The great setting and graphics and excellent control systems could have been used to make a fantastic EVA simulator, rather than a slightly disappointing action game.
Developer: Anshar Studios
Publisher: Anshar Studios
Release Date: 19 May, 2017
Detached is the VR-only debut title from indie developers, Anshar Studios.
In Detached you play an isolated astronaut floating in space. I found the introduction slightly hard to follow, but from what I can gather, you and your crew are scavengers exploring an abandoned space station orbiting an unnamed planet. Due to space constraints in your ship you’re travelling in a cargo pod that becomes detached from the rest of the ship by a cocky pirate with a bad attitude. You’re left to fend for yourself, exploring the disjointed parts of the space station’s hub while you try to rendezvous with your ship and crew. All you have at your disposal is your EVA suit.
At least your oxygen and fuel tanks are full, for the moment anyway.
Detached is played from a first-person perspective. It feels slightly claustrophobic, thanks to the readouts on the protagonist’s EVA suit being visible slightly in front of the view. More or less of the suit surrounding the faceplate becomes visible as you look around or rotate the view, too, leaving a relatively convincing impression of being inside it.
The game is made using the Unreal Engine and the developers have done a wonderful job with the setting. Though the game is set in one particular asteroid belt near an unnamed planet, some of the space vistas are beautiful and the game really presents a wonderful portrayal of the area. Asteroids range in size and look big, rocky, and unfriendly. The destroyed space station and debris look fantastic, with some lights still functioning and other areas dark and foreboding. The lighting in general is exceptionally well done and used to great effect.
Non-structural models don’t look quite as impressive. There’s not enough there to give a good impression of the station’s purpose; it seems hard to imagine that people might once have lived there, though I suppose it’s possible there have been other scavengers there before you, stripping it bare. I would have liked to have seen a bit more evidence of habitation, in any case. Other effects are okay, but relatively limited and also not as impressive as the environmental graphics. The suit’s rather silly power-ups are fairly understated.
There were no graphical slowdowns or other issues running the game on my GTX-1070-based laptop, even in some of the larger areas, and I feel it’s worth mentioning that the engine’s excellent single-button view recentering functionality makes adjusting your viewpoint and position in the real world a breeze; I wish every VR game had this.
Music is appropriate and does a good job of building and maintaining tension, while not interfering with the game or stealing your attention. It’s well made and sounds quite familiar, but I suspect it’s just the space opera style is well chosen. Sound effects are good, though the old sound-traveling-through-a-vacuum thing ruins the suspension of disbelief; my guess is that the developers chose to go for a more exciting game rather than a realistic one in this regard.
Initially, Detached runs you through a tutorial section in which you can familiarise yourself with the basic controls. This is definitely necessary! While you may be familiar with 6-DoF 3D games, I think there’s a pretty good chance you haven’t come across anything quite like Detached before.
The game offers you a choice of three different control methods: arcade, in which the game auto-steadies you and drains your inertia for you when you’re not actively firing any of the thrust or attitude jets on your suit; simulation, in which you control your jets and thus your inertia completely manually, but which lets you hold down two buttons to stop your spin or thrust; and astronaut, in which you control everything manually — including applying counter thrust in order to stop movement in any dimension. For me, arcade was too unrealistic and astronaut too hard, so I stuck with simulation, which was utterly brilliant.
After the tutorial and between each level you’ll see a scripted scene telling the story, but I couldn’t really follow it. Though I knew basically what was going on, I didn’t really know who was doing what to whom, or why, so in the end I just sort of looked at the nice graphics and waited until I could take control again. It’s a bit of a missed opportunity from my point of view, but maybe it makes more sense to some people.
Anyway, you then have to make your way around the destroyed space station performing various tasks to reactivate seemingly unrelated systems, before you move onto the next level, while collecting big devices called NANDs and trying to find fuel and oxygen tanks to refill your EVA suit. Along the way you’ll find three power ups for your suit: a boost, a shield, and a missile launcher, all of which recharge with time. There are a handful of levels, some with timed sections and drones that attack on site, but which you don’t seem to be able to destroy.
I think Detached is probably the closest I’ll ever get to a spacewalk. But while the game’s setting and excellent control systems could have made a wonderful EVA simulator game, the developers instead chose to make an action game based on time limits, collection-based ‘puzzles’, indestructible enemies, and — just to make it even more frustrating — automatic checkpoint-based saving. The game all but punishes you for exploring the wonderful environment, and being forced to repeat timed sections (especially when you’ve inadvertently saved at a checkpoint with low oxygen or fuel) over and over is painful.
As the developers warn you straight out on the Steam store page for Detached, this game is not for anyone with even the slightest hint of susceptibility to VR-induced motion sickness. Given the number of reviews mentioning this, I feel I should say something, too, since I’m using a hacked-together VR rig comprising an Android phone, Google Cardboard headset, and Xbox 360 controller. I’d expect this to be a terrible experience compared to the officially supported HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.
Sure enough, for the first half hour or so of spinning about wildly and trying to understand what I was doing, I felt pretty ill and had to take a break. But once I had the basic movements down, and could control my spins and move and look roughly where I wanted to, the motion sickness faded away to barely a whisper, and I could fully appreciate the zero-gravity environment and excellent movement controls. So don’t be afraid! Give it a go; what’s the worst that could happen!? (Keep a bucket nearby, though, just in case.)
Some aspects of Detached are brilliant: the (realistic?) thrust and attitude rockets that control your movement along, and rotation about, all three dimensions; the wonderful environment; the great graphics with excellent use of lighting and darkness; and the atmospheric music. But other aspects of it all but ruin the experience: the time limits, the checkpoints, the indestructible enemies, and the silly collectibles. The story doesn’t make any sense to me, either; I don’t really understand what’s supposed to have happened or how, or why I’m doing what I’m doing.
So how do I add all that up? I’m not completely sure. It’s too expensive at its normal price, but on sale it’s not so bad. I’ve played it for a handful of hours and I don’t think I can be bothered finishing it, though I may play every now and then just for a bit of zero-G ballet. And I guess that’s the problem: as a game it’s not that great, but as an experience it’s out of this world.