The opening title sequence of a game is rarely something mentioned in a “review” (if that is what I do here…) but in the case of “I Expect you to Die”, the opening titles are a notable VR experience in themselves. The player is a passenger through a Bond inspired, highly stylised, red & black dichromatic intro sequence complete with Shirley Bassey style theme music. It’s an homage to everything that the game strives to be – an over the top Spy experience paying tribute to Connery and Moore whilst keeping its tongue firmly in cheek.
With the tone set, the player finds themselves sitting at the desk in a tastefully decorated office before being walked through the gameplay basics by a faceless ‘M’ impersonator. The normal VR niceties are explained; those floating hands you’re waving around can be used to do things and you have a special “telekinetic implant” that allows you to force grab things across the room. The telekenesis is never really commented on apart from that, however it does allow you to play the entire game sitting down in a chair which is both comfortable and makes sense contextually throughout most of the game.
… with the arrival of the Vive I’ve spent an increased number of hours standing to game, and crouching… and leaning… my knees aren’t doing so well at the moment…
The office serves as the hub to the game world, a world set sometime in the 60’s. The various items around the room (which increase as you complete ingame achievements) provide a good warm up area for all that VR ‘fiddling with stuff’ that people like to do. I’ve only seem one person so far who didn’t immediately light the cigar and start puffing away on it when first trying the game and everyone has managed to set fire to various bits of the office. Once the player has had their fill of cigars, whiskey, and burning piles of money, they can select a level by placing a film canister in the projector on the desk and listening to the briefing before being dropped in to the action.
“Virtual Escape Room” is the best way I’ve been able to describe the gameplay; the objective isn’t always to escape, but there is the same sense of being placed in an environment and told to explore in order to achieve an objective. For example, in the first level the player is sitting in a car in a cargo plane and is charged with driving the car off the plane – the key is predictably under the sun visor, but that only activates the intruder countermeasures that you must defeat and… well, you get the idea. Half the fun is in making silly mistakes, my personal favourite was when I accidentally lit a stick of dynamite with the cigar I happened to be smoking at the time before failing to throw it away and finally exploding. There are some parts that seem to favour trail and error, but there is always some logic and clues to act as a guide and overall each level feels like a well rounded puzzle experience
The downside is that, despite being polished there are only five levels to the game and, whilst the first run might take 30 – 40 minutes, each can be completed in a few minutes once you know how. There is some replayability in going back to collect the various achievements and hitting the speedrun time, but aside from chilling out in your spy office to some gentle jazz, very little to bring a player back after that.
Overall “I Expect you to Die” is a solid introduction to VR gaming. It sidesteps awkward movement controls, gives the player plenty of opportunity to play around, and delivers a well pitched puzzle challenge wrapped up in a satisfying aesthetic with light comedy overtones.
…unfortunately it also highlights some of the current trends with many (but not all) VR experiences. The biggest is that it conveniently avoids the ‘action’. The game is pitched as James Bond style experience, but most of the levels seem to happen after much of the mission has taken place. In the aforementioned car escape the player is placed in the car with no mention of how they stealthed on to the plane or even managed to enter the locked vehicle in the first place. A later level involves infiltrating a submarine but the player only sees the final dash to freedom in the escape pod. This all works in the context of being a sitting down puzzle experience and its not alone in this approach. Earlier this year I played “Batman Arkham: VR” (on PSVR) which, despite being an immersive tour of Gotham City, didn’t bear any relation to the Arkham games; in short there was very little Batmanning in the Batman game. Other titles that have matched this trend are the “Star Wars Droid Repair Bay” (essentially a free interactive Star Wars Trailer) which didn’t involve light sabres, blasters, or flying a spaceship and the Portal section of Valve’s own “The Lab” which was a visual spectacle, but didn’t involve a single portal or cube based puzzle.
Of course this is a symptom of designers still working out how best to use VR and I can’t say that any of these experiences weren’t fun and immersive so they’re certainly doing something right (I’ve also hand picked a few specific examples there). The worry is that this will be all that VR becomes associated with, fun little distractions without the substance of a “proper” game.
I guess my final word on “I Expect you to Die” is that it’s actually very good, and with a sub-premium price tag I could easily recommend it to someone looking for a VR title to check out … possibly for that intro sequence alone… It’s also worth noting that I have played much more fleshed out VR experiences in my first few weeks of owning the system so keep a look out here in the future for more on those!
Are you a VR enthusiast? Any Recommendations? … or do you want me to stop banging on about the Vive now?