Alice VR (PC) Review

By Chris Leebody 15.11.2016

Review for Alice VR on PC

Here it is, folks: the new dawn of gaming (cue dramatic drum roll) - virtual reality. At least, that is what is dominating the current gaming and technology zeitgeist all of a sudden. Well, maybe dominating is too strong a term, but it is correct to say that a slew of new titles have been released over the past few months to take advantage of the widespread consumer release of the Oculus Rift and PSVR. One such title is this intriguing sci-fi first-person adventure from indie developer Carbon Studio, which, as the name Alice VR suggests, is loosely based on the Alice in Wonderland tale. Here, though, the Cheshire Cat has been given a lot of electronic cabling and LED eyes; it's not so much down the rabbit hole as it is down the shuttle hatch. With an interesting setting and the immersive power of virtual reality, what could possibly go wrong? Hold on to your stomach...

When it comes to the whole virtual reality thing, it was discovered very quickly that it all hinged on one aspect: the ability to not have a large section of the user base being physically nauseous, for the mind plays interesting tricks and maybe humans are not so advanced as thought. Without the perception of space - and the body in that space - the mind simply breaks down. Here, we have problem number one with Alice VR: moving.

What many developers have quickly discovered with first-person virtual experiences is the value in eliminating all but the most necessary movement. They have replaced this with a 'look-to-a-spot and teleport' system. Is it the most lore friendly immersive system? No, of course not, but if the alternative is genuine nausea, it's probably worth the compromise.

Screenshot for Alice VR on PC

The lack of this compromise here is what puts things off on a bad way straight from the first moment of being woken out of stasis on an abandoned vessel. The computer AI in control of the ship quickly directs the player around the various stations on board to carry out tasks in order to prepare for the shuttle landing on a nearby planet to collect fuel.

The hibernation must have played real body havoc, though. Movement is done through the analogue sticks on the Oculus Rift and as the floating protagonist glides forward, the real-life protagonist endures a lurching roller coaster ride sensation. Turning with the sticks is almost dizzying, but thankfully there are 'snap to turn' controls on the D-pad, which just about alleviates that particular problem.

Now, of course, a clarification has to be made. This is all personal. Some people are just better used to this kind of thing, or as it has become known, have found their 'virtual reality legs.' That said, when the experience of moving in a straight line is more hurl-inducing than flying a spitfire through a mountain pass, there is probably an issue.

Screenshot for Alice VR on PC

It really goes back to that sense of space and place as mentioned prior. There are some sections based in a rover vehicle and these are more manageable because it makes sense to the brain. It would not have been hard to give the main character some feet that were visible to give relativity to movement and keep the brain from collapsing under the weight of trying to process it. More simply, a point-and-click teleport mechanic would have alleviated a great many issues.

It is even more of a struggle because many of the puzzles throw in a gravity switch section, in which the concepts of horizontal and vertical movement no longer have any meaning. The unfortunate thing is that for many this is likely to have them lifting off the headset to try and enjoy the adventure through more traditional gaming means, which is a deep shame.

Having said all of that, it would almost be worth it for a memorable and engrossing experience. The sad reality is that Alice VR stands as more of a tech demo of the increasing power of the Unreal Engine to deliver virtual reality. At least it is a good example of the visual tech, with the city section particularly standing out impressively.

Screenshot for Alice VR on PC

Although the world and setting is colourful and bright, and it is easy at times to stare in wonder and be totally immersed, however, these fleeting moments are hidden under a four-hour plot, which mostly consists of a walking simulator of rudimentary puzzles involving flipping switches.

It's more disappointing, as there was a real opportunity to take advantage of an excellent pulsating futuristic soundtrack, as well as positional surround sound, which delivers more of the excellent VR immersion. A lot of care had clearly been taken with the voices, as well, which, although sparse in terms of characters, are all performed skilfully.

There are even missed opportunities to further awe-inspire, such as the initial shuttle ride down to the planet. On the main ship, the player gets a tease when they step onto the bridge and can look through the viewing screen at the vast planet below in the darkness of space. However, this ride down, which could have been a spectacular set piece, is instead removed for a loading screen after embarking. This exact situation is a sign of things to come, especially with the poor payoff at the end of the experience.

Screenshot for Alice VR on PC

Cubed3 Rating

4/10
Rated 4 out of 10

Subpar

The fact that there are a number of quirks still to work out with this kind of title is not really a surprise. This is a new medium; the early adopters are jumping on a virtual reality journey that will take many years to realise its full potential. That said, developers have a responsibility to do everything they can to make the experience as smooth and rewarding as possible. Alice VR fails to do this, with a movement setup that does nothing to persuade the player to endure the discomfort. For the price, if being judged as a non-VR title, the content and quality is extremely lacking. It is only the natural immersion that VR brings that elevates the experience. There is a very pleasant looking world here, and the outside sections are the best bits, but that alone isn't enough - gameplay is still paramount.

Developer

Carbon Studio

Publisher

Klabater

Genre

Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  4/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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