Shaun Munro reviews Theseus…
The concept of third-person VR games is still tough for a lot of players to get their heads around, though the likes of PSVR’s Robots Rescue and Wayward Sky have proven just how immersive non-first-person games really can be. As such, Theseus arrives with a heap of curiosity from VR owners looking to sink their teeth into a full-fat, third-person action adventure jaunt, seemingly in the vein of the God of War franchise.
To that end, developer Forge Reply has delivered an atmospheric and intense retelling of the classic Ancient Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, one that makes engrossing use of the VR space, but at just 90 minutes in length, unfortunately feels more like a budget-constrained “experience” than the substantial 3-5 hour adventure most were surely hoping for.
Theseus begins with the title character waking up inside a labyrinth, where his ethereal lover and guide Ariadne steers him through the maze-like ruins towards a vengeful, blind, 30-foot Minotaur who patrols the dank expanse.
The game is driven by a combination of light platforming, combat, puzzle-solving and stealth traversal, as Ariadne funnels you through a mostly-linear series of tunnels and caves, all visualised through appealingly cinematic, HUD-less fixed camera angles (with players using their heads to look around). Though it’s fair to say that Theseus himself looks a little on the jagged side during close-up sequences, for the most part the game’s visuals are a credit to PSVR, creating a very different kind of immersion from the more obvious viewpoint-sharing thrills of first-person games.
In the early going, there’s a palpable air of tension as you’re left unsure of exactly what you’ll face leading up to the climactic fight with the Minotaur, though if you’ve seen any of the game’s trailers, you’ll know that Theseus has to fight the beast’s offspring, realised here as an army of horrifically over-sized spiders.
While spiders in VR have been a cheap trick for a long time, it at least feels decidedly less-so from the third-person viewpoint; there aren’t any spiders leaping at your face, as was so aggravating in Farpoint, and the creatures are sparingly employed throughout the scant run-time for maximum effectiveness.
Though for the most part arachnophobes will probably be able to cope with the distance that the third-person perspective creates, it’s worth warning them that the first time you’re introduced to spiders in this game, sans-sword no less, it is a legitimately discomforting experience, even if it thankfully only lasts a few minutes. Praise to Forge Reply, though; it’s one of the more viscerally effective and memorable sequences I’ve had in any of the 40-ish VR games I’ve played so far, though I was thankful that the rest of the game featured nothing quite so stressful.
As for the aforementioned core mechanics, they’re all relatively simplistic and bare bones, which is likely to prove divisive among players, especially as there’s no difficulty select option. Platforming is hilariously easy, complete with big button prompts, and will be a cinch to anyone who’s ever played, well, any platforming game ever.
Meanwhile, combat is extremely forgiving, and even when facing three or four spiders at once without your trusty torch – which can be used to set them alight and score an easy kill – you’re given a highly generous amount of health, meaning that I didn’t even come close to being killed by the critters on either of my playthroughs.
Puzzles barely qualify as such, and stealth is by far the most challenging aspect, but even then, that’s only because it’s highly rooted in trial-and-error gameplay as you attempt to hide from the Minotaur. After a fail or two, though, most players should figure things out and quickly move on.
To the game’s credit, the checkpointing system is very, very good, meaning you won’t need to repeat more than about 30 seconds of play at any time, and considering that Forge Reply could’ve easily scaled-back the checkpointing to pad things out and make the game last longer, that’s an admirable move.
Overall, Theseus isn’t a remotely difficult game once you get over the stress of fighting tractor-sized spiders, but that’s not what holds one back from recommending this game right now.
The biggest problem facing Theseus is its jaw-droppingly short length. Even while making numerous stupid mistakes, my first runthrough was a mere 90 minutes, and a second go-around was almost squarely an hour. Don’t forget, that’s including several forced walking sequences and cut-scenes, too.
With the game’s RRP of €20, it’s extremely hard to suggest you pull the trigger for this amount of content. Yes, there is a second ending to unlock, which the press notes imply is achieved by discovering all the dead bodies scattered around the ruins, but even if you had the inclination to play through the game two or three times in order to do this, that’s going to be about 3.5 hours max, and it’s hard to imagine most wanting to replay such a linear and already repetitive game many times over.
It’s worth mentioning that there are a few slightly different routes and divergences players can take, but I didn’t seem to find any that substantially changed the game. Ultimately, unless you’ve absolutely got money to burn, wait for a deep sale on this one.
Though value of course differs for everyone, especially in the VR space, this really should be priced around the €10 mark, and so most paying the current price and hoping for at least a 3-hour core experience will surely be bitterly disappointed by just how scant it is.
It’s a shame because what’s here is really quite enjoyable in its simplicity; the visuals, sound effects, musical score and general sense of VR presence are all well executed, but it feels more like a piecemeal experience, a vertical slice of a much bigger game rather than a fully formed release.
If this was the third act of a game, Forge Reply would definitely be onto something with Theseus, and I’ll certainly be intrigued to see what else they cook up for PSVR, but I’ll also place my content expectations much lower than their own seemingly over-optimistic claims.
+ Third-person action is atmospheric and cinematic
+ Solid visuals and spooky sound
+ Excellent checkpoint system
– Core campaign is just 90 minutes long
– Central mechanics are very simple and easy
– It feels like an overpriced “experience”
Reviewed for PS4
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more video game rambling.