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Preview: Ghostship Aftermath

UK Indie team MAG Studios are currently developing a two-part adventure under the banner ‘Ghostship’. The latter instalment, Ghostship Aftermath, isn’t simply a tacked-on addition to the initial CDF Ghostship campaign that demands you invest a second time, but rather an entirely new experience designed for the ground-up for Oculus Rift. It’s a science-fiction horror title – a genre which the Oculus Rift isn’t exactly starved of right now – and yet Ghostship Aftermath is already promising to be the title that shows others where they should be heading.

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In the preview build available to VRFocus there was little in the way of plot, but this is perhaps for the best. It’s a vertical slice of gameplay designed to show off the unique mechanics and leave the plot surprises for later. This it achieves, telling the player immediately that they are in a world where they have no friends, no sanctuary, and only what they see before them to rely upon.

The experience begins in a truly impressive fashion. The very first moments of Ghostship Aftermath shut the player away in a corridor made of steel, aged and showing signs of wear from it’s years hurtling through space as a home to many men. Four large screens provide you with information about the videogame and the control system – yes, this is simple the main menu, however you are already part of a world that already feels intimidating and claustrophobic.

Walking through the airlock begins the videogame true, and doing so will not ease the almost overwhelming tension. You are accompanied by a disembodied voice who is both helpful and distressing in equal measure. Your colleague will advise you of your objective and direct you along the correct path, all the while warning you that ‘anything’ could lie beyond the next door and suggesting that he’d ‘be happier’ if you had a weapon. This, accompanied by the crimson stained walls and the floating husks does not fill you with confidence.

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The long trudge to engineering offers the player the chance to familiarise themselves with Ghostship Aftermath‘s presentation. VRFocus used an Xbox 360 controller for this preview build and the videogame handled like many other first-person titles. The difference is that the player’s hand and head are no longer conjoined to one analogue stick: the player is free to look in any direction they so choose while using the right analogue stick to guide their torch light. This separation is a wonderful use of the motion-detection of Oculus Rift, for while the player is free to look in any direction the space suit in which they are clothed restricts the farthest reaches, creating blind spots while simultaneously offering you necessary information about it’s use.  There is no HUD in Ghostship Aftermath, there is only you, your comrade and your space suit. Oh, and the lightning-quick moving death that is sure to encroach on your personal space in due course.

Ghostship Aftermath makes no bones about the fact that you will soon face an ill-fate at the hands of alien creatures. The CDF Goliath that you have boarded is littered with alien eggs, immediately informing you that the chaotic state of the ship is not due to human error or mechanical fault. When you finally do encounter an extra-terrestrial being it’s a safe bet that it’s not a welcoming greeting.

Pacing and plot aside, Ghostship Aftermath isn’t without it’s problems. The standard definition presentation of current Oculus Rift headsets reveal many of the blemishes in the videogame’s low framerate and the voice track will regularly duplicate statements within seconds or even run over itself when the player achieves an objective at the same moment as he or she is informed about it. It’s clear that great effort has been made to make the world you inhabit engrossing and believable, but only to those who are already prepared to invest in suspension-of-disbelief.

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Despite these unfortunate flaws Ghostship Aftermath remains one of the most fascinating indie projects coming to VR this year. The space suit-mounted view and the lack of any forced perspective create a world based entirely on a believable fiction; the cautiously pessimistic mutters of your colleague build tension in a space where the tempo hasn’t changed for tens of minutes at a time; the use of lighting as a binary opposed to your perspective and influenced by your eventual armament. After all this, it’s safe to say that if Ghostship Aftermath delivers on it’s potential it’ll be a leader for the genre on VR hardware, not a follower.