Did you ever know this game was out? Elijah Wood personally came out to show off the game at two E3 showcases. But now the game is out, and not a peep. Also, despite heavily marketing it as a VR experience tailored for the PS4, it’s also available on Xbox One and PC. Which is suspicious, but how does it play? It plays like someone tried to combine Get Even with PT, that’s what it is.
Transference is a first-person sci-fi horror experience for VR. It was developed by SpectreVision and published by Ubisoft. It was heavily advertised as a psychedelic adventure and was heavily promoted by Elijah Wood during E3 2017 & 2018. The plot focuses on your navigating through a computer simulation of the minds of a three-person family. Depending on whose memories you explore, the layout of the house in which you spend the majority of the game will rearrange itself. Surprisingly, when the game came out in late September, it was largely ignored with no fanfare or ads. It also released on Xbox One and PC, despite being slated as a VR-only title. It’s quite possible that VR would enhance the experience, but the game still has to hold up on its own merits. This copy was reviewed without the use of VR, but still on PS4.
This is definitely a case of style over substance. The game has a great array of really good looking lighting FX, visual glitches, transition sequences, and mocap. There are also several scenes that blend 2D videos into the 3D environment in interesting ways. The problems this game has come from a technical standpoint. Despite the spectacular use of props, colors, and layouts to represent different psyches, one thing takes you out of the experience. The texture quality is just abysmal. Cables look like squares, a jar of sand had jagged edges, a cassette tape looks like a blown-up JPG. That’s really too bad because it definitely shows that a lot of detail was put into everything else. You can pick up props and look at them but the details are muddy. Still, the overall look works.
Absolute drivel. The story of this game is about a family man who went crazy and digitized the minds of his wife, child and himself onto a computer. But the context of why you’re experiencing these memories in the first place is never made apparent. You’re just there to stop in and look at some things that happened to this family. The kid had a dog he loved, and honestly, I can’t remember the actual fate of the dog. Just that something bad happened. The wife is sad because she thinks she gave up her career to be with this man, but I’m not really sure what it was he did that made her have to give everything up.
You never really feel like you’re in danger, and these NPCs are at worst a minor inconvenience…
And the husband? Well, he went crazy. Why? I don’t know, it appears that he just did. The game has several points where you get to watch camcorder footage of the family to get a better idea, but it felt very inconsistent. In one scene, they are at a park having a birthday party and the dad is acting just okay. You find another video later that appears to be the same time and location, but the dad has turned a complete 180 and was acting like a drunken abusive asshole. Why? I don’t know, it looks like he just did. Maybe the truth was hidden on one of the collectibles? That might be the case but it’s not much of a story if it’s mandatory for me to pick up every single object in every room. Also, the less said about the “acting” in this game, the better.
Despite the terrible script and bad acting, the quality of the voice work is well implemented into the game. Several wonky features are added to the voices of the family, distorting them, echoing them, and burning them. This game dives into the reality of horror for the most part, and this game expertly implements the “horror atmosphere” that many scary games excel at. It has everything, cramped spaces, hums, random noises, door knocking, clock ticking, music boxes, the usual. This is amplified with a soundtrack that blends into the scenes you encounter. There are heavy padded synths feeding through distortion tubes as scenes get more and more intense. Zero complaints about anything in the audio department of this game.
This is a relaxed horror experience if that makes any sense. You enter an apartment, and spooky things happen. You will walk around, look at things, watch video logs, and avoid walking afoul of the enemies in the game. These phantoms you encounter look like the Endermen from Minecraft. If you touch them, you just get sent backward a little bit. You never really feel like you’re in danger, and these NPCs are at worst a minor inconvenience and one of the least scary things about the game. Thankfully, there really aren’t any jump scares. The biggest problem was that there were a handful of puzzles that either stopped the game dead or were extremely easy. I won’t be able to forgive this game for the “piano puzzle” sequence any time soon. Some of the puzzles made sense plotwise, while others were real head-scratchers.
VR: That said, VR might have enhanced the scares just a little bit. This is literally the only section that VR could have improved the experience. It might have been scarier to walk around this cramped place in a fully immersive manner.
The couple of puzzles that stopped me dead in my tracks were rather annoying. Once I did figure them out, I didn’t feel smart. I just felt “Oh really? Just that? Okay then.” My interest in the fate of this family diminished by the minute. When the game rolled into its conclusion about 2 hours in, I was glad it was over, because I didn’t want to play it anymore. Even then, the ending is incredibly abrupt and completely unfulfilling, accomplishing nothing. You basically just rode around on a haunted mansion ride until you had to get off. The game just shrugs and says to me, “Yup, that’s it. Have a nice day I guess.” Maybe it’s my fault for having high expectations, but I’ve had these expectations for other games in the SciFi/Horror genre that live up to the hype. This one doesn’t.
This whole experience is basically a shaggy dog story about a broken family. Transference is content with itself; it tells you about a series of unfortunate events (which is a crap book series, fight me). This generation of gaming is finding more and more “AA” experiences resurface and make for some high-quality adventures. We got tales like Hellblade, Get Even, Soma, and several other games that serve as an experience on top of being a game. This particular title doesn’t really make the cut.