PAX West Quick-Look: Detached

During most of my time at PAX West, I tended to skip the big, flashy booths from the huge developers, instead seeking out the smaller indie companies showing off their games. Not only did I have a chance to play more games this way (much shorter lines!), but I also got to experience some more interesting and creative experiments that AAA developers tend to avoid.

The main expo floor had a very intereting indie booth set up in one of the corners. This booth featured about ten or twelve games all created by Polish developers, and included everything from 8-bit retro-style games to full-on VR experiences. What I had the chance to try out was the latter.

When I was offered the chance to try Anshar Studios’ Detached, it was marketed to me as a “PVP VR Experience.” In my mind, the assumption was this was going to be some kind of FPS or combat-style game. What I ended up actaully playing wasn’t this at all…instead, it turned out to be much more interesting and experimental.

The demo offered to me was a single-player experience, for reasons that would become clear later. Once I was fitted into an Oculus, I found myself in the body of what I presumed to be an astronaut or space engineer. The game was controlled with an Xbox 360 gamepad, with the goal to explore the ship I was in to release an airlock and exit the ship into space.

Detached ended up having a surprisingly steep learning curve for controls. The character you control is weightless and flys around the ship, with shoulder triggers activating forward and reverse thrusts, and the left analog stick fine-tuning your navigation. Until I got somewhat used to the controls, I was running into walls and ceilings endlessly.

One of the major difficulties I had with the demo was figuring out where I was supposed to be going in the environment. There is a marker laid over the screen to point you where to go, but I decided to forego wearing my contacts that day, and I was unable to get the Oculus to focus properly to compensate for that…so that marker was very unclear in my vision. The PR rep at the booth did give me a hand though, and I found myself twisting and jetting through various obstacles to repair a switch to open the ship’s airlock.

One moment near the end of the demo introduced another movement method: pressing the analog sticks to barrel-roll yourself. Once I hit this button, I experienced my first ever minor bout of VR motion sickness…it’s not a movement that my mind expected, so I was thrown for a loop for a moment.

Eventually I did make my way out of the ship and into space…where I flew toward some kind of launching mechanism, was thrown into an asteroid, and promptly died.

Speaking to the PR rep afterwards, the first thing he asked is if I felt any nausea or discomfort during the game. Aside from the aforementioned minor stomach turn of barrel-rolling, I told him I was all good. It was then explained to me that Anshar was going for more of an “intense” VR experience, what with all of the flight and maneuvering the game requires. Apparently, though, the developers are implementing a game mode with less mind-twisting maneuvering for those prone to motion sickness in VR.

As I mentioned, I went in expecting a FPS style game, and ended up playing what amounts to a flight sim…which is exactly what the developers were aiming for. When I inquired about the “PVP experience” marketing, they did say there was a multiplayer demo available, but most people that tried the game out weren’t confident enough in controlling the game to try it. The multiplayer, though, is more of a capture-the-flag style game which focuses on which player can maneuver through a stage better.

While I applaud Anshar for experimenting and creating something interesting, in its current build, Detached seems like a tough sell. A high difficulty curve in learning the controls, coupled with gameplay that is a bit too much for those with motion sickness sensitivity, leads to an experience that I can’t imagine many people would put the time into to get the most out of it.

The game is currently in Early Access on Steam, with a full release planned for Q1 2017. Anshar does plan to release a non-VR build of the game around this time as well, for those without an Oculus or Vive.