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Preview: GNOG

Note: GNOG wasn’t playable in VR at E3. This preview is based off of a standard version.

Be prepared for virtual reality (VR) to take you to some strange places. Steel yourself for visits to enchanted forests, underwater labyrinths, and distant futures. Whatever you do though, it likely won’t ready you for the surrealist spectacle of GNOG, the upcoming puzzler from indie team KO-OP. Set for release first on the Project Morpheus head-mounted display (HMD) for PlayStation 4, this outlandish title is has been produced with the help of Psychonauts and Broken Age developer Double Fine, and it certainly shows in all the right ways.

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GNOG‘s trials, if they can even be called that, take place inside the heads of totem-like monsters. When starting up, their bizarre, often delightful faces will stare at the player in all their glory. From here, it’s possible to flip the monster with a simple button press, revealing a room housed inside their innards. It’s never immediately clear what to do; GNOG instead invites players to experiment with just about every object that they can find. This results in random flip-switching, door-flinging action in the hope that you might find some clue as to how to progress. This is done by using the DualShock 4 to move a cursor over objects and pressing a button to interact with them.

That randomness, one might argue, could rob GNOG of a sense of worth in the long run. Even once puzzles are solved, allowing you to progress to a new head and eventually back to the original one to complete a set, it may not be clear what you did to succeed. Sometimes it’s obvious; lighting up a darkened room, for example. Other times you’re granted a pat on the back for having raised and lowered some levers at random. It helps that these confined spaces ensure a speedy solution, but it comes with the temptation to simply click at random until the title decides that you can pass through.

But if clear direction is what must be sacrificed in order to enjoy the sheer oddity of GNOG then perhaps it’s a price worth paying. Though the developer cites inspirations such as Fez, which itself boasted some truly cryptic puzzles, there’s nothing quite like it out there. This is a title that promotes exploration and experimentation not through scouring vast landscapes but by immersing yourself in a small environment that holds its own secrets to uncover. It’s a sort of point-and-click adventure in which you don’t know where the next button press will take you. For VR, that’s a truly exciting concept.

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Though a VR build wasn’t presented at this year’s E3, this is bound to be a sight to behold on Project Morpheus. Just as Futuridium VR’s flashy colours and striking presentation stood out with the HMD, it’s exciting to think about how the tech will bring this insane, vibrant world to life. Just how much sense it makes mechanically remains to be seen; KO-OP has suggested to VRFocus that motion controllers such as PlayStation Move might not make it into the experience, but alternative control using Project Morpheus’ head-tracking would certainly be welcome.

GNOG looks to be one of the most unusual destinations yet seen in VR, then. How it holds up as a true puzzle title remains to be seen, but as a virtual landscape that players can step inside, it holds some real promise.