When Edge of Nowhere was announced this past June I'll admit I was a bit puzzled. The value proposition simply didn't make sense to me at the time. Why would an early adopter, investing in the immersive promise of the Oculus Rift, even bother with a third-person adventure game?
But, after 30 minutes with the demo shown at Game Developers Conference 2016, I'm of a different mind entirely. Edge of Nowhere is shaping up to be a must-have Oculus title. It represents a carefully calculated and confident leap by Insomniac Games into VR, and I can't wait to experience the final product.
The reason the team at Insomniac elected to go with a third-person perspective is straightforward. Right now, most potential players simply aren't acclimated to being in VR. Anecdotes of nausea and discomfort in first-person games are common, even among experienced gamers.
Insomniac's creative director Brian Allgeier said that his team wanted to make sure their players were as comfortable as possible, and a third-person perspective was a simple way to achieve that goal.
With players' stomachs at ease, Insomniac had the wiggle room to mess with their minds at a much deeper level.
"We also just love the idea of VR and horror," he said. "That fear of not knowing what’s around each corner and being able to look around it."
Edge of Nowhere is based on H.P. Lovecraft's novella At the Mountains of Madness. It puts players in the shoes of Victor Howard, a man searching for his friends in the snowy wastes of Antarctica. But as the game progresses, Howard begins to slowly go insane.
"He can’t really trust his senses about where he is at all times," Allgeier said, "and we like that concept of being in virtual reality while at the same time not knowing what’s real versus what’s not real in-game. That’s a running theme that goes throughout."
By the end of my demo, Howard had fought off horrifying monsters that defied description only to be transported from the heart of an icy cavern all the way across the world to Miskatonic University. In the final moments, he began hallucinating conversations with people who weren't actually there and imagining himself in places he hadn't visited in years.
"There's a lot we can do with going insane," Allgeier said, "by transporting Victor to different parts of his memories. So that’s something that will continually surprise people where they get to play it."
The most impressive part of the demo was how well the VR experience enhanced the traditional third-person gameplay.
Much of my time was spent traversing sheer walls of ice, picking my way along with ice axes and crampons of the period. As I leaped from wall to wall, the scene extended above me and below me. By looking down I could give myself a palpable sense of vertigo. But when it got too intense, I just refocused on the gameplay being presented right in front of me.
Allgeier explained to me how Insomniac designed certain interactions to encourage players to look up. Chunks of ice would rain down on me as I climbed, but by looking up I could dodge them. Horrific creatures hid in the shadows of the ceiling, waiting for their moment to fall down and devour me. But by looking up, and planning ahead, I could toss a rock their way that would dislodge them, leading to an easy melee kill.
By looking down I could give myself a palpable sense of vertigo
One interesting feature of the game was how it handled cutscenes. When I interacted with an object the third-person perspective faded away and the camera came in tight — almost between Howard and I. It was like I was standing next to him, inside the same circle of conversation.
It don't think I've ever been that close to a cutscene before. It was almost intimate, and certainly something completely new for me in VR.
Right now, Allgeier says, his team isn't quite sure how long the game will be. He put it in the strangely wide range of 2-10 hours. He's also not sure how much it will cost. All he could tell me is that it would be ready shortly after the Oculus' launch this spring.