Escape room videogames have become a popular puzzle genre on virtual reality (VR) headsets, offering thought provoking challenges inside immersive interactive environments. Naturally the quality difference can vary wildly, with some offering interesting gameplay mechanics while others seem to be more ‘by the numbers’. Whale Rock Games has just launched its take on the genre with TimeLock VR, a title that falls into the former of those two, offering a varied mix of gaming options, some which work, others which don’t.
TimeLock VR is episodic in nature with this initial release offering just one room to complete. There’s a very basic story about you being some sort of agent, a newly hired recruit for an agency that has the ability to time travel. You’ve been sent to a certain period in time to recover an object – an underwhelming vase – but to do so you need to solve the puzzles in the house.
First off you need to get to grips with the control mechanics – which are plentiful – if you’re going to succeed. Movement is purely teleportation – there are no options for anything else – bringing up a green box that shows your play area. Unlike some titles where you can twist the box to fine tune the area you can walk in, TimeLock VR doesn’t. This can be awkward at points but it doesn’t hinder the puzzle solving. What is annoying is that the right touchpad, which activates teleportation, also doubles down as a laser pointer to grab items at distance. This is activated by pressing the top of the touchpad, with moments in the action sequences (more on that later) when its easy to switch on the laser rather than teleport.
The left touchpad is even busier, with four functions located on it. Pressing up equips a bow and arrow, right is ‘play’, down is ‘pause’, and left is ‘rewind’. So what are these for? Well not only can you travel in time, you can control objects with it. Throw something in the air and you can pause it midair, rewind it back to you or grab your bow to obliterate it. So in TimeLock VR you can travel to different time periods of the house, alter time wherever you are to manipulate objects, shoot stuff, and then there are the puzzles – there’s quite a lot going on.
How well this all gels together is another matter. The puzzles for example are of the most basic kind. Find a key, open the door, and find the next key. The fact that some of the keys can only be used in certain time periods is novel but the feature is sorely underused. The keys and the door locks are brightly colour coordinated so it takes little time to figure out. There are a couple of other puzzle variants in the videogame but these are nothing more than matching shapes or finding a four digit code, hardly brain taxing.
As you progress things also get weird. As everyone knows (if you’ve watched any sort of time travel movie) messing with it has repercussions. You’ll suddenly find yourself in a strange reality, where everything is ripped apart with undulating levels. It’s here that the action sequences come in, as Space Invader style enemies suddenly come in for an attack. That’s when the bow and unlimited arrows come into play. It’s a bizarre change up from trying to find keys, whilst also refreshing to get out of the house.
It’s difficult to make sense of everything going on in TimeLock VR. There are so many gameplay styles that at points it doesn’t know what type of videogame it’s trying to be, or simply trying to cater to too many tastes. Whale Rock Games has certainly taken a different approach to the usual escape room and that’s commendable. The puzzles needed to be more intricate, and combined with the time travelling – the object time manipulation wasn’t required for anything – for greater effect. Really, this should have been an early access title that the Steam community helped grow and nurture over several months. At present it can only be classed as an average VR videogame at best.