Odd Raven Studios’ first major title is the VR puzzle-platformer Carly & the Reaperman – Escape from the Underworld. While there is a single player option, it has been designed as an asymmetrical co-op experience, with one player in VR acting as the helpful ‘Reaperman’ in VR, and the other moving Carly in third-person using a standard display. The game is set to launch on June 19th, with support for the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and Windows VR headsets via SteamVR.
Playing somewhat like a co-op version of recent PSVR hit Moss (2018), the VR user surveys the platforming action performed by Carly from the perspective of a giant. By physically walking or leaning (depending on the size of your play space), or opting to use the motion controllers to pan and rotate the level, the Reaperman is there to assist the non-VR player in navigating their way towards the next checkpoint or exit gate. Along the way, Carly can collect optional glowing orbs, many of which require an element of teamwork. Co-op is unfortunately local only, so you’ll need a friend playing on the same PC that your headset is attached to.
Each level is littered with stackable cubes and planks, some of which need to be unlocked by Carly before the Reaperman can pick them up. In VR, the placement of blocks using the motion controls is highly intuitive, using a convincing physics system that can result in some accidental or ingenious ways of solving certain puzzles.
The non-VR character Carly can be played with a keyboard, but she operates best with a gamepad, responding as you’d expect from a classic 3D platformer, with a single jump and an action button. There is an option to ‘point’ and to see the world from Reaperman’s perspective, but this didn’t seem at all necessary in the few levels that we previewed. Hopefully this hints at much more complexity in the later stages; the game is said to have “around 8 levels with a total of 32-36 challenges” at launch.
Unlike Moss, there didn’t appear to be any combat (at least not in the levels we played), but there is certainly a feeling of mild danger, with strange floating creatures that can disrupt block placements, and will kill Carly if they reach her. It’s also easy for Carly to fall off ledges into the darkness below. And in one level, an enormous whale-like creature spawns at one end, moving slowly along the platforms, engulfing everything in its path, generating a frantic sense of urgency, forcing both players to work quickly and efficiently together.
The opening levels feel well-balanced in terms of difficulty, with some neat ideas, such as the ability to slow the enemies with Reaperman’s hands, and having invisible platforms that only the VR player can see. This prompts plenty of natural communication between players, with the VR user gesturing with their hands while talking to (or desperately shouting at) their partner. The Reaperman’s jaw animates to the VR player’s voice, which helps to inject a little more personality into the character, at least from the perspective of the non-VR player.
The recent trailer (above) shows some much-needed variety in the environments; it’s shaping up to be a polished experience, but it is perhaps unreasonable to expect it to deliver the production quality of Moss, which went above and beyond in terms of attention to detail and character personality. Carly & the Reaperman is also far more mechanical in its approach due to its co-op focus, making it difficult to achieve the same level of cinematic presentation and organic level design. In terms of presentation, the game has a confident style and engaging atmosphere, with hints of an intriguing underlying story. As with most VR experiences that display detailed dioramas from a giant’s perspective, the visuals are more impressive from the headset than the screenshots and footage might suggest.
Co-op experiences with asynchronous elements are few and far between at this point in VR, especially those that allow VR and non-VR players to work together, so we’re happy to see Carly and the Reaperman shaping up into something interesting, and looking forward to seeing what else the game has in store when its June 19th launch rolls around.