We often say VR needs to be experienced instead of seen. That’s certainly true with A Wake Inn.
Indeed, we’ve seen a lot of this VR horror game over the past few months. VR Bros, perhaps bracing for the tough realities of a PC VR-only launch, has gone on the offensive with developer diaries, trailers and gameplay clips. But it wasn’t until I pulled the headset over my own eyes that A Wake Inn started to click.
You’ve probably heard the premise by now; you’re a mannequin, you’re in a wheelchair and you awaken in mysterious estate. There are puzzles and stealth sections but, what I really want to talk about ahead of the game’s launch next week is the design. Because however the verdict eventually falls on A Wake Inn, one thing’s for sure: each an every facet of the game takes a VR-first approach.
Let’s start with the movement. To get around you have a few options including, yes, grabbing the wheels on your seat and pulling yourself along. Similar to the core tenants of last year’s Phantom: Covert Ops, the idea is to make you really feel like you’re moving in VR, circumventing issues with smooth locomotion and teleportation (although there are options for both, should you so choose).
And, just like Phantom, it really works, with some finicky caveats. Propelling yourself in straight lines is convincing and surprisingly snappy, keeping you grounded in the world and removing that irksome sense of gliding through virtual space. Turning is, as you might’ve guessed, another matter. It’s a little tricky to get right and can make navigating smaller rooms in particular a hassle.
I ended up favoring a virtual joystick, which provides a much greater degree of control without sacrificing immersion. Plus the menu lets you adjust turn sensitivity but, even with all of that considered A Wake Inn never reaches the level of responsiveness we’ve come to expect from most games. This is, of course, a very deliberate choice and, in most of the what I’ve played it works in step with the game’s puzzles and atmosphere.
But, whereas Phantom’s wide, meandering rivers always accommodated for the inaccuracies of its movement, the halls of A Wake Inn’s estate can be less forgiving. Prepare yourself for a lot of micromanagement.
This is just one of A Wake Inn’s many idea, though, and some of the others are real keepers. Your inventory, for example, is an ever-present cigar box that rests on your lap, and storing items requires you to lift the lid and then make actual physical space for them to sit. It’s like a real-world version of Resident Evil 4’s strangely satisfying item-management system.
Adjusting height, meanwhile is as simple as pulling a lever to your left and a flashlight can either be held in your hand or hung on another hook. Switches are flicked on and off with the wave of a hand and, brilliantly, you can turn your hand into a trusty grabby… stick thing by just clicking down on the touchpad or stick. The consideration and convenience of this user interface is first class.
Even your hands themselves feel more natural here than they do in most other games. Your controller is essentially a ball joint to rotate your hands that much more accurately captures the articulation of your movement than the stiff-wrist solution more commonly seen.
Sometimes these systems do clash. When reaching for draws I’d often grab a wheel by accident, and your hands don’t latch onto what they’re holding making it tough to work out where and when to pull the grip button. They don’t feel quite on-center with your own hands and it’d be great to see an option to recenter them, but it still works incredibly well. Even after 20 to 30 minutes inside the world of A Wake Inn, I could tell that VR Bros had put more thought into keeping the game as immersive as possible than the vast majority of VR experiences in the last 12 months, and that matters.
As for the rest of the game? The jury’s out – from what I’ve played A Wake Inn seems to have an approachable brand of horror and its puzzles are aided with smart hints and an abundance of duplicate items to save rifling through every draw. Just as with the user experience, there are some very sharp ideas here, we’ll just have to see how they take shape in the final game.
But we won’t have to wait long. A Wake Inn arrives on PC VR headsets on February 25th. Check back for more coverage next week!