The sequel to Cloudhead Games’ early room-scale VR hit, The Gallery: Episode 1 – Call of the Starseed (2016), is nearly here. We got our hands on a limited preview of the soon-to-release Heart of the Emberstone, and if the little we played accurately represents the fit and finish of the final product, we’re in for quite a treat.
Note to the reader: Needless to say, if you haven’t played the first installment, Call of the Starseed, you probably shouldn’t read any further. Considering though the studio just slashed the price by 50% on Steam to only $10, it’s an easy buy for an hour-long experience that still holds up.
If you have played though, the preview only contains 10 minutes of gameplay, or two scenes-worth of what is said to be a 4-6 hour game.
Carrying on from when we left off last, traveling through space and time at the behest of our new (and clearly malevolent) acquaintance, the game begins with a disembodied monologue of your dear twin sister, Elsie, telling you that despite that fact that you settled down when she sought out adventure, that “we were meant for more.”
By virtue of the fact that you’re now traveling through space with a magical gauntlet that lets you move objects telekenetically, I’d say she was right about that.
Plopped down of what appears to be the far side of the Universe, you stand across a shimmering portal from the hunchbacked overlord, bidding you to travel to the Tower of Cogs to “fix yourself with a grasp,” a powerful tool of his own creation.
“It will make you better. More. Compliant. Elsie obtained her grasp with limited help. Lets see how you fare,” he bids. With your marching orders assigned, Hunchback-guy says he’ll be waiting with your sister until you get back. It’s all so deliciously ’80s as it harks back to The Dark Crystal (1982) and Labyrinth (1986), two of the game’s main inspirations.
Sending me on my quest, a giant round door suddenly retracts behind me, casting an eerie red light as it opens to reveal a floating walkway covered in rubble. Clearing out the giant stones with my trusty gauntlet, I find a cube that fits right into the cube-shaped recess in the next door. This door retracts like a defocalized eyeball, leading me to a lift with a curious holographic control mechanism activated by your gauntlet.
Exiting the lift, I meet my first door puzzle. Nearing the door, a holographic tube appears, and much like the lift, I have to guide my now spinning runestone through to the other end. It’s a simple little thing, but the further I go, the more complicated the little holographic puzzles get. Later in the preview, I have to crouch down to get a good vantage point as I weave my runestone through rotating red barriers, that when touched set you back at the beginning. None of them are what I’d call particularly difficult, but it certainly puts an immersive twist on what could ultimately be a boring task of turning a lever. We’ll just have to see when we play the full game soon.
Stepping into what appears to be an ancient gladiatorial ring covered in desiccated corpses, a ghostly hologram of Elsie appears. She’s just as wowed as I am by the massive statues and the hot alien sun that seems to have made the planet no longer habitable.
Making my way to the only operating door in the gladiatorial pit, I enter into a small, windowed room that looks out over an eternal sandstorm obscuring my vision. Another hologram of Elsie appears to give me a hint. “It’s just like Operation!” she exclaims. Two more holo-puzzles down, and that’s when the roof is ripped off the room to reveal an honest-to-goodness giant lumbering forward. He seems curious, and not at all the sort that would squish me like the ant I am. A holographic map of the world appears, and I dutifully select the Tower of Cogs. The giant bends down to pick me up. Fade to black.
From my 10-minute play session, Heart of the Emberstone both looks and feels more polished than its predecessor. Although there weren’t any locomotion options in the preview, the stock blink teleportation definitely seemed more solid than Call of the Starseed. Textures also seem more ‘alive’ as well, although it could just be a fresh appraisal of the alien world combined with its intricate clockwork doors and holographic puzzles that wowed me.
Cloudhead has a really firm grasp on lighting, using it to draw your attention to smaller clues and casting it expertly to create dramatic effect, which in turn makes the experience truly feel cinematic.
There’s no launch date yet, but the Steam page maintains it’s set to release sometime in September. The game will also support both Oculus Rift and HTC Vive including motion controls. If you’re still twiddling your thumbs in anticipation though, feast your eyes on the teaser trailer—of course created to look like an ’80s made-for-TV movie.