There are few things I would assign the word ‘hate’ to in this world. The Star Wars prequels would probably qualify. Probably seafood, too. But, most of all, I hate jump scares.
I mean that sit-in-the-cinema-fingers-in-my-ears-eyes-closed kind of hate. I freeze up at the slightest hint of suspense, ready to visit my happy place. As I’m sure you can imagine, this makes a lot of VR intensely unplayable for me. How I managed to survive Resident Evil 7 I’ll never know. How refreshing, then, to be able to enjoy Spectro’s brand of family-friendly spookiness scare-free.
One look at Spectro and you’ll know what it’s about. This is a stab at a Ghostbusters VR game (or, in gamer speak, Luigi’s Mansion VR). Curiously, though, there’s a hint of classic Wolfenstein to it; each level is small, containing a handful of rooms you need to clear enemies out of before searching for a way to progress to the next stage. Even the music ticks away in the background like an early id Software game. Throw in some rogue-lite inspirations and you have a game that’s clearly assembled on the foundations of others and remarkably similar to Bevan McKechnie’s Compound.
Out today in Early Access, this all makes for a surprisingly meaty, if imperfect haunted house. Ghosts are dispatched first by reducing a health meter with a Proton-style beam and then sucked up. It’s a reliable system in need of a little more substance. Ghosts feel like bullet (or laser) sponges, with robust health bars crawling to depletion. Regular upgrades, unlocked by finding keys and pairing them with chests, alleviate those frustrations, though there’s a desire for more process. It would be great, for example, to use motion controls to slam ghosts into walls to stun them, or to summon household items as shields.
Some variety does come in the way of enemy types. Most simply shoot projects at you but others drop bombs. Incoming projectiles are clumsily dodged using smooth locomotion or teleportation; it’s much more engaging to lean out of their way instead. It left me longing for some sort of Resident Evil 4-style stop-and-shoot system that would root you to the spot. Still, as it stands Spectro plays like an enjoyable shooter that could lean a little more on its weirder side and be a bit more intentive with its platform.
There are a precious few examples of that already, though. To progress to the next level, you have to collect totems that expose hidden doors. It gives each level a fun sense of mystery, even if the item hunting minigame required to collect totems is a little monotonous.
But the appeal of tackling more levels with other upgrades, bought by discovering coins inside items, is a strong one. My first run at Spectro’s gauntlet lasted 25 minutes and, after a quick break, I found myself wanting to dive straight back in for the next.
It’s something of a relief, then, that Spectro launches as an Early Access game. This is an enjoyable little VR ghost hunter that could be much better if it more readily embraced its platform. Fortunately, the developer is promising to add “more hand crafted level components, more pick-ups and upgrades, more ghosts” and other elements over the course of pre-release. I’m pretty optimistic that this one is going to get the love it deserves.
Spectro is available now on Steam Early Access with support for Rift and Vive for $19.99.