E3 2017 Hands-On: Transference Is An Intense And Unsettling Thriller About PTSD

by David Jagneaux • June 13th, 2017

As a video game journalist there are a few signs you can typically look out for that will indicate whether or not a meeting is going to be more than just your average, ordinary “meeting.” For starters, if you have to line up, check in twice, meet security, and sign an NDA before ever entering the building, that’s a pretty clear sign. If each of the company’s demos has its very own waiting list signup process, that’s another sign.

But more than anything if your demo is preceded by an ominous instructional video featuring a creepy professor and faux medical “Informed Participation Form” about the “experiment” you’re about to undergo, alarm bells should start going off. Transference, a new upcoming VR thriller collaboration between Ubisoft Montreal and SpectreVision, checks all of those boxes.

But don’t worry, I was reassured several times everything is “completely safe.”

When Transference was announced during Ubisoft’s E3 2017 press conference I had a lot of questions and after spending 15 minutes with it I have a few answers but mostly just came away with even more questions.

The general premise behind the game is that you’re involved with an experimental new technology that allows individuals such as yourself to virtually reconstruct memories for people that are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in an attempt to, presumably, help them heal. It felt sort of like exposure therapy for someone’s repressed emotions and memories.

In my demo I went into the mind of someone we referred to as “Walter.” Once I was in-game the bright, cyberpunk-esque retrofuturistic visuals immediately caught my attention. Supposedly I was reliving Walter’s memory from the early 90s. The environment looked great and my floating neon hands were ready to explore. That is, ready to explore at first until a young boy ran up to me and proclaimed that I didn’t “belong here” before suddenly turning off the lights.

Now I fast forward into the 2000s and am in the same house, but things are clearly a bit different. There’s no little boy now, but as I make my way down to the basement, I see the shadow of a young man standing with a gun in the corner. He’s swaying in a manner that’s reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project’s final scene.

Throughout it all nothing is ever quite as it seems. Since this is intended to be a digital recreation of someone’s traumatized memories things are inconsistent and glitchy. Doors morph and move around as I walk past them, pictures on the wall vanish and reappear seemingly at random. Some items even bounce in and out of view as if to imply the memories are fragmented and incomplete. Story elements are presented out of order and oftentimes I just hear voices floating around in my ears.

I won’t spoil the actual events of my demo because things get very intense very quickly, but suffice it to say that once I unlocked the answers to the puzzles and reached the end of the brief session I was floored. Since games like The Last of Us and Spec Ops: The Line are some of my favorites of all-time it should come as no surprise that heavy, emotional, and mentally mature topics are what resonate with me the most and Trasnference appears to check all of the boxes I’ve come to expect from these types of experiences.

Gameplay was simple as it only consisted of walking around (while seated) and picking up objects, but the story that SpectreVision and Ubisoft Montreal are aiming to tell is powerful enough to easily carry the experience.

In the teaser video above Lisa Whalen, the CEO of SpectreVision, explains that they want players to remove their VR headsets after playing and “still feel unsettled.” Well, multiple hours later, as I write this and reluctantly recall key moments from my brief demo, I can certifiably say they’ve accomplished just that.

Transference is slated to release for Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR in the Spring of 2018; my demo was on the Oculus Rift with Touch. Interestingly the website also lists Xbox One, PC, and PlayStation 4 — meaning either it will release for Xbox’s VR headsets or get a non-VR release as well. You can visit the game’s official website and newly launched Steam page for more information.

What do you think of what you’ve seen of Transference so far? Let us know down in the comments below and check our E3 news hub for all the latest!

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  • Wow cool! But we’ll have to wait a lot! Spring 2018?

  • iUserProfile

    Since the trailer seems to be all video can you tell us a bit more about the game looks? Is it build in a 3d engine or is it some kind of video hybrid thing? Do you actually control your character or is it set on rails. How do the controls work? RE7 style or did you use move controllers?