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Preview: Reflections

Broken Window Studios have already made waves in the virtual reality (VR) scene with their interesting take on survival horror, Grave, following a successful Kickstarter campaign. Not ready to stop there, the team has a second VR title in development, Reflections, however despite having been a project burning in the background since 2012, is not yet ready to make the leap onto a head-mounted display (HMD).

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Reflections is being built with VR in mind, however the demonstration version VRFocus has been hands-on with was playable only on a traditional 2D monitor. This limitation could be for any number of reasons, but top of the list is most likely comfort: any developer can stick you in an unfinished build of their project and place a HMD on your head, but it’s the ones attuned to the technology that will be reluctant to do so until it’s ready for that jump.

Despite not being available to play in VR, it’s easy to see just how Reflections will perform in these very different conditions. The videogame world is black and white. It’s cold and unwelcoming despite the very familiar surroundings of the demo. An average house in an average small town; average people living not-so-average lives. Key to Reflections is the way in which you treat these people, forming (or breaking) relationships and interacting with the world they live in.

Colour brings the world to life as you choose to interact with it. Reflections is a playground in which leaving your mark upon objects and people is a symbol of progress, however the direction in which you choose to travel is entirely your own. Broken Window Studios have added an incredible amount of incidental activity to Reflections in order to allow you to feel as though you are actually living in this world. Along with having the freedom to choose, there are seemingly necessary actions that can be missed; thusly the path you will follow will be changed in this and subsequent chapters.

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This is what the team refer to as the ‘Storyteller System’. At first it would be easy to dismiss this as a direct redraft of Telltale Games’ groundbreaking work in episodic content, but the freedom afforded the player makes for a much more complicated delivery. The fact that the player can entirely alter the course of the story by interacting with or ignoring key elements suggests that later chapters may begin entirely differently to that which would occur had alternative paths been taken. It’s not yet known how this will pan out, but given the variety of opportunities available in this early demonstration version of the videogame Broken Window Studios certainly have their work cut out to ensure that Reflections comes together as a cohesive whole.

Successfully adapting this experience to VR will demand more in the way of optimisation than any difficulties in design. A first-person experience, Reflections plays at a leisurely pace and doesn’t demand anything of the player that wouldn’t be expected in a real-world situation: answering the phone, listening to radio, searching through draws to find a lost key. Reflections is a surreal pastiche of real life, and is arguably a more attractive proposition than Grave because of it.