Vanishing Grace was a title VRFocus had only just come across before its recent launch on Oculus Quest, looking like a stylish, story-driven puzzle-adventure from indie studio Monte Perdido Studio. Set in the near-future after catastrophic climate change, Vanishing Grace has all the hallmarks of an indie gem, a story to touch the soul and gameplay that connects you to the narrative and world around you. Yet for the emotion it manages to convey its missing something.
A solar flare has decimated the earth, turning most of it into an arid desert where little survives. You fill the shoes of Joel, a civil servant happy going about his unremarkable life at the Citadel, with a wife and baby on the way. That world is suddenly upended as his childhood friend Grace has disappeared outside the city, her vehicle returning empty. So naturally, Joel decides to leave everything behind and go in search of her, piloting the craft where most of Vanishing Grace takes place.
The title starts out beautifully choreographed, with artwork clearly created in Quill setting the scene for your travels. This is complimented by the superb voice cast who bring the characters to life, Grace as the adventurer who wants more from life and Joel who’s happy where he is and knows he should stay yet can’t leave Grace out in the wastelands. They remain faceless unless you explore the craft to find some old photos of the pair.
As mentioned, you’ll get well acquainted with the craft as the majority of the title revolves around keeping it going, ensuring the engine has enough power, leaks are plugged and so forth. Even though it only contains three areas they don’t feel too confining as the story progresses. Outside is where you’ll get slightly active with a magnetic boomerang which you use to smash rocks to collect the energy required to power the craft. As Vanishing Grace is mostly a slow-paced experience, flinging this at randomly floating rocks adds some much needed vigour to the gameplay, although the final sequence feels like going through the motions.
Inside the craft, there’s a fantastic homage to old school technology like there always seems to be in apocalyptic futures. Grace leaves audio diary entries on cassette, and VHS even makes an appearance which will likely put a smile on players of a certain age. Importantly, Monte Perdido Studio has ensured all the elements are suitably interactive, an original Polaroid camera allows you to take those classic square photos, the craft’s controls have plenty of buttons, levers and handles to spin, ultimately connecting you with this delightful vehicle.
Yet there’s a hollowness to it all. Depending on where you are in the story will make certain elements interactive, what you could pick up before is suddenly fixed in place. And then there are the moments you can step beyond the craft and into the wastelands. Before playing it did seem these were going to be nice exploratory moments. In actuality, these were just very brief sidesteps with little to do other than a collection puzzle. Vanishing Grace needed more of these, and the ones that are available feel like missed opportunities to add greater depth to the whole experience.
The rest of the craft-based puzzles aren’t overly tasking, not so much brain teasers, more elements to elongate and immerse you in the narrative. You’ll be looking for screwdrivers to undo panels or hidden access codes, simple stuff like that. The trickiest it ever gets is when mixing certain elements as the table explaining these is in the other room, you get the gist. As such, Vanishing Grace will keep you busy for a couple of hours at most.
Vanishing Grace comes across as one of those VR titles which seemed great in the demo, seeing a small snippet, yet on inspection of the entire experience, you wonder where the rest went. Even with its short runtime Monte Perdido Studio has showcased some wonderful talent like its ability to create a story-driven experience that you enjoy being a part of. However, its linear structure does mean that Vanishing Grace is a one and done VR title, lacking Myst’s or even Mare’s ability to make you step back in.