Detached Review: The Dead of Space
Ben Sheene / Aug 8th, 2018 No Comments
Games that capitalize on the sheer terror and wonder of the infinite vacuum of space hold a special place in my heart. Destiny’s space gods wield incredible power against legions of extraterrestrial combatants. Mass Effect shows mankind as a tiny cog in a universe of fantastical players. Dead Space hints at the crushing fear that we may never understand what is actually “out there.”
Detached is a VR game that sells itself short by giving players a lonely slice of space that is, rather than filled with mystery or introspection, merely just a handful of mundane tasks against a captivating sky box.
Scrapped and Scavenged
One of the primary gripes of VR is that games are often glorified tech demos, in proof of concept ideas that never lead to anywhere engaging. We are a few years out from the debut of the PlayStation VR, Oculus and Vive, and games for these devices should be transitioning to better narratives and more thought-provoking ways to engage players in virtual realities. Developer Anshar Studios felt that an overly simple and ultimately forgettable premise was enough to hold the structure of Detached together.
Much of my three hours of Detached’s “campaign” was spent exploring the cracked rock and steel of a space station that orbited a nearby planet. As one member of a two-man salvage crew, players are required to slowly bring the station’s systems back to functionality. Within the first 15 minutes of the game, I had breathed new life into the reactor core and completely forgot why I was doing so, outside of the fact that it was one of five parts of the station that was malfunctioning and needed to not be.
Part of the problem is that Detached fails to properly orientate players to its world. A very necessary tutorial to allow one to become acclimated to the controls is peppered with dialogue from your salvage partner. Anyone who has hopped into a VR game knows that it takes a bit of time to ease the brain into adjusting to a new world and new controls. During this process with Detached, I cared little for the introductory banter because I was too busy trying to understand how to navigate a zero-G environment. An animated cutscene right after the tutorial spoke of space pirates and the rush to fix the space station’s systems to escape the threat.
What ultimately results from the lack of narrative is a less compelling world. What is the purpose of this space station on the outskirts of this planet? Why is the communication relay built into an asteroid half a mile away from the reactor? There’s no history to this world and no real definite sense of purpose, creating a void where something interesting could have been. As simple as they may be, points of interest can provide a way to inject dialogue and context. There are plenty of opportunities where Anshar Studios could allow players to float up to a computer console and hear their crewmate talk about the dangerous nature of their job or elaborate on the growing threat of space pirates and what they may want.
The spacesuit that houses players’ heads is an effective tool for navigation and the handful of tasks that are required to check off a list. Moving your head down shows the bulky collar of the suit along with a HUD indicating oxygen and fuel levels. On the default arcade difficulty, oxygen and fuel are fairly plentiful resources that I only came in fear of losing maybe twice. Floating throughout the station are canisters that can be grabbed with a simple button press but will fly off if hit too hard on arrival.
Detached prides itself on a sense of realism with player physics and interacting in a space without gravity. The controls are tethered to a DualShock 4 where L2 and R2 provide upward and downward lift and L1 and R1 roll the point of view. A combination of head tracking and both analog sticks controls movement and direction. Though it only feels clumsy for a few minutes, it’s hard not to wonder why some support wasn’t given for the Move controllers.
Unless you consider yourself a VR expert, the arcade difficulty is definitely the way to go when first floating through Detached. Bumping up the difficulty to “simulation” requires the player to exert more control over movement. Pointing the camera uses more effort and players will have to manually slow down their thrust and drift speed. I tried simulation first and could barely manage the tutorial. My head and hands almost fought with each other on who should be doing what. The “astronaut” difficulty further ramps up the complexity by requiring players to use the suit’s thrusters and every movement trick to control direction.
Anshar Studios emphasizes the hardcore nature of Detached as an astronaut simulator, going so far as to say some players may need an iron stomach to get through. While I only felt a few stomach lurches on random occasions of spinning around in an attempt to orient myself, I’m positive the astronaut difficulty would be a herculean task for anyone willing to make the effort.
By default, Detached’s field of view is also a problem that I had to instantly adjust to. To ease players into not being overcome with motion sickness, the field of view is almost completely darkened when adjusting the camera with the right stick. This leaves a small circle in the center of the screen as the only available real estate where players can see. I found it too disorienting to suddenly have my view swallowed up for no reason and immediately turned it off.
One Small Step
The bulk of Detached really boils down to completing simple tasks. To bring communications back online, players have to fire homing rockets at tiny floating beacons but only have a limited amount of time to do so. The only way to do this is by using a series of boost shafts littered around the area, allowing for a few seconds of weightless fun. One section requires players to activate their shield to avoid having their bones shattered by a blast of force. Again, the biggest effort will be sheer navigation rather than precise skill.
Most will never find Detached to be very difficult if they become acclimated to the movement. One part of the game tests reaction speed by hurtling players through tiny bits of ship akin to the Millenium Falcon’s escape from the second Death Star. Here, slightly misjudging timing will likely result in instant death and a lengthy load time.
Soon after, players are required to get through a door before being shot by a security bot. Before doing so, four fuses must be collected to power a computer before a door opens that sucks the player towards the robot. I failed this section multiple times because I wasn’t sure what the game was asking of me, only having to repeat the collection process over because there are no checkpoints.
There is little direction in Detached. I spent a good chunk of time in the opening part of the game trying to figure out which section of the space station was left for me to power back on. With no icon indicating where to go, players may find themselves floating aimlessly through space. There is a boost that can be equipped to the suit but unfortunately, I only found it on one of the last parts of the station.
At times, these slow moments allow players to really appreciate the high quality visuals that Anshar Studios achieved on the PSVR. Detached is already available on the Oculus and Vive but the PSVR is no slouch either. The majesty of looking at the nearby planet is awe-inspiring and captures the essence of what makes space such a good theater for gaming. The broken remains of technology in these larger areas makes for great stuff in VR; it’s just a shame that it’s bookended by such by-the-numbers gameplay.
What may have players coming back for a second or third helping is the use of multiplayer. Detached features a one-versus-one capture the flag style mode where each player attempts to escape with the objective. It’s weird and a bit unsettling to do this type of fast-paced mode in VR, but it works to a pleasant degree. I can’t imagine what the mode would be like with more than one person on each team, but there is a charm knowing that someone somewhere else is frantically bobbing their head around like madman too, trying to best you in space.
Detached has moments where it feels very serene. The ambient music fills the ears and the light of an unknown sun shines from behind a massive planet. It’s the kind of thing you would see in any big budget game. Unfortunately, Detached is more concerned with maintaining the status quo of VR mechanics without doing much else.
Those wanting to try out the hardcore movement mechanics won’t really have any interesting goals to work toward, while players just wanting a unique experience in VR will be left wanting more. Surprisingly, multiplayer is an unexpected highlight that emphasizes Detached’s solid foundation that could improve with just a bit more effort.
Detached was reviewed on a PlayStation 4 Pro using a review code provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
tags: Anshar Studios , Detached , Detached Review , PS VR , review , virtual reality