Sequels always need to be bigger, bolder and better than their predecessors to make them standout and be counted, just look at Terminator 2, Aliens and Big Mommas House 2. The exact same goes for videogames with franchises like Halo, Final Fantasy and The Legend of Zelda all endeavouring to outdo the last – some more successfully than others. This really hasn’t happened quite yet in virtual reality (VR) due to the amount of time that’s gone by, with most videogames having generally seen updates or ports to other platforms. One studio that’s ahead of the game is Cloudhead Games which has now released the second instalment of its episodic puzzle adventure, The Gallery: Episode 2 – Heart of the Emberstone. And it certainly sticks to that earlier statement.
Naturally, The Gallery: Episode 2 – Heart of the Emberstone continues its predecessor’s story – if you’ve not played episode one you really need to – searching for your sister Elsie on the mysterious planet of Ember, where an ancient civilisation once flourished before catastrophe struck.
This time however players now have access to the Gauntlet, a device with telekinetic abilities which most of the puzzles revolve around. While episode one felt fairly compact – with a lot packed in over a short period of time – Cloudhead Games has endeavoured to make episode two longer, with more puzzles and broadening the scope of the story.
The studio has done this in two ways. Firstly there are three main areas on Ember that you must switch between, solving a challenge in one location will help unlock another somewhere else. Secondly – and rather cheekily – because you’ll need to switch between these areas fairly regularly there’s an extended loading sequence featuring the giant creature often seen in press materials who carries you across the vast swathes of planet which split these levels up. Whilst fine at first – it does look epic being picked up by this giant creature – after several trips that process does start to lose its shine.
That really is the only down point of the entire title really. VR fans will be pleased to know that Cloudhead Games has included a greater range of movement options rather than just the standard teleport seen in the first title. You can now move as if controlling a first-person shooter (FPS) – a much more common option nowadays – which will be a great relief to those who don’t suffer from simulator sickness as it makes for a far more engaging and immersive experience.
Adding to that immersion is the style and design that the studio has employed. While episode one looked good, this next instalment really does evoke the dark fantasy aesthetics Cloudhead has previously stated inspired the series. From the arena with gigantic crumbling statues to the Queens Chamber that’s as grandiose as it is grim and desolate.
Most importantly, the gripping story line is backed up by a variety of puzzles that offer enough variety to not become repetitious. They have similarities with the first title, some requiring careful inspection of your surroundings to find clues whilst others – like the doors – require more dexterity, where you need to move a crystal located on the back of your hand through an ever more elaborate series of holographic tubes, with spinning and moving parts needing to be avoided to succeed.
The Gallery: Episode 2 – Heart of the Emberstone isn’t massively long – a run through should take around 5 hours or so – but it’s big enough to offer a satisfying experience, especially if you play episode one for a refresh. Cloudhead Games has done exactly what it needed to, create a compelling sequel that expands and improves the series.