Flip the Viewpoint
The obvious appeal of VR is its ability to immerse the player in an environment. So, of course, a vast chunk of VR games are presented in first-person, with the player taking on the viewpoint of the main character. You slip on your headset and immediately find yourself in the shoes of a new person.
However, first-person experiences aren’t the only way to go about making a VR game. The nature of virtual reality and roomscale tech allows a lot of experimentation in game presentation. There are a few titles out there that show that you don’t necessarily need to be in the main character’s viewpoint when in virtual reality, instead using this recent tech to present familiar genres in a brand new way.
Take, for instance, the time-honored platformer. Putting the player in a virtual reality space can create a whole new dimension to the well-worn decades-old genre. Making the jump to a new tech, though, is a trail fraught with potential pitfalls – just look at the jump from 2D to 3D and how various games handled that. Jumping from 3D to VR is proving to be this way as well for many of these typically third-person genres.
Developed by Void Dimensions and published by Oasis Games, Light Tracer is a previously PSVR exclusive that has recently made the jump to PC. The port for HTC Vive and Oculus Rift was released on January 14th, 2018. This review will focus on the Vive version.
Lighting the Way
Light Tracer is incredibly light on story, to the point where I’m not sure it’s even worth commenting on. The game follows a young girl who is climbing a tower to find a way to save the people of her village, who have all been frozen…and that’s pretty much it. The nameless girl is the sole character in the game (aside from yourself), and she doesn’t really get any kind of development.
Thus, all you really have to focus on is the gameplay. Light Tracer is a puzzle platformer, with the twist that you don’t have direct control over the girl navigating the platforms. Instead, you are acting as a “god-like being” guiding her through the various mazes. To do this, you have a staff in your hand that aims a beam of light toward the level. Aim it at a platform and touch the Vive’s touchpad, and the girl will begin moving toward where you’re pointing.
Despite the passive control scheme, the navigation controls are still tight. You can choose to aim your light right in front of the girl’s feet to get more precision while moving, which can help greatly when traversing smaller platforms. Jumping, though, doesn’t feel quite as accurate…and I think that’s an issue with the sensitivity of the Vive controllers.
To jump, you have to click the touchpad, the same thing that activates movement just by touching it, making it incredibly difficult to jump in place. I’d also find myself occasionally moving my hand slightly when pressing the jump button, which would move my light off the platform I was aiming at, causing the poor girl to leap to her death. Once smaller platforms and mid-jump obstacles are introduced, you better hope you have a steady hand. I also regularly ran across some kind of bug that caused the girl to continue running toward my light even after letting go of the Vive touchpad – easily fixed by touching the pad again, but aggravating when it happens while jumping across platforms.
While the right-hand controller handles navigation, the one in your left is used to manipulate your viewpoint and the level itself. By holding the trigger on the left-hand controller, you can rotate and zoom the level. This often plays into some of the puzzle aspects of the game, as you have to change your viewpoint to find various triggers and platforms in order to continue. There are also various objects you can directly interact with by pressing the left-hand touchpad, allowing you to slide certain platforms around or rotate them.
The rotating platforms gave me the most trouble – you have to put your hand near the rotating object, press the touchpad, then move your arm in a circle, which often translated to startlingly imprecise movement. Also, if there are multiple special platforms near each other, it can be difficult to grab the one you want. The game would often assume I was trying to interact with another nearby platform, rather than the one I was trying to grab.
Despite the mechanical complaints thus far, I still found myself having a great time playing through the various stages. Sure, I had some extremely frustrating moments at some obstacles, especially those involving a lot of jumping, but running through the levels and solving various puzzles here and there was just plain fun. There’s eight “worlds” available, made up of five stages each, and the difficulty curve feels just right. Just as you start feeling confident with the obstacles being presented, the game throws in some new twists (including some gravity puzzles, where were somewhat mind-bending in VR).
The only part of the game that I found to be a firm negative were the boss battles at the end of each stage. This control scheme is not made for combat, but the game still decides to throw battles at you anyways. Boss difficulty is at two opposite ends of the scale: either stupidly easy, or horrifyingly frustrating. You don’t even have a weapon through the first two worlds (and after those, it’s rarely used outside of bosses), turning these initial battles into annoying environmental puzzles. Factor in the passive control scheme and the fact that you die in one hit, and these fights are the lowest of lowlights in the game.
Cute and Cuddly
For a game world mostly made up of floating platforms, Light Tracer has quite a charm to it. The worlds are bright and colorful without feeling too cartoonish, with each one having its own distinct atmosphere and character. The designs aren’t too heavily detailed, which makes this game relatively easy to run on lower-spec VR systems. I only had a couple of frame drops during one stage that had a lot of swinging pendulum obstacles.
The sole character of the game is similarly designed: charming, full of character, but pretty low on detail. Her legs clip through her skirts so often that it’s impossible to ignore, but other than that, her animations are very expressive. The girl is also voice acted, in full during story scenes between worlds, and partially with voice clips during stages. I have to give kudos to the actress behind this nameless character, breathing life into a character that is relatively stagnantly written. Watching the between-world clips featuring her performances was just…well…cute.
Blinded by the Light
Overall, Light Tracer is an extremely charming game with some flawed mechanics. The game can become occasionally frustrating, but never so much so that I wanted to quit playing. There’s a bit of a learning curve to this kind of indirect control, and once I had it down, I ended up marathoning most of the game.
Like pretty much every other VR game I’ve played, this one is on the short side – I saw the game through to the end in four hours, including taking screenshots and getting stuck in multiple places. Unlike many VR titles, though, this is a full-fledged game, not one of the many “virtual reality experiences” inundating Steam, and one that definitely feels made from the ground up for VR platforms.
The boss battles soured my experience a bit, but Light Tracer was still a fun experience and a nice change from what has become the VR norm. With a bit more refinement, it could be an excellent game, but what is presented here was still wholly worth the time playing.
~ Final Score: 7/10 ~
Review copy provided by Oasis Games for PC [HTC Vive]. Screenshots taken by reviewer.