Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven is so haunting in its drama and convincing in its misery that you don’t really need a VR headset to bring it to life. Poe’s sorrowful words carry such weight to them that you can’t help but immerse yourself deep in the poem’s world. Nevertheless, Thomas Pasieka has put his spin on the classic with an adaptation for the Oculus Rift that still sends a chill running down your spine.
For those that don’t know, The Raven is a poem first published in 1845 that tells the tale of an unnamed narrator, mourning the death of his love by a warm fireplace on a chilly December’s midnight. His thoughts are disturbed by the arrival of a raven that perches itself on a bust overlooking his study, surprising him when it croaks the word “nevermore”, and continues to do so much to his dismay.
Visually, The Raven VR is a straight adaptation of the source material with very few liberties taken. The viewer can jump around the room to fixed spots, though the experience doesn’t have Oculus Touch or gamepad support; you’re here simply as a spectator, presumably embodying the narrator, who cannot be seen.
Perhaps that’s as it should be, though, paying respects rather than forming a new path. The Raven VR is instantly approachable to anyone from those that have studied the poem by the letter to those that will be hearing it for the first time. Visually the piece plays it straight; the scene remains static aside from the opening of doors and the arrival of the raven. I couldn’t help but wonder what exciting things I might uncover had I been allowed to reach into the scene with my Touch controllers, but at the same time I have the utmost respect for the adherence to the source material.
This isn’t one of those VR art apps that ‘expands’ on the foundations; you don’t jump inside the portrait of the Mona Lisa to see what’s behind her, or explore Vincent Van Gough’s Night Cafe to find the painter himself hiding around the corner. If anything, I wished to further embody the narrator, sitting by the warmth of the fire in hopes it might thaw my icy heart. I’d love to see a more interpretative take too — there’s certainly space for something more creative — but as a straight adaptation, this works well.
Credit has to go, though, to Barry Carl’s engrossing reading of the poem, which feels so authentic and world weary you couldn’t imagine Poe himself being any happier with it. Jordan Rudess’ music also leaves its mark, creating a suitable atmosphere worthy of that which the poem’s words are capable of summoning all by itself.
The Raven VR delights as a rock solid adaptation of a classic poem, if not striving for more with VR’s limitless possibilities. Still, in a way it’s a nice reminder that we don’t always need that; sometimes authenticity gets the job done just right.
The Raven VR is available now on the Oculus Rift for free.