The lights flicker behind me as I walk slowly, carefully, through the dark hallway. I was still shaken by what I had just seen in the basement, a shadowy figure working away at some unknown experiment, a flash of lights and noises, and then a body dropped lifelessly from the ceiling. It all seemed like some sort of hellish nightmare, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I couldn’t wake up. So many questions raced through my head, fueled by the fear-driven adrenaline coursing through my veins. Reaching the handles of the door, I peer through the glass, another figure, but it looked human. Desperate for answers I slowly open the door, and what I saw behind it sent chills up my spine.
Horror is not a new genre to the Rift by any means. The immersive nature of the platform makes it ripe for experiences that make our palms sweat with tension and fear. The genre already has some successful entries into the fray, like Dreadhalls and Affected, but both games were originally developed for the DK1 and aren’t fully optimized for positional tracking support (although both now have a DK2 version available), and when you are trying to peer around a corner to spot that monster lurking around the halls positional tracking support is crucial. So when I heard about the newly released demo Doors of Silence, which was developed for the DK2, I had to try it out for myself.
Doors of Silence places you in what appears to be a dark abandoned mental hospital. The game reminds me in a lot of ways of Amnesia in that you are wandering around the environment searching for clues and interacting with objects, all while trying to hide from a mysterious evil lurking around the map. I won’t go too much into the plot of the game as not to spoil too much, but the game does an excellent job of slowly building up to some great scares. The game does rely on some jump scares, which can get old after a while, but the visceral atmosphere that it creates is more than enough to instill a tense sense of terror in the player. One thing that I thought made the game especially tense was that unlike other horror games in the VR genre that have you wandering around with a flashlight, you are all on your own relying only on what little flickering light is in the environment. At times this can be slightly frustrating as it can be difficult to make out details this way, but it does a nice job of helping create a tense atmosphere.
In terms of controls, the game relies on a very simple control system that is very intuitive. There is no combat system in the game, only stealth hiding tactics (i.e. crouching in the shadows) and that adds to the sense of terror as you feel you don’t have as much control over your own destiny. If I could have changed one thing however, it would have been adding a way to run or at least walk faster, as there are times where the movement speed feels a bit slow (although I don’t blame the character, I would creep slowly around this place too).
Walking through the environment you come across certain items that you can pick up and put into your inventory (although currently you can’t view that inventory). You use keys to unlock the doors (duh!) and there are collectible comics all over the map that don’t seem to have a purpose yet.
Designed in Unreal Engine 4, Doors of Silence has visuals that are currently only rivaled by Alien Isolation in the horror VR genre. The game just looks fantastic in VR, minus occasional spots that are a designed a little too dark. Occasionally things looked slightly aliased out and out of focus, but those moments were fewer and father between than most games.
The game makes a very effective use of sounds. The 3D audio in the game sounds fantastic, and is pretty immersive. And the developer’s choices for sound effects are on point. I cringed (in a good way) every time I opened one of the doors and it made the slow creaking noise that it made, because I felt like at any moment something was going to hear it and come for me. It really helped build tension, which is what good audio direction in a horror game should do.
The audio feels more organic as well compared to some other horror games, which add lots of whispers and other artificially freaky tactics to help set a mood, Doors of Silence uses natural sound in the environment to help create an eerie atmosphere that keeps the player enraptured during the game.
Technically, the game played quite well on my Macbook Pro (running bootcamp) which speaks to how well this game was optimized. I noticed very little jutter while playing through the game, but that may have been in part due to its slow burning nature. One thing that I really noticed was that the positional tracking works extremely well and is used in ways that make sense, like the aforementioned peering around corners, looking into crates on the ground, and examining objects up close. It adds a lot to the game and really makes it feel immersive.
It takes a lot, honestly, to scare me. Yes, I might gasp slightly at the occasional jump scare, but it really takes a lot to set a mood where I start feeling really nervous. And let me tell you, my palms were sweaty after my first playthough of Doors of Silence. The way the game built tension all the way to its first crescendo moment was priceless and is something that should be experienced by all fans of VR. While it may not be as quick to circle to a conclusion as say, Affected (thereby making it less attractive as a show demo) it is an excellent example of what a full horror game in VR might feel like. I highly recommend it to every VR fan out there.
Overall Score 9/10
You can download the latest demo of Doors of Silence from the Oculus Share Store.