Disclosure ‐ Thanks go out to Frima for providing us with a review code. We really appreciate it!
FATED is a game that tells a story. It is about you, it is about your family and it is about your clan. Based in a mythological Norse world, you find yourself mute after a near death experience. (An understandable side effect of having a roof fall on your head.) This experience not only took you close to death, but to the gods themselves. This story tells of what happens after you brush with death, and the following brush with divine.
FATED is a narrative title. It is a simple game with very little player interaction. You follow your family as you travel across a mountainous world. Initially you find yourself in a cart which is being driven back towards your home village. When you round the final corner you learn that your home has been destroyed and that your clan has fled. You do not yet know what caused the devastation, you hope the survivors of your village will be able to help and fill in the missing details.
After you have reconnected with the clan you find yourself doing some menial chores to get your caravan moving again. You walk out into the woods to find your friends. You find a bow (amongst other story related events) which you must use to hunt. To shoot it, you look at what you want to hurt (as long as it is a deer) and press a fire button.
From here on out there are a few other gameplay techniques that FATED uses to push it a little away from being a straight narrative. It has an on-rails dodge the rocks scene, a couple of simple match the shape games and a lot of walking. So much walking.
Movement is tedious, both when scripted and when controlled. When you move yourself it feels like you are pushing through molasses. That is to say, it is slow. There is no way to move faster and that alone can become quite frustrating quite quickly. However, it is not only the speed which causes problems with this movement though. FATED made me feel sick. To explain the reason behind problem we have to take a step back and take a look at how this game and VR relate to each other.
VR is an extremely powerful tool, one which is still in its infancy. It provides games and titles a great deal of power to create immersive, encompassing and interactive worlds. A good VR title will take you to a new world where anything could be possible. It will make you feel as though you are really in that space. This kind of interaction is further supported by individual hand controllers, the Vive controllers or the Rift Touch. They let you reach out and see your influence in the space around you. The same is true of room scale. If you can walk around and interact with your own genuine momentum it will only help creature that sense of place.
Some mechanisms break you away from this sense of total immersion. This suspension of reality is not always a bad thing though. If you have made a god game and you are not reflecting the person in a first person capacity, then it does not matter if you use a console controller or hand controllers. If you are driving a car it will matter less if you are using a controller or a keyboard. Unfortunately, a poor combination can produce some rather awkward or uncomfortable experiences. For example, using a controller’s trigger to represent hand movement creates a sense of disconnect between what you see and what you do. For a regular game this might not be such an issue, for a VR title it can really throw a spanner in the works.
So motion sickness in titles such as this comes not explicitly from the use of VR, rather it comes as a consequence of a mismatch in the elements that a body experiences compared to what it sees. For FATED this is a result of the way you move and the nature of its implementation. You control your walk with the left thumb-stick, rotate your body with the right (there is a choice of two modes for this) and look with your head. Initially this may not seem too bad. However, the requirement to rotate your body is crippling and I think this is the source of the issues.
Why does this rotation exist in the first place though? I believe that it stems from the decision to make a seated, regular controller, first person game. This is the single flaw in FATED. I do not think that this style game is actually a good match for VR at all. I feel that this control scheme has been implemented in a way which shoehorns this existing genre into a new medium. While they have tried hard to stick to traditional gameplay controls and mechanisms, I do not think that is where FATED, or VR should be looking.
As this game was making me feel quite sick I decided to try a different approach to the game. I took the headset off, I set it down on my desk and restarted the game. Then, using the relay on my monitor, I finished the game. I touched my headset only one or two times, this was to do ‘look at stuff’ interactions (something alone I find immersion breaking, IRL I don’t look at a button to press it). After finishing the game without wearing the headset, through just the controller and regular monitor, I had come to a conclusion. I actually enjoyed the title better this way.
I was sad that I was only able to rotate left and right with the controller, but I found you didn’t need to look up or down. This was vertical motion was expected to come from the headset, so it is fair that you cannot use a controller to simulate it. That said, it re-enforced to me that you barely needed to look around. As your hands were never making any meaningful movement in the game (via motion controllers) there was no need to see what they were doing. There was nothing that required special depth perception or any other feature presented by just the headset. I cannot think of anything that this game gains from being a VR title.
I felt that all the attempts at using features unique to VR were token at best. The archery did not immerse me, looking directly at buttons to push them annoyed me, and the way movement is handled felt forced. Even simple things like crawling in small spaces was broken by the very fact that you were still sitting in a seat. If you want to see how to do low spaces and make it feel amazing, check out the Budget Cuts demo.
What makes me so disappointed is that the story is, while simple and short (about an hour and a half long), still okay. I enjoyed following the people, I enjoyed the events. I want to know what will happen next. I just really do not want to do it in VR. The characters in the story, while being a little dim, are quite good companions on the whole. They are colourful and are willing to put up with your silence. I cannot say that I shed a tear, but FATED certainly tried hard.
There is an unspoken problem though, and that is the price-point. This game is almost AUD$30. If the exchange rates get much worse it might actually hit $30. It is listed as USD$20 which is just too much. That much money can buy you 2 movie tickets for a 3d film (or a normal movie). What is more, in many cases, the movie would probably be longer too. If this game was released as a non-VR title I would expect a price closer to $5 than the $20 they are after. Put bluntly, it is not worth the price.
If I were to draw the comparisons to non-VR titles I would also say that this game is quite shallow. There are many games that have managed to create a much deeper, more complete story than FATED. I can tolerate short games as long as they deliver a special experience. I am just afraid that this game does not do enough.
Would I recommend it? I don’t think so. I like the world and I like the characters. However, I cannot shake the feeling that it is way to short. I cannot shake the feeling that VR is not the right medium for this game. I felt like I lost nothing by playing it with the headset off. I think that if this comes down to about $5 then it might be worth trying. But at its current price, I cannot recommend it yet.