Virtual reality (VR) is arriving at just the right time for the exploration genre. The further away from the ground-breaking success of Gone Home we get, the easier it’s becoming to criticise experiences such as Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture for favouring story over mechanics. But here comes a technology that’s set to give these controversial titles a shot in the arm, at least for the foreseeable future. One videogame that looks like it will certainly benefit from VR support is Pollen from the team at Mindfield Games.
Pollen boasts a setting and premise that should immediately strike a chord with any VR enthusiast. Playing from a first-person perspective, players explore a seemingly abandoned research station on the Saturn moon of Titan. Understandably, the developer is keen to keep story details locked away seeing as that story is everything here.
The station itself is almost clinical in its design, recalling sci-fi classics such as Moon and, of course, 2001: A Space Odyssey. The walls are spotless, brilliant bursts of reflective white that suggest this is a facility that was about order and efficiency before comfort and homeliness. Mindfield Games is also clearly proud of the amount of interaction these environments offer. Any object a player sees can be picked up and examined in close detail – especially when wearing the Oculus Rift – and other items of interest can usually be tinkered with.
The most striking aspect of Pollen is undoubtedly its commitment to environmental storytelling and the sheer detail of its approach. At one point the player discovers an office that seems to belong to the station’s doctor. While table tops and desks are littered with the sort of equipment and instruments you’d expect to find here, rummaging around a chest of draws – something that could easily be missed – provides an insight into said doctor’s personal life. A picture is discovered as is a letter, neither of which appear to be vital to the overall story but provide a greater insight for those that want it.
Yes, the Gone Home comparison is inescapable, but this sci-fi cousin seems to more thickly layer its environments, positioning items as they’d be kept, not so that they might catch the eye of the player. It suggests that this is an experience that will ask players to really dig through these areas in order to get the most out of them. It’s a good way to reward those that do invest the time to take the story at the right pace.
But, ultimately, Pollen is an experience that will live and die by the story it tells, and that’s not something the developer is going to spoil ahead of time. This is certainly an immersive and intriguing project, but, as with all story-focused titles, it’s not something that lends itself to a vertical slice.