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June 2021

Wraith: The Oblivion - Afterlife

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Fast Travel Games
Release Date: April 22, 2021

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PC VR Review - 'Wraith: The Oblivion - Afterlife'

by Andreas Salmen on May 5, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Sharing the same universe as Vampire: The Masquerade and Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Afterlife will let players enter the World of Darkness in virtual reality for the first time ever.

I am a VR horror coward.

Horror games and I have not necessarily mingled well, but I have repeatedly tried many of them in the hopes that the relationship may improve.

It did not.

Cue Wraith: The Oblivion - Afterlife, a VR horror game from Fast Travel Games on Quest 2 and Rift headsets, with other platforms following later in May. While it may look very much like many other games of its genre, Wraith has quite a few things going for it. Based on the pen-and-paper RPG, Wraith: The Oblivion, and taking place in the shared World of Darkness universe that also contains Vampire: The Masquerade, Afterlife certainly has lore to pull from, although the story is a stand-alone experience. Wraith does not rely on jump-scares to create a tense and frightful atmosphere, but it tries to lure you in for bone-chilling moments to keep you guessing throughout the adventure. In the end, some rough edges around the experience have a substantial impact.

If the title didn't give it away, players take on the role of Ed, a freshly baked wraith. We start the game with the sight of our own dead body with a knife to the chest, lying on the floor of an L.A. film director's mansion. All we want to do is leave, but the house won't let us until we uncover the events that led to our — and potentially others' — untimely demise. We wander through the empty halls of the estate, collecting clues and following visions of the past like breadcrumbs. Given its rather static, vision-heavy presentation, the story can be somewhat disengaging, but if you pay attention you'll enjoy a thoroughly solid murder mystery with a heavy supernatural influence. Collectibles often provide details to flesh out the narrative. Since the story leads us through a linear set of events within an abandoned house, the solid effort is certainly appreciated.

From a gameplay perspective, Afterlife is relatively simple. We move from room to room, looking for unlocked doors, items of interest, or visions that may lead the story in a different direction. That usually means we'll do a lot of fetch quests to find certain items and bring them to key areas of the estate.

Fast Travel Games previously developed the thoroughly excellent Apex Construct, and coming from that game to Afterlife feels like a step backward in terms of interactive content. With the exception of story items, not much is interactable. There is the odd switch to press and some collectibles to pick up, but otherwise, you'll mostly hold and interact with random bottles and stones that are littered throughout the environment.

The game does incorporate the same mechanic from HL: Alyx to quickly flick far-away objects into your hand. It's also very light on puzzle elements, relying almost exclusively on the atmosphere and stretches of stealth gameplay. While that felt somewhat limiting at first, once the game hits its stride, you'll likely forget anything else.

Afterlife gets off to a slow start. The game alternates between moments of pure exploration with a few tense moments to keep you on your toes and intermittent stealth sections where you face off against one of three specters. The first hour is relatively manageable, even for someone who's not accustomed to horror. There are only a few jump-scares, and they're usually sufficiently telegraphed.

However, the first encounter is not only telegraphed from a mile away, but it was also incredibly tedious to play through. Since you cannot directly interact with specters or harm them, you have to stay out of sight and throw the occasional bottle or stone to lead them astray. The specter can behave erratically, and as a wraith, we're unable to move quickly. Combined with infrequent save points, failing these sections can require annoying backtracking that don't provide the best experience. The abundance of clipping issues contribute to the game feeling noticeably janky.

The flicking mechanic also seemed to randomly not work, which in the most stressful moment cost me dearly without a way to distract my opponent. It makes some moments more tedious than they should've been. It's frustrating to backtrack at a snail's pace or redo a lengthy encounter because you couldn't pick up a bottle to distract the enemy. While these gripes did not change over time, Afterlife improved manifold after this early slouch.

As we moved deeper into the mansion, Afterlife not only provides a few plot twists, but its atmosphere also goes through the roof. The title features the best sound design I have experienced in a very long time, VR or not. From its quietest moments to its loudest, it constantly sows paranoia and unsettling situations with sounds from adjacent rooms, doors that randomly swing open, and floorboards quietly creaking behind you. The house around you seems alive, making it feel like a proper haunted house experience over long stretches. While the jump-scares are few, you are constantly expecting them, and it's this consistent and unrelenting tension that makes playing it such a treat to play Afterlife. It might not be the scariest game of all time, but the way it constantly tries to one-up itself in encounters and moment-to-moment gameplay is truly remarkable and effective, and audio is the main reason for its success.

Other areas of the game do not fare so well. Character models are quite detailed, especially the dreadful specters, but the mansion looks faded and has some odd smudgy colors. Don't get me wrong; it looks remarkable and runs well directly on the Quest 2, and it might even be one of its prettiest native experiences, but that comes with several concessions. Corridors and rooms can look very similar or bland, which can affect the otherwise great atmosphere. There is simply a lack of visual variety, which can make some stretches feel less interesting. They're not so similar that you can't distinguish between areas, but it's a far cry from interesting interiors. Since the game supports cross-buy on Rift/Quest, playing on the PC yields slightly better visuals and colors, but the Quest 2 was the target platform, so don't expect any big jumps in visuals between the two.

Afterlife also introduces several abilities that you can use. At the outset, your camera can unlock additional vision cut scenes, and your arm is an interactive compass that guides you to the next destination. Later, you can also move through walls using portals, move heavy objects from a distance, or use your flashlight to burn away vines that hide doors or items. The flashlight is useless otherwise and illuminates perhaps three feet in front of you. These abilities gradually unlock throughout the adventure and open new avenues to explore in previously visited locations. If it were more open, it might be comparable to a Metroidvania title, but even during quests that seem more open, you'll basically walk a predetermined path with little wiggle room. Moving through the house and exploring a larger array of unlocked areas would've been a great experience.

You'll have to decide if you're bold enough to play through the game, but motion sickness should not keep you from the experience. There are plenty of comfort options for moving and turning. Free locomotion is the standard movement option, but there is also teleportation, although I found it to behave oddly. When teleporting, you'll briefly switch to the third-person view, watch your character walk forward, and then return to the first-person perspective. Overall, the slow movement speed should make it comfortable for most VR gamers, even if they aren't used to the medium.

Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife has some very good and tense moments. It gradually lures you into quite a few scary encounters, and it doesn't rely on jump-scares but an atmosphere that is carried by its strong audio design. It isn't necessarily a looker, and the visuals are a bit janky at times, but if you get over the slow start and occasional annoyances, you're left with about eight hours of a creepy and entertaining VR adventure on an Oculus headsets. The Quest 2 runs the game flawlessly on its own, making it perhaps one of its better-looking titles.

Score: 7.6/10

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