Jump scares are universally hated by horror film and game enthusiasts alike for being ‘cheap thrills’, and are oft considered the low-hanging fruit of the genre. Suspense and existential dread however are much harder to manufacture in a horror game, and from what I’ve seen at this year’s GDC, Paranormal Activity: The Lost Soul has it in spades. As it stands, this isn’t some short ‘brand engagement’ piece like we’ve seen in the past either, but rather a true game that’s clearly intending to approach AAA status.
Descending the dark staircase to the basement, a thought crosses my mind: I don’t really want to do this. Despite being reassured that the level I was playing wouldn’t have the sort of jump scare nightmares you’d expect from a VR horror game, and instead would feature the game’s puzzle elements, I couldn’t help but really hate my new reality.
Opening a creaky door with my Vive controller, I walk down the stairway. The atmosphere is thick with possibility of screaming ghouls, and I’m more than a little intimidated by the thought of coming face-to-face with whatever it is that I’m sure to meet in the grubby little cellar. At least I have a flashlight to guide my way. Suddenly an unseen force snaps the flashlight from my hand. Great.
Rounding the corner, I’m confronted with a Satanic pentagram on the floor lit with candles. The sense of danger is real, and my heartbeat is irregular.
There’s a small altar with an open book, instructions on how to ‘wake the beast’. For Pete’s sake, a beast? Can I… not?
The strange book instructs me to burn a ancient parchment with a monster inscribed on it. I don’t even want to look around, I’m so wary of a demon popping out of the dark corners of the room. Against my better judgement, I find the page on the other table, and now have to place 5 golden coins on the edges of a smaller pentagram etched into the altar. The coins, like the page, are strewn about the dank basement. The fear of the unknown has me quickly grabbing them and matching the symbols.
Suddenly a wild-eyed little girl, her face and elbows smudged with dirt, comes out from under the stairs, telling me to hide quickly before “she” gets here. Physically crouching under the stairs, a gaunt middle age woman storms into the basement, screeching and scanning the room for signs of life.
My palms are sweating, I’m crouching in the fetal position on the floor and the PR rep who was running my demo was laughing at me. The horrible woman looks my way. I can feel her make eye contact with me and she lurches closer. “You have to come with me!” she screams.
Yeah. That’s not happening.
A loud groan issues from above, seemingly coming from the belly of the house and recalling the woman back up the stairs and out of the basement. I’m alone again, but the only way for me to leave is to follow her. Returning to the stairs, they appear much darker than I remember, the door a little creakier than before. I get to the top of the stairs where it’s pitch black. No door can be seen. I slowly turn back down to face the stairwell to find … well, you’ll just have find out.
Created by VRwerx in cooperation with Paramount Pictures, Paranormal Activity: The Lost Soul has changed from when we first saw it at last year’s GDC. Controls, which left something to be desired in the game’s earlier incarnation, have significantly improved. Object interaction, which was somewhat of a pain, seems to be a complete non-issue now that the game has undergone extensive polishing. Graphics are on the high end too, and reflect a clear wish by VRwerx to create a AAA ‘VR-native’.
The game is preferably played standing up, and requires you to physically turn your body instead of using a snap-turn comfort mode, which can lead to some predictable cable snags. Realism factor is high in both set design and characters, and by keeping artificial locomotion confined to forward movement, you really start to feel grounded in the reality.
Paranormal Activity: The Lost Soul is slated to release on Steam Early Access on March 14th, and will be coming immediately to Oculus Rift and HTC Vive with PSVR support coming shortly after. The developers say the game will be 10-20 hours in length.