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July 2019


Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: FunHouse
Release Date: Sept. 18, 2018


PS4 VR Review - 'Transference'

by Cody Medellin on May 3, 2019 @ 2:00 a.m. PDT

Transference is a psychological thriller where players will navigate a digital recreation of the mind, working to unfold the secrets of a home concealing a corrupted truth.

Buy Transference

"Walking simulator" is a term given to games that meet specific criteria. The first-person view is typically used in these games, although a third-person walking simulator can appear from time to time. Puzzles are present, but most are easily solvable, so your progress isn't impeded much. Combat is completely absent, and the protagonist doesn't die easily. Most of all, the story is paramount, as everything else can suffer as long as the tale is captivating. Transference ticks all of these boxes, but it bathes the whole thing in a horror motif and adds VR as well.

The game starts with a video of a man who was presumably your colleague. In it, he claims to have found a way to achieve immortality via modern technology. Although he hasn't found a way to keep physical bodies alive, he has discovered a means to transfer the consciousness of a person into the digital realm, making their complete memories live on forever. He also informs you that he's moving his family across the country and invites you find him when you have the chance. When you take him up on his offer, you find yourself in a digital re-creation of the complex he and his family were staying in, and it doesn't take long for you to discover that something is terribly wrong with the digital world.

The hallmarks of a walking simulator are readily apparent when you start to move and realize that your overall movement speed is quite slow. There are plenty of objects to pick up in the world, but nothing is of much use beyond faint audio snippets that play when you take a closer look at them. The various roadblocks are essentially garbled pieces of code that provide a big hint about what you should be seeking. Everything you need to pass these roadblocks and other puzzles are readily apparent, so there's no need to open and examine too many things. In fact, almost everything you need is usually a room or two away, so you never have to travel too far for solutions. The only issue with this is that the puzzles sometimes become so easy that you can stumble onto the solution without having to search for any clues.

As mentioned earlier, Transference is mainly a horror game, and that manifests in several ways with varying results. The weakest of these, believe it or not, are the jump-scares. They're very few and far between throughout the whole game, and you're given one early on when you try to access the apartment complex and see a shadowy figure warp toward the door before disappearing. You'll run into this creature a few more times, including once when it comes straight for you. If you also start walking toward it, you'll discover that absolutely nothing happens to you, and once you realize that you can't die, the creature's presence barely elicits a gasp.

The environment does a much better job at setting you in a state of unease. The music is barely there, but the constant repeated voices and sound effects give off an unsettling vibe. Even though you know nothing will hurt you, you don't feel good staying in one place for an extended period of time. The computer-generated environment glitches out constantly, so the sense of instability is heightened because you feel everything can break down. You discover early on that light switches change the environment in drastic ways, from the lighting to the objects to the overall layout of the apartment. Passageways suddenly get blocked, and whole objects disappear and reappear enough that even though you have a rough layout of where everything should be, you'll still find yourself doubling back due to these hindrances.

The environment and the many objects you find within also contribute greatly to a tale that serves as a basis for many classic horror titles across most forms of media. Once you realize that each of the different apartment states you encounter is the psyche of each family member, you understand that the writings on the wall reflect their fears. The different formulas written all over the place start to show the obsession taking over, such as a child's fears of being in the dark and not being able to find a family member. Some sketches depict being trapped in a prison without bars. The other objects in the world convey this as well with handcuffs, books about depression and handling bullying, mementos of a musical life and being away from your place of birth, and constant failures deteriorating the home. As far as environmental storytelling goes, this is very effective.

At the same time, it seems like the best and most frightening parts of the story are all hidden away in the different video logs scattered throughout the game. All of the video clips provide a much deeper look into how abusive things got and how the deep the mental breakdown was for each family member. The videos flesh out the story and make the situation even more horrific, but the videos are so well hidden that very few people will ever experience that beyond viewing YouTube clips. Acquiring them all requires you to replay the game, since some areas are inaccessible beyond a certain point. It doesn't help that all of the snippets can only be accessed via the pause menu or the main menu, removing you from the experience instead of letting you watch them within the broken-down environment. The result is that the scenes lose their impact, and the story also suffers when you consider how they enhance the overall tale.

Transference may be listed as a VR title, but it can also be played as a more traditional game on a TV. Depending on which method you choose, the experience will change wildly. Playing on VR makes the jump-scares a bit better thanks to the natural 3D view of the device. Digital spirits warping right in front of your eyes and the rush of creatures barreling toward you are better at activating your natural instinct to flinch. The use of headphones instead of speakers also helps the audio become richer, as it's more frightening to hear the repeating phrases and whispers directly in your ear. At the same time, the fixed degree of movement feels awkward for a game about exploration, the grab mechanic of the regular controller doesn't feel as immersive as Move controllers would, and motion sickness has a tendency to kick in quicker, even if you turn on all of the safeguards. By comparison, going for a more traditional non-VR setup sacrifices the scares for more fluid movement, so those who want an easier way to find all of the secrets may opt for traditional controls instead.

In the end, Transference is in an odd position. The atmosphere is completely engrossing, since the crumbling digital landscape and ominous repeated dialogue and other sounds create an unsettling world. Jump-scares are light, and almost all the puzzles are easy enough to solve even with some fumbling around. With that said, the tale can seem disturbing, but the scattershot way it's told doesn't make the game very memorable when compared to either its horror or walking simulator contemporaries. Transference remains a game that's worth checking out, but it's not one that players should be in a rush to seek out over other similar titles.

Score: 6.5/10

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