We’ve been covering a lot of VR horror games lately, which is both great and terrifying at the same time. The genre fits VR as a medium incredibly well — the isolating nature of the headset does a great job of making you feel even more alone and helpless than you already are. When you’re shivering inside the cold, dark confines of a VR headset, your only real comfort is your sight. That is, until it’s mostly taken from you.
Experiences like Notes on Blindness provide an immersive and moving analysis of what it’s like to actually be blind, but game studios like Gattai Games are turning that concept on its head to deliver a unique gameplay mechanic. In the case of their upcoming title, Stifled, you won’t be able to see much of anything in the world unless there is some sort of sound coming from it. The echoes and vibrations of sound waves rebound off of objects and landscapes to create a drawn-line representation of your surroundings.
Justin Ng, one of the designers at Gattai Games, gave me the chance to try the game out for myself while wearing an Oculus Rift at PAX West earlier this month. Utilizing in-game audio to construct your environment is one thing, but it’s how Stifled leverages your own actual sounds, picked up by your microphone, that make it truly special.
That’s right — when you make a sound, the game picks that up and transmits it into the environment, just as if you were actually there. Start breathing heavily? The disgusting, disfigured, monster that’s been stalking you might hear it. Get startled and let out a yell or scream? Prepare to find a new hiding spot.
In this way, the gameplay moments of Stifled play out like a demented and more terrifying version of Hide and Seek. Every step you take could emit a loud enough sound to alert the enemy to your location, forcing you to only make as much sound as is absolutely necessary. Holding your breath in fear is both natural and necessary in this horror game.
In terms of narrative, Ng assured me there is a story involved. The demo I tried was light on details — a busy convention setting isn’t exactly conducive to enjoying a slow-paced horror-themed plot — but everything started after what appeared to be a car accident of some kind. The main character has some sort of condition that is explained to account for the unique visual and auditory implications.
The game will also be fully playable outside of VR, but it’s nowhere near as immersive or engaging. What makes Stifled such a powerful VR experience is that it isolates you entirely from the outside world and with the accurate head-tracking, it feels like you actually are the protagonist. Speaking out into the game world and seeing that sound reverberate around you solidifies the illusion of existing in a virtual space. Talking at my computer screen is one thing, but talking while inside VR feels natural.
Stifled was successfully accepted onto Steam via a Greenlight campaign and is aiming for a release sometime later this year for both VR and non-VR on PC, as well as on consoles, including PS VR. Hold your breath and journey forward if you dare.