VR has finally reached the point where developers are figuring out how to use the medium in interesting ways. Thank God! I mean, any clown can make a game featuring “shooty-shooty, bang-bang,” in first person. I’m looking for the kind of shit that inverts your synapses and has you thinking about an entirely new type of gaming experience. A perfect example of this is the newly released Transpose, which turns all player perceptions on its ear. It’s beginning to feel like VR has leveled up.
Perception Is (Virtual) Reality
If you’re looking for highly detailed environments or a deeply involved narrative, you should probably start hunting elsewhere. Honestly, you should probably just start hunting outside of the VR space in general. Transpose is an in-depth first-person puzzler that will literally have you questioning what is up and what is down. That’s not an exaggeration considering that a handful of stages focus exclusively on dicking around with gravity. And this is just the jumping off point for a title that finds a couple of fantastic new ways to utilize VR, and then iterates on the formula until damn near every possible permutation has been exhausted.
If there were such a thing as mental push-ups, this would most likely be the gym you’d be working out in. Expect to have your perception of both time and space tested. No, this isn’t some garbage sci-fi series. It’s a mentally exhausting experience that will make your head spin countless times before it reaches its final conclusion.
Though there are countless interesting moments in Transpose, the problem is that it doesn’t make the best first impression. Something as simple as interacting with the main menu screen actually requires a basic understanding of the in-game controls. Unfortunately, the navigational tutorials primarily occur after the game actually starts. The end result is aimless fumbling with the controls while simultaneously trying figure out how to walk across the damn room, in order to click one god-forsaken button and start the campaign. This lack of overall instruction wouldn’t be as big of a deal if the game used a more standard set of controls. However, I’ve yet to see a title that utilizes their initially obtuse scheme. Not a good start to say the very least.
Learning the Ropes
Fortunately, if you can manage to ride the struggle bus for long enough to actually kick things off, everything will become far clearer. Utilizing the Move button on the left controller, the player’s character will slowly inch forward in whatever direction their gaze is directed. Additionally, the right Move button is used to place the waypoint for jumping short distances. Pushing down the jump button with place the targeting reticule on screen and then releasing the same button will initiate the leap.
Once basic navigation has been perfected, this is where the time tomfoolery starts to show itself. I will warn you in advance that these descriptions may sound a bit odd, but they make sense in the context of the game. You create multiple instances of yourself by using time travel. Told you it would get weird, quickly. Over the course of the campaign players gain the ability to retain several prior “ghost” versions of themselves, which will continue to follow exactly the same path you followed before resetting the time back to the beginning.
Imagine a door-unlocking puzzle where the key is on the opposite side of the level, in an area that cannot be returned from. The steps to solve this puzzle are as follows:
- Navigate your avatar to where the key is located.
- Pick up the key object.
- Lob said key object across the stage, back towards the now-unreachable start of the stage.
- Hit the time reset button and choose to retain the steps followed previously.
Once the time has been reset you return to the beginning of the stage. From here you can watch the ghost version of your prior-self navigate across the stage and lob the key in your direction. All that needs to be done is have current-you snatch the key that was thrown from past-you, to what was at the time future-you, and open the door. Trippy, right?
These sorts of challenges are just the tip of the iceberg. Fortunately, Transpose is designed in a way that continuously ramps up the difficulty, while not overwhelming the player. Once they start mixing in adversaries and alternate gravities, you can expect to have your brain flipped inside-out. However, all it takes is a little trial and error to eventually grasp how to best solve a given puzzle. Epiphany moments are aplenty, and ultimately prove to be the most rewarding aspect of the entire game.
As is the case with most PSVR experiences, and was alluded to earlier in the review, this isn’t the kind of title that will be a graphical showcase for the platform. Visuals start out as fairly simplistic wireframe meshes that grow in complexity and detail as the campaign rolls along. Have you ever experienced that moment when you dejectedly think that a game is winding down, only to have the world open up and reveal that you’re only a fraction of the way to completion? That happened to me. Twice. Clocking in at somewhere around eight hours and featuring over thirty stages, you can expect to get plenty of bang for your buck.
If I were to offer up one small piece of advice, it would be to complete a stage before putting your console in standby. For whatever reason, whenever I returned to the game after any length of time away, both Move controllers would glitch out uncontrollably to the point that the game was unplayable. It looked like my arms were participating in a pop-and-lock dance party and rest of my body wasn’t invited. Once you exited to the PS4 dash, closed down the entire application, and then restarted, everything would return to working as usual. It’s hard to say if the PSVR hardware or the game itself is to blame for this consistently-occurring controller freak out, but rest assured that quitting mid-level was a mistake that I only made once.
Transpose came completely out of left field and knocked my proverbial socks off. It was a genuine pleasure to play. I went in with virtually no expectations and left feeling like I’d been swept up into something I never realized was even possible in VR. If you’re looking for a no-frills puzzle experience that can scratch that Portal itch, look no further. This is the kind of perception-altering title that PSVR owners owe it to themselves to play.
Transpose review code provided by publisher. Version 1.0 reviewed on a standard PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.