Puzzle games are a strange genre in video games. When most people think of a puzzle game they conjure up images of blocks falling like in Tetris or adding up numbers in grid arrangements such as with Sudoku. But now the term “puzzle game” is much more fluid. It’s not just about blocks and numbers, it’s about exploring and unlocking secrets. That shift was kickstarted partially by the dawn of Myst, which helped usher in a new era of puzzle-adventure hybrid experiences, and now VR is pushing those boundaries even further. In fact, the creators of Myst have their own VR spiritual successor named Obduction.
In this crossroads that’s still searching for its own identity is precisely where FORM, an upcoming puzzle title from Charm Games, finds itself. “FORM has similar themes to Obduction, but I like to call it 2001: A Space Odyssey meets
In FORM you play as Dr. Devin Eli, a brilliant astrophysicist on the verge of his most remarkable discovery to date. My demo began in a research facility as I stood behind a control panel full of buttons, screens, and objects to interact with. A sarcastic male-voiced A.I. system is there to provide instruction and, most notably, thinly veiled insults. The writing and delivery are good enough to earn a few chuckles.
After I press some buttons for a while things start to take an interesting turn. The wall in front of me shifts and transforms as I’m seemingly immersed into a great white void before me. I look skyward and close my eyes inside the Oculus Rift I’m wearing, reaching up instinctively with my hands, now holding Oculus Touch controllers, to shield my eyes. When I open, I’m standing in a dark cavern surrounded by incredible lights and seemingly alien architecture.
Floating in front of me are bubbles with my thoughts, somehow existing both in my character’s mind and in the world as real objects. What follows is a series of puzzles that have me manipulating objects, light, and patterns in 3D space around me, solving cryptic ruins in ways that only VR could allow. The entire game’s premise and gameplay mechanics are all situated around the idea that it’s taking place inside Dr. Eli’s subconscious. In a way, it’s one giant metaphor.
In the video above you can see a glimpse of the game in action. During my demo, one puzzle involved me spinning a cylinder around as I tried to align circuit patterns. For another I had to connect balls of light to small nodes to create a specific rectangular pattern. It sounds simple, but in practice it feels incredibly rewarding when you figure things out.
That satisfaction payoff that follows every puzzle is perfectly balanced with bits of narrative along the way. Near the end of my demo I saw a brief cutscene that peeled back the layers a bit on Dr. Eli’s childhood and a specific traumatic event that serves as the cornerstone of the game’s story. There isn’t a ton of voice acting or anything to keep up with, but from what I’ve seen FORM does an admirable job of giving you a world with characters to care about without sacrificing the merits of its cerebral puzzle-solving ways.
FORM is currently slated to release for the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR (PSVR). However, its releases will not be simultaneous as the small (less than 10 person) development team needs extra time to smooth out each version. Rift and Vive are currently expected in 2017 with PSVR to come in early 2018. Find out more information at the game’s official website.