There I was fulfilling yet another childhood fantasy with the help of VR. I was driving my own train, complete with hat and occasional coal-shoveling. Every once in a while I’d treat myself to the kiddish glee of pulling a chord and letting my mechanical wonder whistle out across the dense forest that surrounded me. I was having a lovely time, but then a drone had to go and shoot me.
Conductor is not the most complex of VR games. In fact it’s pretty much bread and butter room-scale gameplay; teleport around an area, pick things up, stick them where they should go, solve the puzzle. But it skillfully straddles the tricky line between breezy ease and frustrating challenge to create a short, immersive, and worthwhile escape room experience.
Things here are literally straightforward. Making a quick escape from the evil Overcorp, you stumble upon a small train that will shoot down a track, occasionally interrupted by roadblocks that you’ll need to overcome. There are about six puzzles here that you can see through in about 90 minutes, but Conductor has enough to it to make its own mark on the genre.
The puzzles, for example, are well-plotted. Each has multiple steps to it, but environments are quite small, meaning you won’t often wander into irrelevant spaces or get lost doing something you shouldn’t. I got caught for around 15 minutes at one point simply because I hadn’t noticed a hole in the roof, but generally speaking I never experienced the procedural slog of wandering around cluelessly like I have done in other escape-the-room style games, save for a few times I’d mistaken generic environmental decoration for keys to puzzles.
If anything the game lacks a real sense of invention for the most part. The final puzzle is the only time I felt like one of its puzzles was genuinely clever. At other points solutions feel somewhat disjointed, like discovering the code for a door in an outhouse.
Early on you’ll find a Half-Life-esque gravity gun that you can use to handle heavier objects and grab things from far away. You’ll also use it for the game’s light combat mechanics, which involve grabbing Overcorp’s flying drones that hover in from above, and smashing them into the ground or nearby objects to break them. Though defeating them is easy they’re an effective distraction; more than once I’d get too involved with trying to bring them down to realise my train was about to collide into a new stop.
It’s the world building where Conductor really shines though. As you’re pursued through the woods there’s a genuine sense of desperation, best conveyed at specific points like when a car pulls up alongside your train and orders you to stop. I just would have liked to see it go a little further; the game’s abrupt ending had me wanting to see what happens next and learn more about the world.
Visually it’s a lesson in minimalism, too. The plain textures may be as far from realism as you can get but they also help VR’s 3D effect to really pop. Illuminating the pitch black forest as the train speeds through it is wonderfully atmospheric, boasting a strange sense of isolation and relief that grows with every mile you put between yourself and your beginnings.
Overall Conductor is a good example of the simple thrills that come from VR escape room games. If you find yourself easily frustrated by puzzle games then this is a great example of how to set the right amount of challenge without feeling too easy, and it builds an intriguing world in the process.
Conductor is now available on Steam for HTC Vive and Oculus Rift at a price point of $9.99 along with a 10% launch discount. Read our Game Review Guidelines for more information on how we arrived at this score.