The Unspoken from Insomniac Games wants to use the immediacy of motion controls to give you magical powers and then watch you fight to the death using them. At a special event, Frank He got a chance to go hands on with the Oculus Touch exclusive title and this is what he thought.
The Unspoken, developed by Insomniac Games exclusively for Oculus Touch is all about spell casting with your hands in VR, and it actually, really, truly, does almost make you feel like you’re a wizard, Harry! If you have ever wanted to be Harry Potter or some other spell-slinging Chosen One, then you need to try this game.
Chad Dezern, the Studio Director at Insomniac Games North Carolina, presented The Unspoken to us, the media, and during the presentation I felt a great sense of anticipation just from his description. The theme of The Unspoken is an invisible world lurking in the periphery, one that I feel harkens to the nature of VR itself, because you put those goggles on and experience a hidden, virtual world.
The event featured various demo stations, with 6 of them with Oculus Rifts paired with Touch controllers, all wired to networked PCs. This allowed for 3 simultaneous one on one matches. I had the opportunity to play both the provided tutorial before going on to play 3 matches. First up, let me tell you it felt like nothing I’ve played in VR before. It was magical, physical, and felt like it had true depth and potential to it.
One of the main spells you cast in the demo, fireballs, truly feel like you’re throwing physical projectiles at your enemy. You clench your hand in a fist, charging the spell, before throwing almost as naturally as lobbing a baseball. Oculus Touch makes this weird physical-but-not-actually-real feeling of having your hands in VR, gripping virtual things all possible. I largely stuck with an overhand throwing style, but near the end of my session, I experimented with other styles, some which enhanced the bad-ass feeling no end.
It’s here that a direct comparison to the HTC Vive‘s SteamVR controllers came to mind. With The Unspoken and Oculus Touch, the combination goes a long way to fulfilling the dream of being a powerful, spell-slinging wizard, and in ways that I don’t think would have worked as well on the Vive. Comparing experiences with similar projectile throwing scenarios in Budget Cuts for example. On the Vive, thanks to the form factor, it doesn’t feel like you’re directly manipulating virtual things with your hands. I sort of got a sense in Budget Cuts that I felt like a hardcore ninja by throwing the knives using the underhand technique, but now that I’ve done similar things on Touch, it makes me want to see the same game but played on Touch, and designed for Touch specifically.
The demo featured one other primary spell (two in total, one per hand), and 4 secondary spells. Secondary spells are brought up by conjuring a hologram with a flick of your wrist, that you then have to with your hands. The primary spells are based on your class, which you will be able to choose in the full game, and accessible by quick gestures of your hands/fingers. You can slot in secondary spells one by one before a match, they’re then usable only by consuming crystals you collect from your virtual environments, and by performing special actions. For example, you have to magic hammer an anvil to get a thunder-spear. Or you have to draw a magical rectangle to produce a powerful shield. The primary spells are the quickest and easiest to cast, and you can pick which hand primary spells occupy. I had the fireball spell on my right hand, while my left hand held a shield spell, essentially, which can be broken fairly often, and has a cool down. The fireball spell itself also has its own set of limitations. It has to be charged up to do any decent amount of damage, though you can machine gun it with ant sized fireballs that do ant sized damage.
[Above] My opponent getting his shield broken
There are drawbacks and nuances to the other spells as well, that can change up the battlefield quite a bit. Quick reactions with multitasking is also a pretty big deal in this game, as you’ll want to be putting heat on your opponent or defending, all while charging or stacking resources on your end to produce better spells. That seems to be how you stay competitive within the game for now.
[Above] Distracting the opponent with my raven friends, while I get a magic stone resource to summon a golem
Despite my brief time with The Unspoken, I got a sense of the potential depth lurking in the gameplay. The battles combined a requirement for fast reactions with multitasking in a very physical way. There’s cover to duck behind or lean around, which can be destroyed by your enemy. You even have the ability to dodge fireballs if you’re fast enough! The timing of your shield can be critical too, especially when a powerful enemy homing missile is coming at you, and you can time your parry just right to successfully return the projectile, creating a sort of magical tennis match to see who slips-up first.
[Above] Using Cover
As for how you actually move around in the world and what the levels are like, it is essentially an arena setup, with location points you can teleport to. However, teleporting is implemented cleverly by using the thumb sticks on either controller. You bend the stick in the direction of the teleport location you want to go to, and then let go or bend the stick back to the center to teleport. This means that if you survey the arena and look at which teleport points you have available, and build up that mental map, you can essentially go wherever you want with a flick of your thumb without even having to look at where you want to go (though you still may want to check and see, for example, if the energy shield you cast at one location is still there). It became very intuitive to me after just two rounds.
There’s one final and ultimate spell you can cast in each match, which can only be done by collecting certain special resources or fulfilling certain requirements. In this demo, it seems to be a golem summoning spell. You have to collect a certain kind of crystal that appears in the environment, then you have to collect debris and various materials for building your golem. Finally you have to construct a golem voodoo doll by putting limbs in the right places. After that, it’ll probably be smooth sailing, as your opponent may not be able to outwit the giant you’ve summoned. However, all of this may need some balancing.
The best thing this game provided me was the unique feeling, the physicality of wielding magic to duel as if you’re living out the fantasy of being a bad-ass mage. The Unknown manages to confidently tackle a style of gameplay no one has really managed to this point. Encouragingly too, Insomniac haven’t been satisfied in letting the novelty of VR carry their experience, I see great potential in depth of gameplay possibilities on offer here.
The Unspoken is due for release towards the end of 2016 for Oculus Rift and Oculus Touch.