Detached PC Review
This review has turned out to be one of the more difficult ones I’ve written. I’m completely torn on Detached because on one hand it’s an enveloping experience that quickly sucks the player in with its amazing graphical detail and incredibly immersive Heads-Up Display (HUD). It emanates the abandon and free movement of Zero-G with the winding 360° corridors of the stations and openness of empty space. On the other hand, however, even as a veteran VR fanatic it constantly had me feeling feverish and physically sick as it recklessly disregards any and all VR standards. What’s worse is that it seemingly does this on purpose. Still, even with all the extra settings that were supposed to help with nausea turned on by default, I found myself tightly squeezing my eyes shut if I came anywhere near hitting something or being shot by a rocket as it spins the player character out of control, skewing the camera wildly. And there you have the dilemma – can I recommend a good game that causes headaches?
The story is pretty non-essential – all that really matters is that the main character is alone in what seems to be a mix of derelict spaceship graveyards and unused space stations. Contact with the protagonist’s partner-in-salvage is fleeting, as you’re rushedly given objectives before he has to get back to all manner of urgent tasks or space-pirate battles. The objectives are mostly ‘go to a place and activate a thing’, ‘activate a bunch of things within a time limit’, or ‘escape this fast moving thing before you die’. The ‘where’, however, is found through exploration and light puzzle-solving such as using debris in propulsion systems to smash barriers, and whilst there is a kind of ‘radar’ map system, it doesn’t ever seem to be used to find the goal. The goal discovery through exploration gameplay is interesting but also irritating if you get turned around by hitting something. Now you feel sick and discombobulated about where you are or where you were headed and the areas are quite vast so you’d better make sure you don’t miss anything. Apart from these niggles, the gameplay is ultimately fun but not very challenging, once the controls have been mastered.
And the controls are a huge part of Detached and are the second biggest promoter of nausea in the game, after banging into stuff. With one motion controller handling the rotation of the player and the other controlling movement, it’s quite exciting to just see how fast and you can get from one place to another, all the time remaining oriented. Sadly though, if one changes direction too fast or brakes too harshly the camera careens all around, just like when hit, and if there’s one thing you don’t do in VR it’s never, and I mean ever, move the camera independently of the user. That control should never be taken away, even in extreme circumstances. Unfortunately, the game is obviously made to handle stationary VR as opposed to room-scale, meaning the players needs a way to turn around without simply physically doing so. This is a damn shame because I believe if the in-game character would simply move to face wherever the player was looking, the amount of problems Detached causes would be significantly reduced as the player would have full control. Hopefully we’ll see them take back their complete lack of VR best practices that they denounced in the launch trailer in exchange for some of these ‘safer’ mechanics in future updates.
Besides the movement there are also a few ‘modules’ that are unlocked for the space suit. There’s a boost; that helps navigate large gaps faster, homing rockets; to disable certain force-fields and fight drones with, and best of all a shield; that negates damage and the shaky-cam that comes with it. They all work on a cooldown system and can be used freely. Oxygen and fuel, however, are limited resources that are found just about everywhere but still need to be kept in mind whilst exploring. The best part of all of the cooldowns and tanks that need to be monitored is the way that they are displayed on the HUD. By having all of the information laid out for the player and blocking some of the peripheral vision gives the illusion that one is wearing a futuristic astronaut helmet. It looks amazing. In fact, the entire game does. The quality of the lighting, shadows, and even normal textures just look out of this world (heh, space humour). I’m not really sure how it was accomplished as most VR games seem to suffer from poor design, due to the need of being rendered twice, once for each eye, but Detached is easily one of the best looking VR games I’ve played. It’s quite the accomplishment.
So, it looks great, plays interestingly, and feels immersive but basically comes with a guaranteed ‘you’re going to feel like crap for 30 minutes after playing’. What does that mean for Detached? Well, honestly, I’m afraid no game is worth feeling like that. I wouldn’t play Mario either, if someone jabbed me in the arm every time I missed a jump, so I’m not sure why VR gets a free pass. Really, it all comes down to how well you can handle motion sickness in VR. As a VR evangelist and proud owner of the Oculus DK1, a notorious nausea-welcoming device, I’m pretty sure I’m quite well adapted to it. In fact, I’ve had 6-7 hour Vive sessions with little to no effect but even 10 minutes of Detached can have me wanting to quit out. This makes it all the harder to recommend as I’m pretty sure to be able to experience it completely, you must be truly motion sickness immune.
Oh! There’s a multiplayer mode too! Players battle it over a package that must be delivered to randomly decided space stations in order to score. It seemed pretty cool but I wasn’t ever able to try it with another player, as there was never anyone else online. One day I even left the game searching for a couple of hours, with it mirrored to my desktop but still nothing. With all that in mind, unless there’s a nausea-based update I’m not sure I’d ever go back to play Detached again and it’s definitely not making it into my ‘impress first time VR-users’ catalogue. In fact, it has instead become my go-to example for how VR standards must be respected and how ignoring them can potentially ruin what might have been an otherwise fantastic experience. I’m not sure I can put it any better than that; great game but unplayable.