Wilson’s Heart is a first-person psychological thriller set in a 1940s, and is probably the closest you’ll get to actually being part of a virtual movie.
Oculus version played on HTC Vive using Revive.
This is an unusual game of extremes. On the one hand, it is extremely beautiful and well crafted, on the other hand the gameplay mechanic is extremely limiting and restrictive – not what you’d expect from a virtual reality game.
Even with the graphics the developers made an unusual choice – going for fully monochrome visuals – that’s right, no colour at all. This design choice works better than anticipated though; not only does it align with the 1940’s setting, but it adds to the atmosphere, rather than detracting from it due to the lack of color.
There are 3 graphic settings, and playing on the top setting with a 1080 GTX graphics card it ran smooth as silk, and looked just as nice. Peering at a painting on the wall, you can even see the texture of the oils used in the painting – very cool. It’s probably one of the best looking games we’ve seen with nicely detailed game assets and terrifically atmospheric rooms. So that’s the good bit – how about that questionable gameplay mechanic?
Wilson’s Heart is a point and click game, where you can only travel to pre-set points at that location. For example, the opening scene finds you in a long corridor, with a wall blown out, rain and wind blowing in through the gaping hole. There are empty hospital beds throughout, shelves and cupboards all beautifully created.
However in this large area, you can only stand in 4 pre-set spots, any attempt to actually walk around is immediately met with a blurring of the screen. It’s worth describing how this works because although Wilson’s Heart is immensely enjoyable – this movement mechanic is extremely restrictive and can at times be annoying. Sometimes you only have to turn your head slightly, or lean in to a scene – and the screen will blur. This is not something we are used to in a VR when free roam is the expected norm. Even more so in a beautiful and atmospheric environment as presented in Wilson’s Heart where a free roam would truly make this an immersive and unnerving experience. However, the point and click movement mechanic is a constant reminder in an otherwise captivating environment that you are playing a game – which is shame.
It is a shame, but it shouldn’t detract from what is otherwise a hugely enjoyable experience, and this brings us neatly on to another important aspect of Wilson’s Heart – it’s more of an experience than a game, sitting somewhere between a walking simulator, a room puzzle game and a narrative.
Having described the somewhat limiting movement mechanic – Wilson’s Heart does provide suspense and atmosphere in spades. For example, in the “steam room”, the visuals are terrific and the realism of the smoke really places you in the scene, for a very immersive gaming moment. We can only imagine how more immersive this would have been with free roam; stumbling through the wall of steam, scared witless about what he could potentially be walking into, or what horror could suddenly appear out of the gloom. Alas, this was a missed opportunity and one I really hope it addressed in a sequel – because yes, for all it’s flaws – this is a hugely enjoyable game.
It’s enjoyable because of the beautifully drawn scenes, the professional voice acting, and the not too easy, but not too difficult puzzles.
Other gameplay mechanics, such as handling props, works perfectly. There is no glitchy “try again” nonsense that you may find in other games where even the simple task of opening and shutting a drawer can be an exercise in frustration – in Wilson’s Heart everything is very well put together. A small point but worth mentioning something well done – the inventory system is probably one of the most enjoyable to use of any game I’ve played. Yes it is very simple, but it is also a cool feature that’s been well thought out and implemented.
Wilson’s Heart is extremely atmospheric, suspenseful, and although it does have a few jump scares moments – it is the narrative and mystery that make Wilson’s Heart a very pleasurable ride.