Have you ever wanted to step into a horror film, having the sense of comfort stripped away from you as you try and survive in the world gone mad? This is the world of Overkill’s The Walking Dead: an immersive experience that you walk away from feeling uneasy, yet wanting to dive back into. Utilizing a new VR system, Star VR, this Walking Dead excursion is what more horror games should strive to be.
I have always loved the concept of VR, yet I was unsure how it would work in the landscape of games already in place. What new could it offer to people that sitting down to play a game on a monitor does not already supply? When I watched people playing from afar, it looked like more of an experience than just a game. It’s something I have not seen in a while; someone truly engrossed in the experience. Seeing people in suits look as if they were kids once again, flailing around trying to fight off the zombie hoard was eye-opening. This is the way games used to be; a new experience that no other medium can offer. With VR, this experience that I felt when I first got my hands on a video game, that sense of pure wonder, was found once again.
Plastered with QR codes, the headset is unlike other offerings. It looks more like something out of test centre then what you would think of as a showroom at a tech show. This is something truly unique that looks to set the stage for the experience to come.
Once you are sitting down, locked in place in the wheelchair currently used for the testbed, you place the headset carefully on your head. Much like any VR device you will use, it isolates you from the outside world. As your eyes adjust and the demo starts, you are teleported to a world of The Walking Dead. The faces may be different, but the aesthetic and the concept is unmistakable. It has a sense of dread and of desolation. As you look around the world you are placed in, you slowly come to realize the horror of your situation. Not only are in a living dead nightmare, but you have recently had your leg cut off. You are now reliant on the people around you, the people that, as with any Walking Dead experience, are also out to save themselves.
Before long, you are handed a gun, in the fictional world, but also in real life. Plastered with QR codes also, this gun gives you the ability to defend yourself as the NPC’s push you to safety. If there was any downside of this full demo, it was this part. It gives the player too much power. Horror works best when you feel helpless, when the smallest evil can take you out and pull you away from the things that you hold dear.
This part of the demo gives you the power to overcome most things. The hordes of the dead come at you, but with a few well-placed shots, little stands in your way. As you get pushed through the desolate streets, it is your shots that keep your partners alive. Cocking the gun and firing as you desperately try to stay alive.
It is here when the demo demonstrates how fear can be conveyed within VR. As your friendly NPC’s get taken away, and as your final friend abandons you, your gun runs out of bullets; you are forced to experience your inevitable mortality. Having no way to take down the walkers that are swarming to feed, you are ultimately doomed. This is something that is truly terrifying in a VR demo. Even when watching other people play the game, it’s this part you see people getting desperate, trying to fend them off, yet there is no way to come out of the demo alive.
This is how fear should be built in VR. Taking all comfort away from the player, immersing them in the dark world, and allowing them to believe in the darkness they build. It is hard to imagine any other medium capable of capturing this feeling of dread. Film manages to take a part of this concept, games take it one step further, but to fully engross a player in that uneasy world of darkness, VR is the next step. I am glad to see that Star Breeze is making strides in this department, and I’m excited to see what new developers manage to do when they take these concepts even further!