Preview: Private Eye

Private Eye is a videogame that has been circulating around the virtual reality (VR) community for quite some time. It’s proven popular amongst enthusiasts and other developers alike, and yet despite this the flow of information about the videogame has stuttered considerably. The silence has been broken however, as a new demo build coming to Oculus Share proves that the team behind the videogame are still right on track.

The version of the new Private Eye demo build VRFocus received is different to that which will be available to the public via Oculus Share, offering insight into the opening of this experience. The videogame drops the player into the action right at the start of the videogame; ‘action’ in the most broad sense of course, as in fact there is no activity to commit to. Cast as detective Sam Sunderland, the player awakes in a hospital suffering from severe memory loss and spinal trauma that renders him unable to walk. It’s clear that Sunderland is no longer in his prime, and working out how he got into this condition is likely to be the most challenging investigation of his career thus far.

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A tumultuous time is had as non-player characters argue amongst themselves over the value of your well-being and/or undoing, and it’s quite obvious from the start who’s got your best interests at heart. However, with Private Eye obviously inspired by 1950s Film Noir motion-pictures, you can never be quite sure that even the friendliest character here won’t turn their back on you later. Of course, this demo build doesn’t go so far as to offer any such drastic revelations, more closely aligned with offering a vertical slice of the videogame packed with exploratory examples of the mechanics.

In the first instance the player only has to attempt to recall their memories. A subtle visual metaphor offers nothing but cloudy views at this point but the hope would be that Private Eye explores this mechanic further, eventually bringing full scenes of interactivity through the hazy fog. Story development is key here and for a few moments later, establishing characters and a sense of ambience to the world; friends are hard to come by, while most people can casually be bad without giving it a second thought.

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This is evident more so in the voyeur scene. Here the player is wheelchair-bound, and is given the task of assessing human assets and subtly defining their worth. Of course, the videogame never suggests to you that man X is bad while woman Y should be allowed off the hook, and there is no comeuppance for either regardless of your actions, but the player is left to decide who is justified and who is wrong in each and every instance. And though there’s no push-or-pull into making such a judgement, human nature will takeover and subconsciously influence you to do so.

The fact that Private Eye manages to elicit such a response from the player with only subtle nudges and a little background information is evidence of it’s worth as a VR experience. It’s not a simple case of white hat and black hat; pull the trigger and end the war. Private Eye is a microcosm of a world of mistrust and sideways glances. Its influences are apparent in each action and because of this it’s easy to fall in love with a fresh take on an old way of telling stories.

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Of course, Private Eye is still far from being release-ready. Clipping on non-player characters, interactivity bugs and a number of other flaws are frequent in this demo build. That being said, the voice-acting is simply wonderful. It’s apparent that even at this early stage the actors understand the role they’re playing, heightened and over-the-top when needed to be with subtle inflections that offer hints, but rarely confirm suspicions. Exactly where these characters will travel – or even if they’ll ever appear again – is not yet known, but the fact that they’re interesting enough to want to see more of them proves that Private Eye is doing a good job of window dressing.

The team behind Private Eye have been embraced by the community as a grass-roots team developing exactly what VR needs: an intriguing videogame that breaks the mould of the action-packed blockbusters but still manages to enthral you in a world unlike our own. The setting, the characters and the central puzzle-solving mechanic provide both balance and intrigue in just a small taste of the full experience. It may still be some time from release, but Private Eye is a VR exclusive title that promises to stand aside from the space simulators and horror experiences that are about to flood the market.

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