Wilson’s Heart (2017) is a psychological thriller that takes you on a wild first-person adventure through the mind of a hospital patient recovering from a curious surgery, one that has replaced his live-beating heart with a strange machine. Ripping it from your chest, you find it gives you a growing number of abilities to help you not only fight against your personal demons, but also some very real ones that have passed into the world thanks to experiments done by the brilliant, but clearly insane Dr. Harcourt.


Wilson’s Heart Details:

Official Site

Developer: Twisted Pixel Games
Publisher: Oculus Studios

Available On: Home (Oculus Touch)
Reviewed On: Oculus Touch
Release Date: April 25, 2017


Gameplay

Robert Wilson is a hard-boiled WW1 veteran who’s clearly seen some shit in the 67 years he’s walked the Earth. Voiced by actor Peter Weller (Robocop, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, Star Trek Into Darkness), his gravelly, steady voice is strangely assuring as you stalk down the corridors and mind-bending rooms of the abandoned hospital complex—all of which would scare the living daylights out of anyone in their right mind. But that’s the thing; you don’t really ever know if Wilson’s in his right mind, or if the whole world around him is gone topsy-turvy. And his whirring, mechanical heart is to blame.

pulling electrodes from your head, image captured by Road to VR

Either way, he’s just that sort of classic tough guy you’d find in a dime novel detective story or comic book. In fact, the game is brimming with these sorts of ’40s tropes and archetypes, not to mention your standard selection of vampires, werewolves, lagoon monsters, and mad scientists ripped straight from the silver screen. Being rendered in black-and-white and featuring classic movies monsters might sound too campy at first blush, but the reality is Wilson’s Heart is a dirty, bloody mindfuck in all the best ways, so don’t be surprised when reality crumbles around you.

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And the world of Wilson’s Heart isn’t just weird, it’s brutal too. Moving realistic-looking dead bodies to get to clues is a normal occurrence, and doing it in VR only multiplies the emotional effect. That said, jump scares happen, but they’re few and far between, leaving more room for the monsters, the bump-in-the-night atmosphere, and the supporting cast to do the scaring. Suspicious behavior from the group of survivors you meet will keep you guessing as to who’s on your side.

image captured by Road to VR

Because the adventure genre is usually heavy on narrative and scripted action, but tends to deemphasize combat, the fight sequences were a welcome bonus at first, adding more danger to an already skin-crawling universe. And while Wilson’s Heart is one of the most visually impressive VR games to date—and I can’t emphasize enough just how truly good it looks—the world’s monsters offer lack-luster combat which can become very predictable after the first encounter. Over the course of the game, the sense of danger I felt in the beginning slowly degraded into apathy as monsters follow the same attack patterns over and over throughout. Then again, you may not be in it for the combat aspect at all, which is just fine.

You may be in it for the story. I finished the game in a little over 5 hours, and that was with plenty of deaths and faffing around with some of the world’s literature, however if you read every comic book, newspaper, and rustle through every drawer for clues, you could take longer. These can be informative, silly, and downright creepy as the comics slowly enter the weirdness factor that is your constantly changing reality. While playing off its patented brand of 1940s camp, dialogue is well-scripted and its phenomenal voice acting help to keep it on the modern-side of storytelling.

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You may also be in it for the puzzles. Because you straddle the line between figuring out if the world is crazy or if it’s all in your demon-addled brain, puzzles become more and more surreal as you go. From turning on lights to scare away demons, to the gravity-defying act of flipping an entire room to get to a stubborn door that keeps disappearing, puzzles are usually interesting. I did however find them oddly placed, bordering on completely arbitrary. Oftentimes I would walk into a random room, find a puzzle, solve it, and leave not knowing why I had entered in the first place.

Immersion

It’s clear from the start that the developers paid lots of attention to getting characters to emote naturally and look alive—something that is more important in VR than on traditional monitors because you’re actually face-to-face with a person, and can naturally tell when something’s off. Characters in Wilson’s Heart make eye contact and seemingly talk directly to you, grounding you further in the narrative. Character design is still cartoonish though, keeping it safely out of the uncanny valley.

This leads me to my least favorite part of the game: the lack of agency. As a player, you’re constricted to node-based teleportation, meaning you only have a few choices on where to go. Walking into a room, you immediately see the hot spots for clue locations and all important drawers are highlighted, which takes away some of the joy of exploration personally.

image captured by Road to VR

Inconsistent object interaction also adds a layer of frustration on top of this, as one moment your mechanical heart can fly out of your hand and directly hit a demon, and the next it literally avoids an important target because the game has a better idea of what you’re supposed to do. In this regard, I kept butting my head against the game. A monster has to die in one way and one way only, because the game demands very specific interactions. And that wouldn’t be a problem if the game’s demands were consistent. Hand-to-hand combat with one enemy can differ wildly across similarly-sized enemies for seemingly no reason at all. One moment you can block a punch from a demon, and only a short while later the blocking mechanic is no longer effective. You’re then punished with death until you can find that one item in your periphery that you necessarily must use to continue on with the sequence.

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And the heart. Your mechanical heart, although gifted with several abilities, will also activate in only a few ways deemed useful during a fight. Using the abilities when you’re prompted oftentimes culminates in the most cinematic death possible, but leaves zero room for player creativity.

learning your new ability, image captured by Road to VR

Comfort

Because the game features node-based teleportation, and no other artificial locomotion scheme, Wilson’s Heart proves to be an exceedingly comfortable experience.

As a standing experience, the two-sensor Rift set-up is enough to get you by, as nodes tend to put you either facing the action or the object of interest, so nearly always a forward-facing experience. That said, a 3-or-more sensor set-up can certainly give you more mileage in terms of facilitating smoother object interaction and greater room-scale immersion.

Lastly, the inventory system is a simple, ‘on-rails’ experience, as important items are stuck away into the ether and later retrieved automatically when needed, so there’s no fumbling through submenus to find what you need. In fact, there are no menus, health gauges, or HUDs to distract you on your quest to retrieve your heart and escape the hospital.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Overall
7

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  • Andrew McEvoy

    Hmm…again teleportation only…this combined with the other gameplay elements I think I’ll save my money on this one. If there was a choice of locomotion then I’d buy this game despite the gameplay issues. Oh well E3 is not far away looking forward to seeing what Bethesda have in store for us!

    • AndyP

      Yes, another teleportation fail. Why do developers still believe we want to face more restrictions in a virtual world than the real world?

      • J.C.

        Likely because the game was started before the headsets even came out. There’s also the whole “you can’t run away” thing for specific sequences, but they could just as easily disable sliding around too.

        • AndyP

          Yes, and It’s up to them, but if they want my hard earned cash – they should adapt, overcome. I gave them a chance, and tried lots of teleport games but won’t be wasting any more money on them.

      • Get Schwifty!

        As J.C. said it’s because the game was designed from Oculus’ guidelines which were built around seated/standing play when devs were taking guidelines from Oculus. You can’t really blame the dev as they built into a new environment (VR) and made a decision based on what they knew. More games are coming out with alternative forms, it’s just part of the overall process right now and we’ll see a dwindling number of t-port only games as Devs support alternate means based on feedback.

        What’s silly though is if people boycott t-port games solely on that the industry as a whole might interpret it as weakness in the VR games market and not about a locomotion issue.

        I was really looking forward to this game but the lack of consistent play mechanics leaves me cold – talk about immersion breaking….

    • Raphael

      How many octopus exclusive games have launched with full locomotion? Am i right in thinking none?

      • J.C.

        Ohhh, that may also be it. Oculus has constantly played it safe in regards to VR. This game in particular has node-based teleporting, which is done due to heavily scripted sequences that they need you within arm’s reach of specific items. If you could even teleport freely, it’d be all too easy to break their plan for how you play it.

        So, Raphael, and really anyone reading this who hates teleporting…what do you think of the movement in Raw Data? It’s not hoverboarding, but it’s also not teleporting.

    • Muhammad Jihad ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

      Nerd.

      • Andrew McEvoy

        Haha what? Random comment. Suppose in response I could call you a dork?

        • Muhammad Jihad ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

          That’s what a nerd would say.

          • Andrew McEvoy

            Ok, how about You’re a troll prick? Seems more appropriate alright.

          • Muhammad Jihad ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

            LOL! The angry nerd response.

  • Justos

    While node teleportation isn’t my ideal view of VR, it definitely helps them tell a story and I am really digging wilsons heart.

    • Andrew McEvoy

      To be fair Ive seen a couple of reviews since and they do underline the suitability of this node teleportation with the highly scripted nature of the game. Im now back to about 50/50 if I w ill purchase this now. Might wait for the sales!

      • Justos

        Its polish is outstanding, and I can see myself replaying it again. Well worth it!

        • Andrew McEvoy

          Yeah I ended up buying it in the end (another late night post pub purchase) and I totally agree the polish is excellent. Great atmosphere and the voice acting excels too. The node teleportation does suit the story telling and I can see why they used it for how scripted it is so fair enough, it gets a pass from me.

          Might take a while before I could play it again seeing as how heavily scripted it is but its definitely one to show friends during demonstrations and gaming sessions.

  • Dick Dodgers

    You know what the problem with the video game industry rating system is? Anything near or below a 7 is shit. While 8 and 9 is the best game of the year forever.

  • Shawn Stroud

    I feel like this review overlooks the brilliant dynamic music and Hollywood caliber voice acting and takes off too many points for the movement system which is necessary to tell the story given the design. I agree the movement is initially frustrating however as I got deeper into the game I discovered it’s required to progress through the hospital and have the story unfold properly. I personally feel it scores a 7.5 or even an 8 for a being a polished title which is still in short supply in Oculus home. 5 hours seems pretty fast to finish the game and not miss something, I guess I’m just old and slow but I enjoyed soaking in the atmosphere, reading the comics and checking every drawer.