Torn VR Review: Magnificent mind games

Is this mystery adventure worth you throwing on a VR HMD and diving in?

3

Aspyr has a history of quality ports, but Torn is a major first for the publisher/developer as it is the first game developed in-house at Aspyr Studio. It’s a sci-fi mystery that unfolds across an adventure/puzzler gameplay experience that is anchored by a gravity manipulating tool that players use to solve circuit puzzles. As far as setting the bar for future in-house Aspyr projects, Torn is a quality starting point. This is a puzzle adventure that VR HMD owners will cherish and non-VR gamers should find a way to play.

Hand me my gravity gun

Torn’s setting is split into two main set pieces: A gigantic abandoned mansion and the Parallel, an “in-between” world where the majority of narrative exposition takes place. In the mansion, you must complete circuits by moving various objects, large and small, onto surfaces that match the symbol on the bottom of the object. Completing each circuit fuels the device that transports me to the Parallel and, typically, opens up the subsequent circuit for the room. Once the device is fully fueled by the small spirits I'm acquiring with each circuit completed, a module opens up so I can insert the gravity tool and be on my way.

Speaking of the gravity tool, it is the literal and figurative key to Torn’s gameplay. On the literal side, the gravity tool is what I used to open up doors into the mansion's different wings or to travel to the Parallel. Otherwise, the wand-like tool allowed me to lift, drop, push, and pull objects around to fit on the various platforms. Those platforms can be large or small and are placed on the floor, walls, and ceilings. I can only see the patterns and connecting lines in the circuit by pointing the gravity tool's light at them, so I switched regularly between searching and moving objects into the right place.

The gravity tool makes interacting in Torn an exceptionally easy-to-manage treat. The development team also rendered a lot of interactive objects, so I caused a good bit of chaos moving large items like beds, pianos, and tables around and knocked everything over. The sheer volume of movable items coupled with simulated physics and realistic mass is impressive, but there are occasional moments where items have inconsistent hit detection and cause a rapid clattering sound as they hit each other. It’s an annoyance, but it can easily be remedied by grabbing the objects with your gravity tool and moving them away from each other.

The circuits aren’t too lengthy or complex, so the pace is steady. Time split between the mansion and the Parallel felt spot on and working my way toward the game’s ending never felt like a chore. Because the puzzles themselves weren’t very complex, not even toward the end, they live or die on their variety. Often, the room structure keeps things fresh but there are three particular puzzles that are so unique it made me wonder why more of the puzzles didn’t utilize their styles of input or at least have a unique hook for each room.

Journey into the Parallel

The game’s pace allowed me to break the experience up into defined chunks pretty easily. After solving each room’s circuit, I jump over to the Parallel for a good dose of story. There’s not much interacting to be done in the Parallel, but it is home to the game’s most impressive visuals. Without spoiling much, that area starts out largely empty with infinite space spreading out from a central point. As I return from completing each circuit, memories of places and things are either already there when I return or appear as I’m walking around. The style used for these images is similar to light-art photography. It’s difficult to describe, but you can see it in the image immediately above.

Outside of the Parallel, Torn’s visuals hold up with only the occasional stutter. When you’re up close, the textures are consistent, but when I focused on same surfaces from a distance, they flickered as I got close to them. It was never too distracting, so it didn’t take away from Torn’s experience in any significant way.

Mind Games

There’s not alot that can be said about Torn’s narrative without giving too much away, but know that the game deals with how the mind works. Such a topic makes perfect sense when coupled with a puzzle game and the marriage is entertaining from open to close.

Lead writer Susan O’ Connor, who brings experience from working on BioShock, knocks it out of the park with Torn. I walked in knowing the game was a mystery, but the rules of this particular mystery eluded me all the way up until the end and kept me on the edge of my seat. The final piece of the puzzle is not a letdown, but the most significant reveal felt way to neatly gift-wrapped. Instead of allowing more of the major reveal be shown through gameplay and actions, I was swept into a final set piece and told the rest of the tale before it concluded. That lessened the dramatic impact.

The writing is further enhanced by solid vocal performances. I played the role of Katherine Patterson, a video blogger who stumbles into an abandoned mansion, and she interacts with the disembodied Dr. Talbot throughout Torn when she’s not occasionally talking to herself. The conversations between the two are where the brunt of the story is laid out and it feels natural. There are recordings that can be listened to if you find them and they also have solid performances.

The score for Torn was composed by Garry Schyman, who also worked on BioShock and Middle Earth: Shadow of War, and is a major highlight. The music, in its brighter moments, made me feel like I was living out a wonderful fantasy. The other end of that spectrum reflected the horrific vibe that was required. I’ve not listened to 100% of Schyman’s previous works, but I’d be surprised if anything he’s done before tops what he has done here.

Conclusion

The experience took me seven hours to complete, but there are small bonuses that could extend the experience for another hour or so. I didn’t come across bonus circuits, but I could poke around the individual rooms for additional pieces of fuel for the transportation device. Moving around in Torn can be done by teleporting, dashing, or a fluid walk via the left analog stick. I used the walk and never experienced any discomfort while playing. The game reacts quickly by going dark if you somehow walk into an object using the room scale space. The first time it happened I was confused, but I had to do was step back into the play area and I was fine.

As puzzlers go, Torn isn’t one where the puzzles themselves really push you mentally. That task is left to the narrative being laid out by Dr. Lawrence Talbot and his machinations. Other than the gift-wrapped ending, the scale of the puzzles fittingly rises alongside the story, regularly teasing you with the darkest implications involving the events happening to you. Torn is one of the better puzzlers in gaming. Full stop. There’s a growing number of games on virtual reality platforms that gamers without an HMD are missing out on and this is certainly one of them. Do not miss this one if you have the means to play.


This review is based on a code provided by the game’s publisher. Torn is available for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive via Steam or Oculus Home. It was played on an Oculus Rift using Oculus Touch controllers in a standing position, but can be played while sitting.

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Review for
Torn
8
Pros
  • Light-art in the Parallel
  • Fun puzzles built on strong, consistent gravity tool interaction
  • Wonderful pacing that kept me on edge
  • Magical orchestral score
Cons
  • Gift-wrapped ending
  • Limited puzzle variety
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