The Gallery – Episode 2: Heart of the Emberstone is one of the most anticipated upcoming VR adventure titles. The first game, The Call of the Starseed, was a launch title for the HTC Vive back in April of last year and it brought a striking sense of presence and adventure to the VR landscape with a heavy dose of Goonies and Labyrinth-esque inspiration. It won our award for the best VR game narrative of 2016 and has made the developer, Cloudhead Games, over $1 million.
We’ve been following The Gallery Episode 2 closely for the past several months and actually got our hands-on one of the first demos back at GDC 2017 near the start of the year. While channeling what made the first game so powerful and also implementing a stronger sense of storytelling, Episode 2 aims to be bigger and better. Note: There are spoilers below for Episode 1: The Call of the Starseed’s story.
For this preview a company representative told me the demo picks up right near the start of the game. The first Episode is all about you searching a mysterious island for your long-lost sister, Elsie. Your character never has a defined gender so it’s open-ended to allow for the highest degree of immersion. At the end of the first game you meet one of the series’ main characters as you ascend up what appears to be some sort of spaceship technology. As it turns out, you’re being transported to a world named Ember.
In Episode 2 you spend your time exploring the world of Ember and how its leaders are competing for power. At the end of the first Episode you gain this powerful new gauntlet that lets you manipulate areas of the environment and channel your energy. One of the biggest changes between Episode 1 and Episode 2 that I’ve taken note of is a heavier emphasis on solving puzzles.
The first Episode had players spend much of their time exploring environments and uncovering secrets along the way and while Heart of the Emberstone is very similar, this time the puzzles seemed to have a much more hands-on design. Near the start of the demo this is displayed in my handling of rubble using the new gauntlet tool.
After clearing a path and progressing onto a mechanical lift, I notice the strong Myst influences this time around as well. Architecture feels like a mixture of Cyan’s most recent work, Obduction, and an undiscovered alien civilization waiting to be unveiled.
In the demo I played at GDC the puzzles were all about precision, moving little stones through obstacles, while this time they’re focused more on elaborate holograms. I’m reminded of how innovative the first Episode was with its use of roomscale elements to really make you feel part of a place and Episode 2 embraces that aspect further. One of the puzzles had me ducking and leaning to gain new vantage points on the environment — something that you could never do in a non-VR game.
Near the end of the demo I step into an area and eventually come face-to-face with an enormous giant. These two moments underline a big part of what made the first game so powerful as well: the sense of scale. Just as I ended the first game with my head pointed at the sky, ascending into a bright light, I end this demo with my head pointed at the sky, in awe of my surroundings.
My preview only lasted about 20 minutes to give me a small taste, but the full Episode is expected to be closer to 4-6 hours total, compared to 1-2 hours for the first Episode.
With music by legendary game composer Jeremy Soule (The Elder Scrolls, Guild Wars, Knights of the Old Republic) even the soundtrack is building up to be an incredible audio experience and very well may end up being one of the first VR games that has a soundtrack worth buying individually.
The Gallery – Episode 2: Heart of the Emberstone is releasing very soon for both HTC Vive and Oculus Rift; PSVR editions of both episodes are expected to be coming soon as well. You can already keep an eye on the Steam page to stay up-to-date too.
Let us know what you think of the game down in the comments below!