Making puzzles in VR better is, in itself, a conundrum. While coming under enemy fire might be all the more intense and caring for characters is easier, solving a rubik’s cube inside a headset isn’t exactly a more definitive gaming experience. Putting piece A into slot B isn’t quite the revelation in VR that you might hope; you need to make something that truly stands apart from the years of puzzlers that have lined the path to this new medium. The genre needs its own Portal.
Form doesn’t just run with that idea; it bends it, remoulds it, makes it bigger, lighter, more dramatic.
Set in an Alaskan research facility, this excellent debut from Charm Games casts you as Dr. Devin Eli, a physicist studying a strange supernatural artifact named The Obelisk. Though the game starts out in a cold laboratory, your environment soon morphs into the impossibly surreal and ever-changing landscape of your own mind, a place where your thoughts appear as comic book-like bubbles that you grab and throw away and puzzles present themselves in the most majestic and curious of ways.
You’ll need to get used to the game’s sheer unpredictability. Form’s puzzles usually boil down to simple and relatively easy tasks, but they come at you in fascinating ways. Small shapes hover in front of you before bleeding out into hulking tapestries at the very touch of a finger, unexpectedly glorious sounds emit from the slightest movements, and dazzling light displays reward your successes. It is, quite literally, a transformative experience in which the smallest of actions has the most dramatic of effects upon your world.
There’s a real joy to just existing in Form’s universe in this way. Charm has done an excellent job realising something that’s enriched by putting a headset on, concocting an uncanny atmosphere that really feels like you’re exploring a strange new alien world.
It has architecture that you simply won’t understand but nevertheless feels evolved and precious, as if you’re there to preserve it just as much as you are to use it. Its soundtrack is fuzzy and revelatory, pushing a sense of pioneering discovery right the way through. You feel like the starry-eyed movie characters that have just uncovered lost civilizations or made contact with beings from another planet.
That tone carries through to the puzzles. Pretty much every challenge in Form starts with you picking up a strange alien artefact and wondering exactly what the heck it is. Indentations in panels reveal them to be tools with specific uses, and buttons and levers promise unexpected consequences with every interaction.
As I said, you’ll usually boil them down to simple challenges, many of which you’ve seen before. Memory-based sequences and object rearrangement isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but it’s the sense of picking something ancient and prestigious up and interacting with it that carries the experience. Better yet, they all fit neatly inside the limitations of VR; the game is a standing experience that avoids even the slightest chance of breaking your immersion. There’s no walking around or ducking down, keeping you rooted to the spot means you never risk that trance-breaking wire tug or have to fiddle with your headset as it shifts around your face.
That said there are some highlights. There’s a great puzzle in which a web of holographic shapes must be correctly aligned in front of you, and certain lights reveal hidden objects essential for progression. There’s nothing here that will leave you stumped, certainly not for more than a few minutes, but the delivery makes it all a joy to solve.
What a shame, then, that it’s over all too quickly. I beat Form in less than an hour, and its credits rolled long before I’d seen them coming. The short and sweet experience means nothing outstays its welcome, but it also feels like there’s plenty more to explore here. Short VR experiences are quickly becoming the norm and that’s fine, but the game’s pacing never suggested to me that I was nearing the end of my journey.
Form is a little too short and lacking in challenge for it to be considered a true classic, but it stands tall as a VR puzzler unlike any other. There’s an understanding of this new medium here that few developers have been able to demonstrate over the past year. Its atmosphere is dense and engaging and its puzzles capture a strong sense of discovery, resulting in a brilliant blend of gameplay and experience. The flood of VR puzzle games could learn a lot from the foundations that Charm Games has laid here.