At E3 2015 there was talk of a mysterious and terrifying VR demo simply called ‘Kitchen.’ This, of course, would eventually become Resident Evil 7. In hindsight it wasn’t even that scary compared to the opening hour of the game, but it certainly left its mark on everyone who played it, and showed the new, extremely dark places that VR could take horror gaming.
This year that ‘secretly brilliant, yet utterly terrifying’ game is called Transference. It’s every bit as intense as the opening hour in Resi 7 and so secret that there aren't even any screenshots of it. At this point, it's only fair to point out that spoilers follow for the rest of the feature. You have been warned.
Developed by Ubisoft and Spectre vision - Elijah Wood's own company - it’s a VR horror game that, in its demo form, confines you to the space of two rooms in a tiny apartment. Three if you count the basement. The key mechanic is a light switch which, when pressed, jumps you though time affecting the environment around you. In one setting the TV will be showing president Bush addressing the nation in the next it’ll be nothing but static. As the player you have to discover what happened in the house, and of course that means going into the basement. Nothing good ever happens in the basement.
The set up is very similar to P.T. in that the environment is identical in each setting bar a few small but significant differences. To get to the basement, for example, you have to find a key which, handily, is hanging up next to the door, but it’s in the wrong time period so holding the trigger on the Oculus controller (it’s also coming to PSVR) you have to pick it up, keep hold of it, then flick the light switch to jump to the correct setting. If you’ve played TitanFall 2’s Effect and Cause level you’ll know exactly how this time-shifting mechanic works, it’s really effective, and in VR means there’s plenty of opportunity for scares. It's not all weird, time-based horror, though. The house creaks and moans as you move through it, phones ring, figures appear in corridors and you can hear strange voices floating through the air - there's plenty of traditional scares too.
There are, of course, a couple of jump scares, which are perfectly placed and executed - I physically held my hands up in front of my face to try to stop the impending, shotgun-induced doom during my playthrough. Which, by the way, doesn’t help at all, and just showed me up as the guy you probably wouldn't take with you into a haunted house. Luckily I don’t encounter many of them.
The end of the 15 minute demo involves you solving a puzzle using perspective. You're in a dimly lit room containing floating blocks and have to line your view up with them to create a doorway. What’s though the door? A particularly grim sequence in which you witness a suicide. This isn’t a cheery game then, but it is exploring just what can be done with VR and interactive puzzles, so that’s a positive.
It’ll be interesting to see if the development team can keep up the level of insensitivity for anything longer than a few hours but the official site mentions a multi-branching narrative with you influencing their fate and future so it would appear they have a few more tricks up their dark and ominous sleeves. The game’s set for spring 2018 but you can be sure we’ll be hearing a lot more about it before then. Especially once the word starts spreading beyond the E3 show floor.