I’ve had my eye on Waking the Glares for a little while. Announced in late 2014, this first-person adventure promised an imaginative tale that would be perfect for the early days of the Oculus Rift, while we waited for bigger, better games. Developer Wisefool Studio didn’t quite make that early day window, but this is still something that’s worth checking out if you have the stomach for it.
Waking the Glares casts you as Dawnfall, a wanderer that visits seemingly unrelated fragments of different universes, each with strange and fantastic sites. Piecing together the game’s story is a little tricky as only the first two of seven chapters are available right now, but Dawnfall himself appears to be somewhat confused as he follows a mysterious voice through several worlds. Drawing a link between what the narrator is talking about and what you can see in the game world is often puzzling; lines come and go without really giving you much context to consider what they really mean, though maybe that’s all part of the mystery.
This is the kind of game that’s more about seeing than it is playing. While there are some puzzles, most of the gameplay is confined to walking around, searching for objects to interact with. What I remember from my time are some of the more striking sights; a tree piercing several layers of a house it grows through, or a gentle boat ride up a canal set against a gorgeous sunset. The last section opens up the game to a picturesque Paris that encourages you to explore every nook and cranny with its open-ended objectives.
As a VR experience it’s at times curiously atmospheric, though it never fully captures the feeling of being in the world as you can only interact with certain items. It didn’t evoke much emotion from me, even if I was enjoying the time I was spending there.
Content-wise there isn’t much here, with the two chapters lasting about an hour in total, but the second chapter ends on a fun note that suggests better things are on the way. As a package these two levels are a little lackluster, coming and going without really giving the player a major hook, but hopefully these later chapters will reward their sense of curiosity.
The bigger concern here is the lack of optimization for VR. I can play gamepad-based Rift games without nausea, but Waking the Glares still made my stomach churn with its fast turning. I couldn’t find any comfort options in the game’s menu, and the design committed one of VR’s ugliest sins, moving the player’s camera for them when they interact with objects. Every time you press something your screen will lurch forward and put you in the position the developer wants you in. It’s uncomfortable and distracting, as are the screen flickers you can occasionally encounter when standing in the wrong place.
Fortunately the game is playable without a Rift so, if you start to get ill, you can at least see it through on a standard display, although that robs you of much of the immersion.
Waking the Glares is a part of a dying breed of Rift games that use the gamepad for first-person exploration, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad since there are still strong use cases for gamepad-based VR games. There are enjoyable sights and sounds in these brief two chapters, and some thoughtful puzzles that I enjoyed solving. The series is off to a good start, but I’d definitely like to see more consideration given to Rift players if VR support is to continue, and I’d likely recommend waiting for those future episodes before diving in.