Alice VR is a sci-fi exploration puzzle game from Carbon Studio coming out soon for Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and OSVR. I was taken through three levels of the game, which studio co-founder and Art Director Aleksander Caban says is more or less in its final form now, barring professional voice overs and some bug fixes, that is.
Loosely based on the characters and concepts from Lewis Carroll’s iconic Alice in Wonderland, Alice VR reimagines the beloved classic tale with a science fiction twist. To give me a better idea of what that actually meant, Aleksander Caban told me the game was kind of like a sci-fi version of The Witness (2016) or Eastshade (2016) and “something more than a walking simulator.”
Playing the three non-sequential levels, which took me through a desert, a city, and an underground lair of some sort, I didn’t really get a clear sense of how Alice VR would play out story-wise, as Carbon Studio is keeping most of the story elements under wraps until their projected October release. What I did come to grips with was Alice VR‘s level design, and some of the decisions the developers have made with how you traverse the world, and how you are supposed to interact with it.
The game features a number of reality-bending game mechanics that you’re required to use as you progress through the game. Shrinking or growing to fit through doors of various sizes, and gravity-shift ramps and puzzles, where you find yourself upside down or walking straight up the walls, are all apart of the landscape of Alice VR. After a few years playing VR games, I finally have a trusty set of ‘VR legs’ that bring me through most discomforts unscathed. I asked Caban what he thought about the topsy-turvy game mechanics in respect to newcomers to VR.
“We want to maintain that it’s 100 percent user friendly for everyone, but to do that you would have to stand in place, look around and teleport everywhere. So you have to go for a compromise,” Caban said. “We did a lot of testing and invited a lot of people that have never had contact with VR, and they told us what they felt. Some of the elements–like the gravitational ramps–we decided that the risk is worth the reward, because I think it’s particularly amazing when you’re upside down and there’s everything going around you. It may [however] be a bit uncomfortable for some people.”
From start to finish, I was told, the main path through the game will top out at between 3-4 hours in length, but that there will be optional paths, collectables and audio logs to help keep the story flexible in respect to the individual user. I was told that levels were more ‘bite-sized’, (each level I played lasted about 10 minutes each) and that they would afford the user a break if he/she needed it.
Visually, I was confronted with some well-crafted backgrounds filled with giant mountains, buildings, and futuristic spacecraft, all of it making me feel small in a large world. Foreground items and interactables were less detailed, although Caban maintains they still need to refine graphics.
Using the Xbox controller, the right stick was dedicated to only forward and backward movement, and the only way to change POV was by looking at my desired direction, or spinning in my chair. Other locomotion styles will be made available at launch, but there’s no telling exactly which ones Carbon will decide to offer.
In the end, I can’t claim to understand the lore of Alice VR yet, and exactly who I am and why I’m moving forward through the world set before me. I’m hoping the story brings a level of depth to the game that really makes me feel like I’ve fell down that gravity well, or whatever otherworldly mishap that brings me to the mysterious world of Alice VR.