REVIEW: Transpose (VR)

Imagine a world where time and space are but playthings. Exist in the 4th dimension; Moving along your own time line, warp the environment, solve puzzles your way.

Author: Avatario
Steam: Released
Type: Single-player
Genre: VR, Puzzle, Relaxation
Developer: Secret Location Inc.
Publisher: Secret Location Inc.
Release date: 6 Nov, 2018

Intro – “Make no attempt to solve it”

Set in an otherworldly low-poly high contrast NEON game world with flexible laws of gravity and time, Transpose has a compelling new gameplay element that can literally at times, strain your brain. You must work along side up to five copies of yourself to complete progressively more challenging and complex puzzles. Secret Location Inc. has made an interesting VR title, with a unique twist, but is it any good? Let get stuck… I mean, started.

Story – “It’s my favorite bridge. It really ties the room together.”

The story for many games is massively important if not the focus; Torn, Form, Obduction, or The Gallery for example. These types of games generally have a large amount of the development time dedicated to creating the assets and environments to make the story come to life and the locations fresh and interesting.

Obviously, a narrative driven game still needs a compelling form of gameplay, a way to interact with the world. Often this is accomplished through puzzles or challenging opponents. and as previously stated; Programming AI and creating a variety of models for enemies and environments. These all soak up a large portion of the resource pool a developer has, which means they have the difficult task of balancing development time and budget on the aforementioned items while still having to fine tune the gameplay elements.

The story in Transpose is simply text that scrolls prior to the first challenge, and that’s it. It gives you a very simplistic overview of what is going on and a minimal sense of place in the polygonal-Neon void you will inhabit and transverse for the next 20 or so hours of gameplay.

This by itself is actually very telling. The emphasis was clearly placed on creating challenging and thought-provoking puzzles over all other aspects of the game. Honestly, a great puzzle game doesn’t have to have an amazing story to keep the players attention. Where the likes of Portal or Lone Echo would not be the same without the story, other titles like The Talos Project and Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes are fantastic without really needing a story to keep you playing. Secret location has built another great example with Transpose.

The “X” Factor – “This happened because Tim made a mistake”

The “X” Factor is a section of the review dedicated to placing the focus on what really makes a game stand apart from the crowd, what makes the game worthy of your hard earned money. Or, in some cases, an explanation of what is missing from a game that makes it disappear into the sea of Steam titles out there.

Transpose has a lot of great elements, the visual style is unique and the setting is transfixing. Many of the game play elements have all been done before; gravity manipulation was in Prey, Inversion, Singularity, Gravity Rush, etc. Time manipulation has been done in many titles, like Time Shift, Timesplitters 2, Singularity, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time & Majora’s Mask to name a few… what hasn’t been done before, at least to my knowledge, is Single Player Co-Op!

That’s right, Singleplayer. Co-Op.

This is the first game where the primary focus is placed on your ability to perform an action, and while the game replays that action, you can interact with the old copy of yourself. This isn’t actually the first time I have performed this action… its just the first game to use it as a primary focus. In Super Hot if you pay close enough attention when you teleport from location to location within the same map, the action of the items in motion do not stop between teleports, so I have thrown a weapon to a location I will be at next, and then grabbed it mid flight to use it.

Transpose has taken this to an all new level with the ability to have 5 copies all performing actions at once, and then adding a slider on your left wrist that allows you to fast forward or reverse the timing of those actions.

It is a key gameplay element that lends itself to the puzzles. It also allows the player to complete tasks in ways the developer didn’t intend, and there are some small issues with it as well, which we will go over in detail briefly.

Technical issues & Glitches – “To make a photocopier, simply copy a mirror”

Technical issues and glitches are commonplace in the “Games as a Service” world we live in, with many devs pushing for shorter release windows and beta testing is basically being placed in the hands of the early adopters of the games. This from huge companies with hundreds of employees, so smaller devs with fewer people and funds to live off while the game is built tend to release buggy, issue laden software as well.

Many VR games have failed to make it into many gamers frequently played library because of bugs & Technical glitches. Nothing is more frustrating than a game that doesn’t function as intended.

I’m very happy to report, Transpose has no technical issues that I have been witness to.

Music & Sound Design – “The D’ni culture will be reborn”

Robby Duguay has done a good job of composing all the music for Transpose. While I cannot say that its going on my everyday playlist, it doesn’t feel out of place and suits the style of music needed for the long hours of continued listening you are subjected to in a puzzle game.

The sound effects in the game are also well made and integrate well with the gameplay, there are none that stand out as overly creative or amazing, but none are irritating or grating either.

While the sound and music in Transpose is somewhat unremarkable, it isn’t without merit. The long play sessions and constant repeating of the sounds made during the many steps it requires to complete levels could get very old and even detract from the overall gameplay if it was too overt. The sound and music are EXACTLY what they need to be!

The original soundtrack mirrors the reality of what Transpose is, a dreamlike, gravity-defying VR puzzle game. The game is set in a mesmerizing surreal world where players are granted the power to manipulate time, enabling them to create multiple, overlapping versions of themselves, to solve physical puzzles which become increasingly complex as they play. The tracks juxtaposed against this gameplay very well.


Key Audio Features:

• The music in Transpose is subtle and eerie, and fits well with the feel of the visual style.
• The soundtrack is available for free: Here
• Extremely suited for long sessions.

Missed Opportunities:

• I hate, (very much) the lack of walking animation, I would have liked material based walking sounds that indicated what you were walking on.

Graphics – “Damn You, Muscle Memory!”

There is plenty of style here with sharp edges, vibrant colors, and atmosphere for miles. Sorta…

Most of the textures are clean and detailed, the low-poly look is nice and has a higher poly count than most “simulator” games. The colorful and bright textures against the dark inky backdrops are really great at singling out the obstacles and making planning easier, giving it an actual meaningful affect.

The maps or puzzles are well built and have a vary wide range of looks and definitely scale well. Even with a lower end GPU you should be able to use the Vive Pro or other “4K” headsets with great results.

I liked the look of the world, and puzzle elements, but very much disliked the look of the player models and the choice to have it “float” rather than walk. In most VR titles, the look of the character is irrelevant, as you cannot really see yourself. However, in Transpose you see MANY copies of your own model performing different tasks. It very much feels like the game design got a static model worked up for the user and they “created puzzles” and tested them in early development where at some point they said, “Screw it guys, lets just keep this crap model, they’ll think it was the look we were going for”, or they just couldn’t get the animation right so they cut the legs off. I cannot stress how much hate this choice deserved.

The other real visual nag are the sky-boxes. They consist of very low and dirty resolution garbage and detract from the look and feel greatly, the rest of the worlds look great, but the sky-boxes stand out as closer than they should be and blurry.

The Purdies:
• Textures
• Style
• Puzzle design

The Dirtiez:
• Background sky-boxes
• Player model
• THE PLAYER MODEL!!!! oh, did I already say that…

Gameplay – “Bigamy is the act of marrying too many women. So is monogamy.”

The meat and potatoes of Transpose. The gameplay.

The VR market has a good deal of puzzle games, and most are ok. None thus far have really hooked me like the old 2D ones, like peggle and tetris, etc. At first it appeared that this was another mediocre puzzle game among the many out there, but the more I played with the layers built on top of one another, the more it grabs you.

In the beginning, you can walk to and teleport around collecting an object that needs to be placed in a spot you cannot get to. You grab the heart of a figure similar to yourself and as you rip it out, it shatters and you gain a bracelet on the right hand. Each one grants you the ability to “save” or “delete” the last action performed. As you progress you gain more and more of these cores and are required to complete ever more complicated tasks in more difficult to reach locations. Eventually, this requires five previous copies of yourself performing actions with yourself.

The mental burden on the player gets heavier and heavier as you try to think five steps ahead, then it adds gravity manipulation to walk on the sides and bottoms of walls and platforms, adjusting platforms with levers and the like. As you can imagine, this would be a serious time sink each time you have to delete and replay, so the devs gave you a slider on your arm that you can adjust to speed up playback.

The puzzles keep changing and increasing in difficulty as you progress and, honestly, while you may be able to complete several challenges in a single go the first night, by the forth or fifth night you will likely not even complete one before you have to take a break as you really can get mentally worn down. That is if you don’t cheat yourself… Many of the puzzles can be beaten with a very low throw of the cube, bypassing many obstacles and getting around the developers intended solution. This is fine and I feel they left the option for you and didn’t add barriers to prevent this to give you an out when the level is just too demanding. That said, it would be in your own best interest to avoid just powering through the levels this way as you are doing yourself a disservice.

And I suppose I cannot close out a section without a single gripe… hehe… The tossing or throwing system can get frustrating as there is no really good way to aim, and the “weight” of the cube almost seems random. The expected trajectory was often times not the resulting one.

Locomotion & Controls – “Sorry about the mess. I’ve really let the place go since you killed me”

At the time of writing the developer JUST released updated locomotion options and therefore the rant I wrote in this section was rendered moot.

Instead here are the new options!

Patch Notes: Locomotion Updates!
November 19 – SecretLocation
The people have spoken and we’ve listened. Our most recent patch includes bug fixes and new locomotion options that have been requested by several members on our community page.

Bug Fixes

The Zoolander Bug
Some players were experiencing an issue when using touch controllers where they could not turn left. The issue has been resolved in the latest patch.

Locomotion Updates

New Rotation Options
Smooth rotation was requested and has been added as an option in addition to snap rotate, or the option to play without rotation.

New Movement Direction
Users now have the option to move forward in the direction of either their headset OR their controller.

To find these options go to Menu > Settings > Gameplay

Verdict – “While living be a dead man, thoroughly dead”

The Good:
• Amazing level design
• Great stylistic graphics
• Performs well on less powerful hardware
• difficult ramps exactly right

The Bad:
• Some repeat level elements
• Unpredictable aiming
• long tutorial section
• locomotion (remediated)

The Ugly:
• Sky-boxes are low res and detract from the otherwise great style
• TERRIBLE player model and even worse animation
• easy to bypass the games puzzles
• the player models (what! OK I’ll stop)

Transpose is a great puzzle title with a unique and likeable visual style, good music, and very well balanced levels, but most importantly a mechanic that is new and fun that makes it stand apart from the endless ocean of Steam garbage.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review.
Did you know all the Puzzle Game quotes referenced in my headers?

Title Quotes:
• Intro – Portal (GlaDos)
• Story – Peggle
• The “X” Factor – Braid (narrator)
• Technical issues & Glitches – Portal 2 (fact Core)
• Music & Sound Design – Gehn (Riven [worst ending])
• Graphics – Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes (level name)
• Gameplay – Catherine (loading screen quotes)
• Locomotion & Controls – Portal 2 (GlaDos)
• Verdict – The Witness (quoting bunan)

Written by
Dead Parrot
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December 2018

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