening credits appear and vanish, you fall to the ground, exhausted, and the screen fades to black.
A few seconds later, a seemingly healed and revitalized you are ready to tackle the game in earnest, allowing you to run and jump to your heart’s content. Wondering how this happened won’t help, as the game does not provide any answers at this point. Perhaps it has something to do with that mysterious humanoid figure you may have glimpsed hidden way in the background earlier, if you were paying attention?
This use of environments and character animations is how Planet Alpha initially tells its story. The remainder of chapter one is a relaxing, wondrous experience of simple platforming through a beautiful alien landscape, accompanied by ephemeral music. For a few minutes, I was fooled into thinking this was one of those games meant to inspire you to breathe deep, find zen, and exhale.
But don’t turn your brain off, as a simple puzzle incorporated towards the end of the first chapter asks you to figure out how to operate a room-sized alien device, still without words. Then, when the 1940s-era sci-fi robots arrive to mark the commencement of chapter two, stealthily hiding away from what looks like foes is introduced to the mix.
How Planet Alpha continues is anybody’s guess, though I’ll bet enigmatic vistas and peaceful exploration interrupted by further moments of tension will be par for the course here. The game is planned to take a handful of hours to complete, and will be available pm PC, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch sometime later this year.
Although their premier VR action-adventure Moss just released earlier this year, developer Polyarc was already back at E3, though not yet ready to talk about the future of their tiny protagonist Quill. Instead, they shared some up-to-date news on the game’s continued evolution, including some quality-of-life improvement even those who’ve already played it may appreciate.
For starters, the once-exclusive PlayStation VR title has since branched out to PC, where it is now playable on the Oculus and Vive. This does mean some slight changes to the gameplay: having two VR controllers instead of one DualShock 4 means two in-game spirit hands. This translates to the ability to simultaneously hold onto an enemy with one while healing Quill with the other, whereas only one or the other was possible before. Of course, the PC release also features some graphical updates.
But there’s news for PSVR owners, too. A physical copy of Moss is now available on the console, having literally launched the same day I saw it. All versions will receive several retroactive updates, including the ability to start several games in dedicated save slots and support for multiple languages. Finally, completionists looking to collect every scroll and piece of magic dust will now have a helpful indicator to let them know which chapters still have hidden goodies, even for those who already finished the game previously.
Polyarc was very tight-lipped about any potential for future releases, indicating that more Moss is a possibility but that a new IP isn’t out of the question, either. More immediately, however, fans can look forward to an upcoming Moss soundtrack release.
Three-man studio AJRPG hopes that more than anything their debut project will serve as a showcase of what they’re capable of creating, serving as a gateway to raise interest in their next, more commercial project. Anderson is a VR escape-the-room game with some story elements infused that is meant to be completed in a single sitting – well, standing – only lasting 20-45 minutes, depending on your skill at solving its puzzles. Created from free Unity assets, the team’s mantra is, “If we didn’t pay to make it, the player shouldn’t have to pay to play it.”
Waking up in a small metal-encased room, approximately the size of a broom closet, you have to solve a series of item-based and logic puzzles to attain your freedom, and maybe find out who you are and why you’ve been locked up. Your only companion is the eponymous wall-mounted, completely voiced AI unit, who provides some commentary on your objectives along the way.
The controls worked reasonably well, with two handheld controllers used to move in-game VR hands around the environment, grasping and moving objects to manipulate them. The graphics are about what one might expect, given the situation, but setting the game in a bland, enclosed space definitely serves to downplay the visual importance. Any story elements come in the form of hand-written notes found in the room, so in that sense the narrative is really completely optional.
Anderson is already available now on Steam, free of charge, for HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.
New York-based developer iNK STORIES has come up with a modern take on a classic Hitchcockian theme with Fire Escape, a short, three-part VR mystery that’s all about the voyeuristic thrill of being an observer.
Taking its cue from Rear Window, the game casts players as an average person standing on their fire escape late one evening, drinking in the sights and sounds of a small apartment community in a big city. Looking out over a courtyard flanked by more rear-facing windows on three sides, all of your neighbor’s lives are on display for you, the unseen observer standing in the shadows.
Gameplay elements in Fire Escape are very light; the only two actions available are to look around the VR environment and use the cell phone in your right hand. The cell phone allows for communication by letting you receive incoming calls, wordlessly responding to the other party by choosing emojis to send back. It also lets you zoom in on a specific neighbor’s window, which, in turn, also lets you isolate the sound coming from their apartment over the general din to let you hear and see what’s going on.
While at first this all seems a little aimless, albeit intriguing, a crime will happen by the end of the first episode. I was told that, since the player is short on actions, the game isn’t so much about what you do about the crime, but rather observing the reactions of those around you.
At only about an hour in total length, with each of the individual episodes clocking in around twenty minutes, Fire Escape won’t take up more than an afternoon of your time. But with about half a dozen individual stories unfolding within the tenants’ lives, all fully voiced, there is a little bit of replay value. Despite the inherently voyeuristic nature of this title, I was assured that it doesn’t stray into adult-themed territory.
Fire Escape is available on Google Play to use with Google Daydream, with the first chapter free and the rest unlocked through in-app purchase.