Disclosure ‐ Our thanks go out to Mark Schramm for supplying us with a copy of this game to review.
A ball drops down from a mysterious tube. As it passes through a strange ring, a green light flashes. You hear a ‘plink’ and see a lighting flash in your peripheral vision, looking around you notice another tube dropping other strange shapes. Taking the time to look around you see more devices, more objects flying around you… and you notice bins. Reason dawns, you know that you must fill them up.
Made by the Canberra based VR dev, Mark Schramm, Grav|Lab was only just released onto Steam Early Access. As Grav|Lab is still undergoing development, to ensure the fairest rating possible, we will hold off providing a score until it is fully released.
The core gameplay of Grav|Lab is quite simple; balls spawn at various points across the map, you must get these balls into their associated bucket. As with all good puzzlers this simple premise creates plenty of space for additional complexity.
The game starts with a ticker which flashes a red on a regular pattern. The primary ball dropper will be tuned into this ticker, dropping one ball for each red flash. It is these balls that you must then manoeuvre to the appropriate locations. How do you move them? Initially, you use directionalized platforms which can weakly force a ball in a certain direction. These can be useful when both moving balls around corners or when you need them to travel a distance.
For when you want to move balls a little further, like across the room, the accelerator is quite useful. This device flings balls at great velocity in the direction of your choice. When combined with the gravity manipulator you are able to make them not just follow their normal gravitational path, but remove or invert the direction they fall. These three items, together with the vacuum tube, are all you need to move the balls around the world.
While the final goal for the balls may be the collection buckets, this does not mean that the journey they follow is not also important. Along the way you may need the balls to pass through triggers which can be used to activate additional elements you place around the map. These actions include releasing alternative balls, shutting down force-fields or turning on and off vacuum tubes. Extra challenges are also included within some of the levels, directing you to send the flying balls through bonus checkpoints.
Scores are granted by the efficiency of your design. You will loose points for things such as the number of excess items you use or for each ball dropped. These deductions can add up quickly if you are not careful with your design. However, for those who create accurate mechanisms which take in all the bonus checkpoints, your score will be good
These extra challenges are a really good way to practice and finesse of some of your builds. They also provide a fantastic way to extend your game time through the currently short list of challenges. While there may not be all that many levels included so far, they are all about introducing you to the various tools that you have at your disposal. This is all preparation for the free building part of the game.
Integration with the Steam Workshop allows people the opportunity to create and share puzzles of their own designs. Currently there are not all that many available, but I am sure that this number will increase over time. Until then, there is nothing stopping you from creating a puzzle all of your own and sending it out into the world. You can make your puzzles as easy or as hard as you like. It is also unlikely that you know which type your puzzle will be until other people get their hands on it.
Visually this game is also good. While there may little scope for anything exceptional to be showcased, all the individual elements are well designed and extremely well presented. It is very clear from the very start what each item does and it is easy to extrapolate from the visuals alone what each element does.
There are a few quality of life features I would like to see. This includes indicators showing completed levels and instructions on how to remove placed elements. However, we are presented with a large number of customisation tools in the setting menu. Something which I believe that would make many on weaker systems quite happy.
Overall, I believe that Grav|Lab has the potential to be one of the best, and most flexible, puzzle games out there. I can see its free build mode being used for the construction of complex and intricate machinery. I can see it being used in a similar way as the Minecraft redstone mechanisms in are used to push coding in games. I can see puzzles being created which will stretch the imagination, challenging players in all the right ways. While the number of levels may be lacking at the moment, I can happily recommend this game for anyone who is fond of puzzle solving.