Torn is a single player adventure game that’s inspired by arguably the greatest sci-fi television of all time, The Twilight Zone and Black Mirror. There’s much to like about Torn, but in the end it left me feeling, well, a bit torn.
Torn Review Details:
Stepping into the shoes of a modern-day video blogger Katherine Patterson, you stumble upon a seemingly abandoned mansion, where you solve strange puzzles with a trusty gravity gun given to you by the once world-renowned physicist, Dr. Lawrence Talbot. For some reason though, Talbot has been morphed into a dancing point of light, who leads you along the way to do his mysterious bidding.
Visually the game is an absolute delight, with its interesting and varied objects strewn about, a vast majority of which can be picked up and tossed around with the help of your gravity gun—even large items like pianos or whole cupboards don’t stand in your way. Only in the larger rooms with more objects did I have any problem with performance, which can be knocked down in the settings to accommodate lower-spec PCs. All in all, the game fared very well considering the high quality of textures, lighting effects, and physics-based objects such as wafting curtains.
I can’t understate the mansion’s beauty, juxtaposed with the steampunk-ish gadgets with more than a touch of glowing cathode ray tubes and massive cabling running throughout. While this is usually reserved for the Immersion section below, it bears mentioning foremost that Torn is one of the best looking VR games to date.
Some adventure games in general tend to de-emphasize puzzle complexity, and focus more on telling a storytelling—and that’s true with Torn; if you’re looking for engaging, varied puzzles that will leave you scratching your head, then this game may not be for you. Don’t get me wrong, low complexity puzzles aren’t bad per se, but they can be awfully boring when there’s really only one puzzle type throughout the game, which is sadly the case in Torn.
The game essentially is a test in your ability to match basic shapes, and do it with such a dull level of repetition that it spoiled some of what turned out to be an excellent story line, which I really think is worth paying attention to, thinking about, and following to the very end.
In Torn, you use your gravity gun to both reveal and pick up everyday items marked with circuit-shaped glyphs. Plug in the hat box or dinner plate into the slot, which you can reveal with your light, and complete the circuit to move on. Each room holds within it three variations of this same puzzle, sometimes with smaller pieces and other times with pressure pads to change things up; you simply bung in the missing pieces and move on, rinse and repeat until the credits roll.
To make matters worse, Talbot, who floats around alternatively as a magical point of light and a globular liquid mass (thanks PhysX), never gives you a moment’s peace. He’s always directing you to the next puzzle piece, the next slot, and continues his “helpful” hints throughout the entire story, even when the puzzles increase in numbers of slots and pieces. The dogged breadcrumb trope of the helpful robot (or alternatively the helpful radio voice) really irks me, but what irks me more is I’m not ever really presented with a challenge, only a set of tasks I have to complete until I’m magically warped to an ethereal zone where Talbot explains more about his lost wife Rina, who apparently befell the same fate as Talbot in his experiment to change matter to energy.
While there are many objects to mess about with in the winding halls of the house, their only real importance lies in their function as square block to go into square holes. The only item you’ll hold on your person besides you gravity gun is the one of eight keys you collect along the way, so there’s no inventory system to speak of.
Besides these gripes, practically everything else about the game is really solid. You can’t cheat your way through puzzles, and level design is self-explanatory enough so that you’re never get lost on your way to learning the truth about the mansion and Talbot’s intentions. In the end, I clocked in at fours hours of gameplay.
Since you primarily use your gravity gun to interact with objects, your hands are only really needed to pull the odd lever, or open a door. Because of the nature of the game, low hand presence isn’t really that big of a deal though.
Bad voice acting can kill immersion in any game, and for some reason hokey voice acting has a doubly deleterious effect in VR—we expect real people with real emotions. Thankfully Torn features top-notch voice actors, who genuinely hit their mark. While there are only two voiced characters, you and Talbot, the interchange between the two is believable.
Bad storytelling can also twist a few dials into feeling disconnected from even the most clever puzzle scheme, but again, Torn has made something engaging enough to keep me playing (despite the onslaught of boring puzzles) and guessing to the last minute. I won’t go much farther here so I don’t spoil the mystery. All of this comes as no surprise though, as the game’s script was written by Neill Glancy of Stranglehold (2007) and Susan O’Connor of Tomb Raider and BioShock.
A lush orchestral score, composed by Garry Schyman of BioShock and Middle Earth: Shadow of War, helped build suspense, and made for an awesome listening experience. Positional audio is also quite good, as Talbot buzzed around your head, off on his diatribes about his lost wife and his life as an inventor.
Torn offers three locomotion schemes: blink teleportation, dash teleportation, and head-relative smooth forward walking (but no smooth turning). While the speed of walking isn’t configurable—so slow that it was nearly unusable personally—it’s at least a comfortable option that shouldn’t have your head spinning.
Snap-turning, also known as ‘VR comfort mode’ is available and at variable degrees, but thanks to head-relative walking you can also play in room-scale if you have the correct sensor/basestation setup.
Besides a fairly twisty-turny opening cutscene, which winds you through the guts of Talbot’s mansion, Torn is an extremely comfortable game.