You wake up in a generic, sterile utility room; the kind you'd find in any bland, corporate R&D building. Ahead of you are a series of lockers, cabinets and some tables. Closer to you are a few signs with strange symbols on them, and to their right is a fairly conspicuous poster of a pyramid and the moon. To your left, a scientist, his face blurred out to keep his identity confidential. He's taking notes, egging you on to proceed. You look down; there is a box covered in arcane symbols and gizmos strapped to your hands. There is no way out of this room, no way to even move save for shifting the box around with your wrists. The only way forward is to solve its puzzles and hope it provides a way out.
This is Statik Institute of Retention, a puzzle game for PlayStation VR by Tarsier Studios, the team behind the upcoming Little Nightmares. It began as a side-project for the studio, eventually blossoming into a full-fledged title with a handful of challenges to overcome, each one featuring the same conceit: You have a box attached to your fists - effectively a miniature escape room - and you have to use the box and your surroundings to figure out how to solve it.
Each box is wildly different, covered in a variety of doodads you'll manipulate with your DualShock controller. Not every button is important, but every button will do something - so you'll have to contort the controller around in your hand and use deductive reasoning to solve its devious puzzles. One box I played required that you figure out how to make a series of lenses appear out of the side, then how to turn a projector on, then how to manipulate the lenses to beam an image on various signs hidden around the room, located by moving your actual head around and pointing your controller in their direction.
The second box I played actually had me teaming up with fellow GamesRadar+ writer Sam Prell for a work-in-progress multiplayer level. He wore the PS VR headset while I used a smartphone in conjunction with the PlayStation app connected to the PS4. He looked around the room and manipulated the box while I futzed with the app, activating objects he couldn't manipulate and noting important passwords in the environment that he couldn't see.
Here, you can see how I, an idiot, pointed at a television screen that Sam clearly couldn't see because he had a freaking VR helmet strapped to his face:
Also here's some footage of @davidrobots and @SamPrell playing Statik's dual-screen VR puzzle box demo. pic.twitter.com/bFXeCBPlnrJanuary 29, 2017
See, Sam used the analog stick on his controller to point a video feed on my phone at an image of a grid of circles with an outline drawn around a specific set. Sam then was able to point a black light on a whiteboard to see the same grid of circles, each with a specific color coding. By working together, we were able to input the correct colors on the left side of the box Sam was holding, and move on to the next puzzle.
While the app that I used felt like a prototype (apparently the developers had only finished implementing basic multiplayer two weeks before PAX South), working together on this puzzle felt really good; a unique blend of co-operative frustration and puzzle-solving euphoria. Whether you're solving puzzles by your lonesome or with a friend, Statik Institute of Retention looks like the kind of subversive and ingenious game that makes a PS VR headset worth owning. Look for it early this year.