Developers: SpectreVision, Ubisoft Montreal
Platform: Oculus Rift, PSVR, VIVE /PC, Xbox One (non VR)
Genre: Psychological thriller
A review on the PlayStation 4 by Brooke Ali
“I have so much to show you.” So signs off the video message by Raymond Hayes at the beginning of Transference, a new VR game co-developed by Ubisoft Montreal and SpectreVision, Elijah Wood’s film studio. Transference is a unique, complex, and immersive game that gets in your head, as the action plays out in the collective minds of the characters.
Self-described as a virtual escape room, you play as someone exploring a virtual world created by Hayes, a neuroscientist obsessed with the concept of transferring a person’s consciousness into a virtual space. Hayes’s comment in the video message, “my family and I are going to go away for a while,” becomes terrifyingly meaningful when it becomes clear just whose consciousnesses he has transferred. And they may not have participated willingly. As you explore the virtual apartment of Hayes, his wife, and their son, you slowly piece together a story of a broken family and an unhinged mind.
How do you play in a world that is created by the consciousnesses of 3 separate people? With the flick of a switch. The light switches found throughout the game function to change whose perspective you are experiencing, which changes the environment in dramatic ways. This is an important part of the puzzle solving, as you make changes in one perspective that carry over into another and you look for clues that piece together the story. The changing environment also keeps the game interesting, as you are extremely limited to the very small and intimate (at times claustrophobic) confines of the family’s apartment. Hearing the voices of each member of the Hayes family is, in turns, creepy and heartbreaking
The puzzles are completed by paying close attention to small items or details in the rooms that could be easy to overlook. From start to finish, nothing is handed to you. The clues that do exist are well hidden and it can take some time to get a feel for the mechanics and how the logic, or lack thereof, of this world works. But rather than being a frustrating experience, this opaqueness makes the game all the more satisfying to complete. While the game doesn’t hold your hand, it does have a way of getting you to change course if you’re going the wrong way, byway of a shadowy monster figure that causes you to black out and reawaken closer to where you should be. It will also close off areas or even restrict you to a room until you solve the puzzle, to make sure you don’t go off course.
The story is pieced together out of sequence by in-game footage, items and details scattered around the various perspectives, the disembodied voices of the characters, and video files that you discover as you explore. This could easily be jarring, but Ubisoft and SpectreVision did an amazing job of fitting it together seamlessly, even when we’re seeing live-action footage in-game. The writing is subtle and complex and the performances by the three actors are all excellent, layered and absolutely convincing (and the woman who plays the mother has a beautiful singing voice!).
This creepy thriller takes about an hour to complete, more if you’re really thorough with your exploration or get stuck on a few puzzles. While the most immersive experience is, obviously, played in VR, it translates well to non-VR play. I tried both and while the jump scares were a little less jumpy without the headset, the atmosphere is what really shines and that stays true no matter how you play.
Play it! Transference is a unique and engaging video game that stays with you long after it ends. The masterful juxtaposition of game design and live action film is something I hope to see more often and the rich storytelling experience is up there with what we’ve come to expect of the best indie games. This is perfect for fans of story-driven exploration games like Gone Home, but taken to the next level.