Wander into the Darkly Lit Mansion. Puzzled by the random order your only choice to act natural when confronted with a speaking speck! Flee or remain? You are Torn.
Genre: Puzzle, Single Player, VR
Release date: 28 Aug, 2018
Intro – I will be your hexahedron today
What compels us to voluntarily forfeit our precious time and mental space struggling with problems, puzzles, and brain-teasers? Is it a quest for knowledge, an evolutionary compulsion to defy entropy or simply a form of exercise for the ol’ gray-matter?
A myriad of game developers throughout gaming history have focused on our compulsion to solve life’s mysteries, gambling financially that it will not only entertain but enthrall us, so much so that nearly all action oriented games throw puzzle elements into the explosive violence as an escape from the action, and to inject some class into the mayhem.
Puzzle games do not implicitly require a compelling story for the player to enjoy it’s puzzle elements, especially if they’re well made. However, a carefully crafted and properly executed narrative can make a title come alive, feeling connected & cohesive.
A great blend of puzzle and story is art.
Beautiful, Engaging, & Memorable.
• The Journeyman Project series
• The Myst series
• The Portal series
• Borderlands & Walking Dead (telltale games)
• The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
• Candy Crush (Kidding! I’m Kidding, please come back… c’mon, keep reading. I’m sorry)
Is Torn worthy of the classification of a modern classic?
Does it belong among the list of great narrative driven puzzle games?
I sure am eager to find out, aren’t you?!
Visuals & Framerate – Find the blue pages.
Graphically Torn is exquisite; from the very moment the game starts you are delivered a crisp, detailed, and purpose-driven environment in a capable engine. The brief duration the player spends outside the mansion could have been budget conscious and generic, even pre-rendered, instead every blade of grass and tree is handcrafted and beautiful. Even the rocks are detailed, as is the ground clutter, and other random debris, like old rusted cars and weathered crates. There is a little bit of object level of detail pop, but it is minimal. Just prior to stepping foot in the basement of the Mansion you are blocked by ribbons of caution tape, they stretch and tear like the real thing, and is one of the best uses of the nvidia physx system seen to date.
It is here that you get a little jump scare and then one of the most beautiful and well made introductions I have ever seen; you follow a little ball of light as it flies around the basement through the floorboards and around highly detailed objects while following strange machinery and wiring. Title cards transition into view throughout and your head acts as a lantern in the dark, allowing for a little bit of control over what is seen throughout travel. This is all accompanied by a fully orchestrated musical score. This was a “Shut up and take my money” moment.
Once you step into the Mansion the visual splendor skyrockets! The woodworking in the banisters, rod iron and stained glass in the elevator, individual bottles of wine, all gushing with detail! Even the old dusty books and random clutter like welding masks, old televisions, and radios, make you feel like you are really there. Textures are extremely detailed; handwritten papers and schematics are sharp, detailed, and legible. The art chosen and displayed in the paintings is gorgeous. As are the model ships, busts of Albert Einstein, musical instruments, hell… everything!
The machinery in the house is an imaginative spectacle; the wires meander and serpentine like technological tentacles from floor to floor, they feel connected and operational. Nothing is simply there for no reason… the home appears as you would expect if the situation in the narrative were real.
Animations and objects are extremely detailed as well. The Physx engine really makes the world’s objects have a weighty and realistic feel to them.
You don’t need a tutorial or hand holding to know you can turn the doorknob and push the door open, you just do it. Object collision and fluid dynamics are also portrayed to beyond uncanny levels…
Want to press a row of books together with your hand? Do it, the game engine just deals with it!
Want to throw a couch to the floor below? Why not!
I stacked all the wall-mounted taxidermy around the mansion to the ceiling, because I could!
There are adequate visual options and settings to custom tailor the experience and optimize performance. Anti-Aliasing options, Resolution Scale, and individual Special Effects are all present and accounted for. Nvidia Gameworks is used and it appears that SLI might even be supported, although not quite stable (still testing).
The games engine as stated above is a marvel, capable of tremendous detail and on the fly L.O.D. adjustments capable of giving a consistently smooth and fluid experience. With the Anti-Aliasing and Resolution Scale maxed out (2.0x), and the engine under considerable load from Physx calculations I saw no performs drops or hitching at all.
There was a major issue with locking up on my test system, which is used for all my other reviews and have had no issues with. It always seems to occur within the same part of the house and in one section of storyline. I reached out to the developer for a comment or corrective steps and received a generic email stating they have a larger than normal volume of tickets and it will be 5-7 days before I can expect a reply. The overall rating would have originally reflected this, especially as the save data was corrupted by the crashing twice and required restarting, but… I am so incredibly pleased with the game that I am going to overlook this in the hopes it will be a simple patch or issue with my PC that gets resolved.
Sound & Music – They say ‘doubt everything’, but I disagree.
Audio is as important to telling a story as graphics, not verbal narration, as in the emotions delivered through great music and palpable audio queues. A great soundtrack can drive a story so much so that no spoken or even written dialog is necessary to deliver a compelling story.
Torn has a considerable amount of spoken dialog. There is banter/communication between you and the mysterious speaking orb of light and the introspective/spoken self-dialog, with the latter actually being the worst part of the game, not only audibly, but just in general. The poor choice of spoken dialog, awkward timing, and uncomfortable mannerisms injected by the developer when you are alone make the audio feel unnatural and cringe-worthy awful. Before you enter the mansion and have someone to speak to, the developer thought it a good idea to make you whistle, hum, and mumble to yourself; saying strange, awkward, and pointless commentary out loud to… No one… that doesn’t build character or tell a story. Silence would have been a much greater and positive experience.
The writing for the interactions between the main character and the owner of the mansion is extremely well produced and the voice-acting was phenomenal. Never once did I feel like the conversation between them was forced or uncomfortable, despite the voice for the lead being female. This fact alone makes me think it was just bad writing and terrible design that made the solitary moments feel so forced and cheap.
Sound effects are top notch and everything sounds like it has real-world properties applied to them. The machines are particularly well produced and have a distinct sound profile unlike anything else I have heard.
The Orchestrated musical score is the sexy red dress that makes the game audio stand apart from the rest of the crowd. An orchestra can really push the emotional tone of the narration in the direction the director and writer want to send the player, providing creepy chills, pulse racing heart pounding exhilaration, or even sadness. None of the musical scores are particularly memorable or catchy like a traditional track might be, but the overall influence on the atmosphere made by an orchestra was a great fit.
Gameplay – Cake and grief counseling will be available at the conclusion
Torn is at its core a puzzle solving game with a heavy focus on narration. Something akin to the Portal series, but with less humor. The puzzles are simplistic and can get a little repetitive, but remain fun and engaging for most of the duration of the game. The story manages to keep the flow of the game moving in the right direction, and even manages to make the somewhat repetitive gameplay less of a chore as you are always looking to complete a challenge to find out what happens next.
Shortly after entering the home, you are greeted by a wonderfully voice-acted floating sparkle of light which has fun and whimsical pathing system that leaves a trail of light for you to follow.
It (he?) guides you to a locked desk drawer downstairs. Once open, you gain access to a multipurpose gravity tool, it allows you to lift and manipulate objects, it also acts as a key to the locked door and as a small part of the larger aforementioned machinery, allowing you to operate and manipulate it as you progress.
The premise of the gameplay is all pretty much based around this gravity tool. The game takes place in a mansion filled with strange machines that are dormant at first, but come to life and it is your job to power each section of the house up in order to make trips to an odd place where thoughts can warp reality. This is where most of the story unfolds.
In order to power each room, you must point the gravity tool flashlight beam around the room, which reveals hidden power conduits with missing junctions. If you turn the beam on objects they will sometimes contain the corresponding junctions. You have to then lift, twist, spin, and match the symbols to allow power flow through that section of the power system, all rooms require you do this three times to power on the device that will transport you to the strange alternate dimension. All of these processes and tasks feel natural and none of them feel forced or awkward, which speaks to the quality of the design that much more.
While searching for the junctions you will also see objects jutting about and moving on their own. These, when grabbed by the gravity tool, will release small balls of energy collected by the transport device, and are later revealed to be important to the progression of the story.
You also are asked to collect “Keys” at one point, eight to be exact. The problem is they are not really any additional work to obtain, you simply repeat the exact same process as before and they’re provided at the travel station. This would have been much more fun if when you unlocked them, you had to then figure out where they were hidden. As far as progression control is concerned there are a few additional rooms that are also locked. However, they can be opened by the gravity tool acting as a key, and do not require any additional work on the players part.
The developer should have expanded on the puzzle solving elements to include some Myst like puzzles where you have small scraps of information and clues stringing you along, forcing you to deduce how to open secret panels or hidden rooms, this would have slowed progression and broke up the monotony of “power up the three sections of conduit, teleport to weird place, learn something” pattern.
The little floating ball of light that follows you around can be summoned and recalled back to the gravity tool at will, which is nice because it reveals the solution to the simplest puzzles within moments of its release from the gravity tool. This was a missed opportunity, had they chosen to make the lights you collected a resource you had to expend to reveal smaller details on solving puzzles, this would have given the player more control, and added a much needed resource management element that would have also provided the player with a sense of control and responsibility.
Controls – You’re the moron they built to make me an idiot!
The review you have here in front of you was completed on the HTC VIVE, I can only attest to the feel and precision of said hardware. The Vive wads are pretty standard here, the pads allow the control of the push and pull of object suspended in the air by the gravity tool, the side buttons are used to release a form of energy requested at one point in the story, and the trigger activates the gravity function.
(For you lefties out there… the game never expressly tells you, However, you can not only place the gravity tool at your side, but it can be placed on your opposite side and then grabbed with your left hand (you’re welcome).)
You have a few options for locomotion, they’re pretty standard; Teleport, Blink Teleport, and direct movement. I personally preferred the Blink teleport, it has a more natural feel than the normal teleport to me but lacks the action-heavy feel of that of Raw data’s blink system.
The controls are effective and while not revolutionary, I never felt held back or frustrated by them at any point.
Overall – For sure I am not in a criminal bulletin or anything!
Torn is an exceptionally well made, imaginative, and fun game. It has a great deal of value, both in the length of the adventure and quality of experience.
Virtual Reality games suffer from their need for the additional hardware cost to the player and limits the size of the audience the game can sell to, This causes developers to have to manage their time investment into a game to make it remain profitable. Torn is an example of a game that really pushes the boundaries of what is capable under this sort of restraint. All of the above-mentioned improvements may have been suggested or even part of the development plan and had to be cut or scraped in order to keep the development time inside the profitability window.
Its due to these facts, they almost deserve a small buffer in the scoring system because they’re compared to multi-platform, huge budget, triple-A titles from studios that have hundreds to even thousands of times the potential client base. At the same time, we want great games that are fun, and those limitations shouldn’t be a crutch or excuse for mediocre games. It is a hard balance for developers to try and keep. Keep this in mind if you are a fan of Virtual Reality headsets and want to see more developers making great content for them.
The only way the VR community will attract quality game developers is to buy their games and keep their doors open.
The graphics and framerate are solid and beautiful.
The Music is fantastic thanks to the Orchestrated Score, and the voice acting is exceptional.
The controls work well and require no learning curve.
While some of the puzzle solving elements could have used some variety, the story is interesting enough to keep you motivated and progressing.
Had it not been for some stability issues, more difficulty in the puzzle solving, and a few additional elements added to spice things up, Torn would have been an AutoSave. You will find it is entertaining and well produced; worth the asking price, and time it wants you to invest.
Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review.
Did you know all the puzzle game titles for the quotes referenced in the headers?
Intro – FEZ (2012)
Visuals & Framerate – Myst (1993)
Sound & Music – The Talos Principle (2014)
Gameplay – Portal (2007)
Controls – Portal 2 (2011)
Overall – Papers Please (2013)