The Gallery – Episode 2: Heart of the Emberstone is coming this spring to Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, and for fans of the first episode, Call of the Starseed (2016), it can’t come a moment too soon. Stepping into the demo at Unity’s booth at this year’s GDC, I got a chance to experience something that not only features a heady mix of highly tuned visuals and clever puzzles, but a familiar feeling that Cloudhead Games says pays homage to ’80s sci-fi/fantasy movies like The Dark Crystal (1982) and the Indiana Jones series. From what I’ve seen, it would be silly for me not to be excited.
I’m not here to ruin the first episode for you, so I’ll wisely activate a (spoiler alert) for people who want to first complete the game before learning about the second. In the first episode you’re granted a magical gauntlet that lets you control the mystical power ‘Creator Tech’. Episode Two, Emberstone, takes place on an alien world set directly after the first episode, and makes heavy use of the gauntlet in the world’s puzzles. (spoiler alert deactivated)
Stepping out of a hallway through a mystical glowing door, I come into what appears to be a wooden hut filled with strange artifacts. Normal everyday items like books and papers litter the right side of the hut. On the left are what appears to be four Buddhist prayer wheels covered in cuneiform script. The chicken scratch language glows somewhat and tosses reflections out on the wall as I spin them to ultimately no effect.
It takes me a minute to focus on what’s important, two stone pillars positioned on each side of the room and traced with glowing blue chicken scratch. Walking to the middle of the room to get a better look, I step on a dial on the floor which to my surprise activates a hologram of a mountain range. Interesting. Then a woman’s voice emanating from a ghostly projection walks through me, to essentially demonstrate how to use the pillars.
I teleport over and a luminescent blue shard pops out of my gauntlet to reveal my new magical power. A hologram of a 3D puzzle appears on the stone pillar and I’m set with solving it. Once solved, out pops a cube.
I’m being deliberately short spoken so I don’t give away the fun of solving the puzzle, but the next bit reveals another power of your gauntlet that will lead you to putting the cubes where they belong. And then the reveal. It’s not a hut at all, but some sort of pod suspended in an alien atmosphere with an imposing giant who just wants to say hello. And that concluded my demo.
Cloudhead told us the second episode will be double in length of the first installment, which took most people around 2-3 hours to complete. Some of this can be attributed to the enlarged scale of Episode Two itself, but also the fact that the game isn’t linear like episode one, but rather uses a central hub that can access several other areas. Instead, Cloudhead says, users will have to actively experience the story from elements found in each level.
“The story itself is kind of a puzzle. The environments are a puzzle, everything about gameflow is a puzzle. But if we’ve done our job correctly and feel like it’s a puzzle, you’ll feel like you’re a great adventurer making amazing discoveries,” said Cloudhead CEO and creative director Denny Unger in the company’s YouTube developer vlog.