If we're talking PG-appropriate pastimes, being able to cast magic spells from your hands might be VR's biggest draw yet. Ever since I saw my first hadouken, I've often fantasized about the power to blast searing fireballs from my palms - and that's exactly the kind of sorcery you get up to in The Unspoken, an upcoming Oculus Touch exclusive from Insomniac Games. Set in modern-day Chicago - the mystical side of the city that normal people can't perceive, that is - The Unspoken's magical, strictly player-vs-player duels have already delivered some of the most fun, empowering moments I've experienced in a VR game.
Insomniac describes this as a cross between two longstanding genres that emphasize PvP: the mind games and special moves of fighters, mixed with the twitch reflexes and spatial awareness required in an arena shooter. Battles between the urban wizards of The Unspoken are strictly one-on-one, and play out a bit like a game of dodgeball (if the dodgeballs were orbs of pure orange flame). There's no single-player campaign here, but you can battle against AI opponents if you need a break from squaring off against other players, be they online or on LAN. Each combatant has two basic abilities called Primal Spells, a suite of five powered-up Object Spells, and the power to instantly teleport between the set of pillars that constitute their side of the arena. Simply put, the first player to eradicate the other astral projection's health bar wins - but that's a lot more complicated than it sounds, given that you can deflect or neutralize attacks, take cover behind destructible planks that adorn certain pillars, and race to collect power-ups (while denying them from your enemy).
All that may seem overwhelming, but The Unspoken is the kind of game that you instantly want to try the moment you lay eyes on its flashy, effects-laden spells set against the visually realistic (but subtlety strange) backdrops loosely based on Chicago landmarks. And fortunately, the pick-up-and-play controls ensure that any onlooker can get in on the action. Pulling the triggers or paddles of the Touch controllers casts the Primal Spell you've allotted to each hand; in the case of this pre-alpha demo, that meant an ethereal blue shield projected from my left pointer, while my right hand was the dedicated flinger of fireballs that can be charged up for extra damage. Tilting your hand so that your palms are facing upward displays a compact selection of your Object Spells, which can only be cast when you've collected enough of the constantly spawning power orbs, but are suitably stronger as a result.
Those Object Spells are the real showstoppers, both graphically and strategically. Each one is triggered by a brief minigame, which leaves you exposed, as the opponent can see you trying to furiously conjure up a devastating spell. You can summon a murder of golden crows that attack from the air by plucking tiny bird skulls out of the aether, fold up and fling a paper airplane that morphs into a homing bomber, draw a spell-reflecting shield with a literally magic marker, or - my personal favorite - slam a hammer into the right spots of an anvil to transform it into a HP-obliterating lightning spear. There's also a sort of ultimate ability, which can only be cast by successfully snagging three Illuminati-esque pyramids from orbs that occasionally appear on the outskirts of the arena. Every time one of these popped into existence, both my opponent and I halted our volley of aggressive spells to engage in a hilariously back-and-forth battle over who could score the last hit on these pyramids, not unlike the frenzied exchanges brought on by appearance of a Smash Bros. Smash Ball. But the payoff for scoring three is well worth it: the ability to construct and summon a giant golem formed from twisted metal and concrete, which will smash and temporarily disable the enemy pillars, subsequently isolating the opposing mage in place and giving you an easy target for a cascade of damaging spells.
Everything about The Unspoken is right up my alley, from the spell-slinging (the simple act of flicking fireballs every which way is shockingly amusing, even if they're hard to aim) to the supernatural lore that's being built up around these fights. Even more exciting is the fact that the finished game is shooting for around 25 unique spells (which can counter one another in rock-paper-scissors fashion), character classes, and ranked play to determine who's the grandmaster of VR wizardry. The Unspoken looks like it'll refine all the potential I remember seeing in the gameplay of lackluster Kinect experiment Fable: The Journey, and the mysterious, supernatural atmosphere of somehow-still-hanging-in-there MMO The Secret World. And given the normalized, mirrored battlefield layout, I almost get a whiff of some Windjammers in the mix. The only hurdles are gamers' fickle nature when it comes to the longevity of PvP-focused titles, and the fact that The Unspoken can only be played on Oculus Touch, a niche within a niche. Despite those challenges, I can't wait to get sucked into The Unspoken's mystical occult world when it arrives in the general release date window known as Holiday 2016.