I’ve played Angest, by Black River Studio, a Brazilian indie game studio.
The game captured my attention due to its nice trailer and its intriguing description.
Immerse yourself as Valentina, a cosmonaut aboard a ship in the company of Konstantin, the AI that oversees and takes care of you while doing daily tasks for your mission. But as the days go by, your perception of reality can be affected. Will you embrace it? Break free? Or find an answer somewhere else?
When I started Angest on my Gear VR, I saw myself in some place in the space, then I moved to another weird location and so on, until I arrived at the main menu of the game. In the main menu, I was in the outer space, on a chair. In front of me there was a computer screen and on the right a whiteboard. Soon I discovered that staring the whiteboard triggered a small tutorial of the game projected onto it, that taught me the controls: basically you can use the Gear VR touchpad or remote to perform any kind of interactions with the virtual world. Looking at the flying screen in front of me, I could push 3 keys. I selected the first one and the game started.
I woke up in a room inside a spaceship, inside a futuristic bed. I was immediately impressed by the quality of the graphics: really good to be a Gear VR game. After that I was disappointed by the type of chosen locomotion, that happens at fixed locations: you look at some pre-defined yellow dots and you can move to that location. This type of locomotion breaks the immersion and is also very awkward to be used… but I have to say that on a Gear VR there are no many options to make a decent locomotion scheme, especially if the developer doesn’t want to force the user to own a gamepad. Anyway, at least with this method there are no issues of motion sickness.
I started exploring my room: we were in a spaceship, so I guess that it should be the future, but the style was very retro. And not only retro, but also Soviet: in the game, everything is written in Russian (also translated in English, of course) and this makes the impression you’re part of the Russian space program in some kind of dystopian future. Many objects are interactive: I could take some book in hands, eat some pizza (there’s a free dried pizza dispenser… I ate so much that I feared the spaceship could crash because of my weight!), change the song that was playing and so on. I liked the exploration of my room. I thought that there was some enigma to solve there (maybe I’ve played Monkey Island too much!), but actually there is not.
Then I opened the door and Konstantin, the AI, welcomed me. The AI checks everything that happens on the ship and also gives you instructions. It operates through some retro-style screens, as the one that I used in the main menu. It told me to go to the lab and so I did. There, I had to sit on a chair to evaluate my brain functionalities through some tests. I was scared: the last test that I took in real life has revealed me that I’m an evil commander, so I couldn’t imagine what this test could say about me. There were some strange questions to which I had to answer selecting weird pictures and then it finished.
The AI told that everything was ok (yes…but… I want to know the results now! What is my personality according to this test? Am I really evil?) and then told me to go eating (ehm… are you sure? I’ve already eaten a lot of pizza for breakfast!). After eating again, I had to go working in the hydroponic garden, cutting some yellow leaves of the plants there.
Interactions are very simple: with a tap on the touchpad I took the scissors and then with another tap while looking at a yellow leaf, I was able to cut it. Every interaction in the game is simple, based on two possible mechanics:
- Gaze (for instance to teleport to a new location)
- Look and tap (for instance to cut the leaves)
The program gives you a hint to signal if you can interact with something: looking at it a hand or something similar appears, so you know that you can interact with that object.
During the game, there are also space-themed collectibles that you can take in your hands and then vanish away: postcards, little space-ships, etc… . There are many and you have to find them all during the various times you play.
After having cut the leaves, I could return to my room, to sleep again. I was teleported automatically to the PC of my room, where I had automatically written a journal of my day. Then I moved to my bed and… good night!
Day 2, I woke up. I went outside my room and find Konstantine telling me to go to the lab to do the tests. Then he told me to eat, then go to the garden. I tried to do something different, but it was not possible. The Control Room was locked and I couldn’t access the Cargo Bay or exit, either. So I had to do my job again: garden tasks were slightly different from Day 1 (I had to harvest a fruit), but mechanics to perform them was very similar.
Day 3, same routine.
Day 4, same routine… but I managed to enter the Cargo Bay somehow.
I was really getting bored. After half an hour of play, I had just repeated the same boring routine every damn day.
I continued playing just because I started seeing some slight changes in my environment and some glitches here and there. And these are the things that make the experience a bit interesting.
Every day you have the same astronaut routine, but the more you go on, the more the experience becomes strange, surreal. Questions of the test start becoming nonsense; the spaceship starts having some damages (one of the AI screen breaks, for instance); you start seeing weird things while you sleep.
It is like you’re getting mad, or you’re daydreaming and everything becomes so strange. In the end, you see objects flying everywhere, while the AI can’t speak anymore.
Every choice you make affects the evolution of the game, so every time you play it is unique. With choices I mean for instance the actions you make or the answers you give to your tests: during my weird dreams, I clearly recognized some images I selected during my test of the Day 1. In the end, you get a different ending depending on your choices: in my ending, I saw a strange sphynx-cat-shaped-being on my chair in the space.
The game ends with the credits, that you see teleporting in the same stations you saw at the very beginning (interactive credits… very original!). Then, after the credit, you see “Day 0” and find yourself again in your room. You open the door and Konstantin says to you: “Welcome back Valentina”. Final fading and you’re again in the main menu, with all the collectibles you found in the game that are all around you.
During this final sequence, you read one of the voices of your journal that says “Existence is illusory and is eternal”. The game has exactly this spirit: it is “illusory” since it is like a big weird dream and it is “eternal” because you’re in an endless loop. Valentina ends her experience restarting again at Day 0 and from the main menu you can continue the loop of her life forever. Every iteration of the loop lasts circa 1 hour, if you’re interested.
The game has enthusiastic reviews on the Oculus Store, but honestly, I didn’t like it. I didn’t dislike it, either. It’s complicated. I didn’t like it, but I loved its quality and it left me some sensations, so I appreciated it. Don’t even know how to properly explain that.
For sure audio and video are of an excellent quality. The ship gives you a good possibility of exploration and you can interact with almost every object. The sense of presence is deep: it is one of the few Gear VR games that made me feel deep inside virtual reality. Furthermore the fact that the story is different every time, makes it really re-playable.
But the game is also really boring. Having a daily-routine simulator was not my VR dream. After half an hour of playing, I really felt the willing to stop. I know, there’s the possibility to explore the ship and such, but I’m more a killer than an explorer, so I haven’t enjoyed it that much.
The thing that instead I loved has been surrealness… I love weird things, so I loved noticing things slowly becoming senseless and strange. This is what I enjoyed the most about this experience. It has been like living in a perverted dream where I was a Russian cosmonaut.
As a final judgment, I can say you that it is for sure an application with a very high quality, in everything. It is also very original. But first of all it is more an experience than a game. And you should love the genre to appreciate it. If you’re ok with exploration and repetitive tasks, it’s fantastic for you. If you love surreal movies, you should absolutely try it. If you’re a Robo Recall player, skip it. If you’re in doubt what kind of player you are, give it a try.
You can find Angest on the Gear VR store, if you wish. Play with it, Valentina.
(Header Image by Black River Studios)