I’m not one to quote scripture, but every now and then there comes along a situation when it becomes almost obligatory. As a case in point, take Ecclesiastes 1:9 which states that “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” One of the interesting things to watch with a newly emerging and maturing technology is the way old things become new again. Back in the days when Moore’s Law was too conservative to follow the frantic pace of real world personal computers, the one constant was that a purchaser of the latest and greatest machine and/or operating system could feel safe in the knowledge that Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing would soon be available for it. I often joked that the second use of new PC technology was always Mavis. The first was, of course, pornography. I suspect that a close study of ancient hieroglyphics would support my case.
In any event, the emerging technology closest to my heart these days is Virtual Reality. In my case, that means the Oculus Rift. As more and more games are ported to, or developed for, VR, it is not uncommon to come across games that seem hauntingly familiar in one or more aspects. Some are simply ludicrous: am I the only one that can see the vast dichotomy between decades-obsolete 8-bit graphics being paired with the cutting edge technology of Virtual Reality in something like VR Minecraft as being pretty silly?
Another, less obvious example is a VR game called FORM, developed by Charm Games. FORM is a VR puzzle game that can be easily described to anyone that is familiar with an iOS-based series of games called The Room. If you recognize that name, you can stop reading right now. At its core, FORM is a VR version of The Room. The polite way of saying that is “inspired by,” and I think that in this case it is an apt description.
If that doesn’t ring a bell or you, I will try to describe the way it works. Note that this is difficult to do - it’s one of those things that you have to try for yourself to develop a full appreciation of it. Basically, FORM is a physical world puzzle game wherein the first part of any given puzzle is to figure out... what the puzzle is. There are no instructions and no hints. It’s not like a crossword puzzle - you understand what is to be done as soon as you see one due to years of familiarity with the form of the puzzle. Tic-tac-toe is another example. It’s either tic-tac-toe or a giant hashtag. You pretty much know what to do in either case.
FORM, on the other hand, starts you out in the person Dr. Eli, some kind of researcher, scientist, or evil villain. Or, I suppose, some unholy mix of those. You are standing in front of a console of sorts, surrounded by lab equipment and the like. Being as it's VR, there are pieces/parts that can be picked up, examined, and tossed across the room. You know, the very things VR was invented for. The only thing lacking is a purpose. The computerized assistant that talks to you is of little help. “You have one voice message.” Spoiler: that message provides no help. You’re on your own, Doc. Oh! Another message, this one from your boss. Surely this will provide some guidance. Nope. Just nagging about lack of progress on the project. What to do, what to do.
Fear not - this is just the first puzzle, and you will get a little help with it. The remainder of the game takes a similar tack, minus the help. This is what I meant by “the first part of any given puzzle is to figure out what the puzzle is.” As an aside, I need to note that writing a review of a puzzle game without passing out spoilers like tiny candy bars at Halloween is very difficult, so I am stepping lightly here. I hope it isn’t too much to say that the only way to figure out the puzzles is to grab, press, or pull just about anything the game will let you grab, press, or pull, then try to find something to do with it or something that responds to it. If you do that, great and spectacular things will happen, accompanied by music that seems to follow the action quite well.
As I said, FORM is very similar to The Room games, but less complex. On the other hand, the visual and auditory aspects are orders of magnitude more encompassing and visceral than a 2D iPhone game could ever be. In a word, the environment inside the game is spectacular. The puzzles themselves run the gamut from fairly simple to “I stood and looked at that for ten minutes before I figured out what to do.” Luckily, they do this in ascending order of difficulty. Although to be fair, ‘difficulty’ in this context is measured more by your personal intuition and a measure of luck than any standard measure. What was hard for me may be utterly simplistic to you, and vice-versa. The fun is in the trying, and the satisfaction is in the solving.
Sadly, and this is my main criticism of the game, it is too short. After about an hour or so of play, I reached a relatively difficult puzzle (none of the puzzles even remotely reached the level of ‘hard’) and instead of moving on to the next scene, I went to the end credits. In fact, the ending was so abrupt that it feels as if a sequel must be in the works. In a similar vein, I find it difficult to see any level of replayability here. Once you’ve solved your way through, there is very little reason to play it again.
FORM was an enjoyable and mildly challenging romp through some beautifully crafted spaces populated with puzzles that achieved a nice balance between being interesting without being either too easy or frustratingly difficult. Sadly, I was ready for more than it had to give.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
I've been fascinated with video games and computers for as long as I can remember. It was always a treat to get dragged to the mall with my parents because I'd get to play for a few minutes on the Atari 2600. I partially blame Asteroids, the crack cocaine of arcade games, for my low GPA in college which eventually led me to temporarily ditch academics and join the USAF to "see the world." The rest of the blame goes to my passion for all things aviation, and the opportunity to work on work on the truly awesome SR-71 Blackbird sealed the deal.
My first computer was a TRS-80 Model 1 that I bought in 1977 when they first came out. At that time you had to order them through a Radio Shack store - Tandy didn't think they'd sell enough to justify stocking them in the retail stores. My favorite game then was the SubLogic Flight Simulator, which was the great Grandaddy of the Microsoft flight sims.
While I was in the military, I bought a Commodore 64. From there I moved on up through the PC line, always buying just enough machine to support the latest version of the flight sims. I never really paid much attention to consoles until the Dreamcast came out. I now have an Xbox for my console games, and a 1ghz Celeron with a GeForce4 for graphics. Being married and having a very expensive toy (my airplane) means I don't get to spend a lot of money on the lastest/greatest PC and console hardware.
My interests these days are primarily auto racing and flying sims on the PC. I'm too old and slow to do well at the FPS twitchers or fighting games, but I do enjoy online Rainbow 6 or the like now and then, although I had to give up Americas Army due to my complete inability to discern friend from foe. I have the Xbox mostly to play games with my daughter and for the sports games.