Supermassive Games is bookending the year in VR in much better form than it started. The Until Dawn developer’s first two games of 2018, PSVR’s The Inpatient and Bravo Team, have all but been forgotten following an unexpectedly lukewarm reception that led the team to vow it will do better in the future. Rest assured; Shattered State is better.
Launching today, Shattered State is the result of Supermassive’s first VR collaboration outside of Sony, this time appearing exclusively on Google’s Daydream platform. If you’ve been following Daydream’s exclusive output over the past few years you’ll know Google has been favoring more experimental VR experiences like So Let Us Melt to showcase its mobile ecosystem. Shattered State is very much a continuation of that trend; it’s a political thriller in which you’re not on the frontlines of conflict but instead behind a desk, calling the shots.
“This was an opportunity to take some of the learnings we got from The Inpatient in terms of VR storytelling, an opportunity to go into a new genre in terms of a political thriller, and the market’s very different,” Supermassive’s Simon Harris says of how the experience came to be. “When we’re building stuff for PlayStation VR, the PlayStation VR consumer has certain expectations. With something like Daydream, because it’s much more about people trying VR for the first time, there’s experimenting with new experiences. There’s a lot of things that are less ‘gamey’ for that sort of audience, so it was that perfect match.”
Shattered State is definitely less game, more choose your own adventure. Lasting about 40 minutes as one ‘play through’ but reaching much further thanks to the developer’s staple multi-choice formula, the game is like a distillation of everything that Supermassive is best known for squeezed into something around the length of a TV episode. Set in the wake of the creation of a new country, already uneasy tensions accelerate at an alarming pace as you try to put a stop to what’s looking increasingly like a coup. That means lots of important people with important jobs shouting various options at you, usually conflicting with a colleague and leaving you with the consequences.
We’ll have a full review for you in the near future but I was really struck by what Supermassive was trying to do here; create a VR experience the likes of which you genuinely won’t have seen in traditional gaming before. There’s an admirable element of stagecraft to the way in which characters bounce off of each other, stare you down and enter and exit scenes.
“VR has a completely different storytelling experience; you are present but, in the case of Shattered State, you don’t have a voice,” the team’s Steve Goss tells me. “So rather than being a character it’s more of a role that you fulfill. I think that was one of our big impulses, trying to find a really interesting role that a lot of people identify with.”
Indeed, Shattered State apes the hyper-serious, somewhat hamfisted and brooding atmosphere of shows like Homeland and 24. The swathing, synthetic soundtrack echoes the ‘end of the world’ scenario and the characters, which are some of the best I’ve seen in all of VR let alone a mobile platform, intimidate with their matter-of-fact dialogue. You don’t witness the chaos outside first-hand, but muffled radio messages, behind-the-glass interrogations and to-the-point news bulletins all do a pretty effective job of weighing on your conscience. The choices themselves are designed to have weight; do you torture a potentially innocent hacker in order to get answers faster? Or do you choose to go easy on him and risk being a step behind?
Choices stack up fast, with the brief running time flying past. I haven’t yet dived back into Shattered State to toy around with my choices and see what different outcomes can be achieved, but Supermassive assures me there are plenty. Mostly, though, I’m just reassured to find a developer with a skillset uniquely suited to VR getting back on track and doing something truly interesting in the space.
“We’re looking for a new audience, all of our games try to look for a new audience,” Goss tells me. “We learned so much from the engagement of Until Dawn and every game we’ve made since. We’ve not stepped away from the people who our games but we think this will bring us even closer to, hopefully, a new group of people. And they can teach us new things about what they want from an experience, how they want to experience it.”
Shattered State will be available on Daydream devices (specifically the mobile-based View headset and the standalone Mirage Solo) from today.