Virtual reality (VR) experiences, just like their interactive videogame cousins, have come a long way over the past few years. Not only have they delved into subject matter that’s thought provoking or emotional, this content has explored what can actually be achieved with a linear, story-based narrative in virtual worlds where users have the freedom to look anywhere. The latest comes from Flight School Studios, an eerie and somewhat surreal story called Manifest 99.
The adventure unfolds as an old school steam train rattles through an ever changing countryside. Along the way you find that this train isn’t empty, with four mysterious companions located throughout the carriages. As the story progresses you learn about each individual, why they’re on the train and how they got there.
As with any experience of this ilk, Flight School Studios sought a way of progressing the story in a way that’s both timely and supportive of the narrative. Rather than just using audio or a few visuals cues like those seen in Penrose Studios’ Allumette or Oculus Story Studios’ Dear Angelica, Manifest 99 features much more interaction with movement controlled by your gaze. Throughout the experience you’re accompanied by a murder of crows, and at certain points along the journey the birds land to give you a teleportation point. Whilst a good portion of Manifest 99 is certainly creepy the crows definitely add to that factor, with plain white eyes that you have to look into to teleport.
The same goes for the individual characters, each has deeply haunting white eyes with no pupils to speak of. Looking at them is almost like peering into their soul, unlocking short cut scenes of their home lives. Just to keep things interesting – and to make you really look around each carriage the studio has created – there are three objects to find belonging to each character, again these are picked up just with your gaze.
Because of that interactive element Manifest 99 can enjoyed at your own pace, there’s no need to rush through it at breakneck speed. If you do you’d miss some of the wonderful landscape art as it changes through the story. From war torn waste lands with twisted piles of scrap metal and crumbling buildings, to moments where you’re under the sea – or inside a giant aquarium – watching goldfish swim by. Such is the ambiance of Manifest 99 that you could just pretend you’re on a real train, just sitting there watching the world go by.
The story has a much deeper meaning than just a few travellers hitching a train ride – which VRFocus isn’t going to spoil here – safe to say that’s it pulls on the heart strings as a memorable VR experience. If you enjoy short VR animations then Manifest 99 is up there with some of the best. It provides a strong, engaging storyline with a nice level of controllability that’s not often seen, great for VR enthusiasts as well as a prefect experience for VR first timers.