Review: The Invisible Hours

The potential of virtual reality in video games is limited only by the imagination of what hasn’t been done before. What I have most enjoyed about playing games in VR is the fact that no one game feels like it has been copied directly from something else. Developers keep learning new ways to approach issues and mechanics interacting within a WR world. Others are inventing new ways to tell a story with a limited engagement from the viewer while providing deep immersion. Yet since all of this is still so new, it is exciting to try it all. 

Tequila Works’ newest VR title, The Invisible Hours, blurs the line between narrative movie and video game, and is an exciting example of what still is to come in the future of entertainment.

The Invisible Hours technically isn’t a game in the traditional sense but rather an immersive cinematic experience. Which isn’t a bad thing at all. What The Invisible Hours offers is a new way to view virtual theatre, with rich characters playing out scenes in a murder mystery that the player watches unfold and occasionally interacts with as the proverbial fly on the wall.

The game opens with the camera pointed at a small boat traveling toward a dock. Rain is coming down quite heavily and a man is seen exiting the boat, at which point the game introduces the controls players will use going forward. R2 teleports the camera view to wherever the player is pointing (a fixed point on the screen or following a specific character as they walk around). Pressing the L2 button pauses all interaction but allows the player to move through the space, which has a neat side effect of causing all rain droplets to stop in mid-air. Square allows players to rewind the game, while Triangle is used to fast-forward. Some objects can be highlighted by tilting your head around with the VR headset on, and when the tracking gets close to the object a small cursor appears indicating that something indeed can be picked up.

Gustaf Gustav is the man who players initially see getting off the boat. As another character points out, he is “the detective so good, they named him twice.” (Ed. Note: Hey, that’s Jimmy James’ tagline!) It is not clear at first as to why a detective was invited to the island estate, or why any of the other guests are at the island either, but within several minutes of getting into the game the body of Nikola Tesla is discovered. Gustav’s detective instincts kick in and he sets about trying to solve the murder.

A blind butler named Oliver Swan enters the room and Gustav asks him to gather the rest of the guests. Among the list of guests is famed actress Sarah Bernhardt, a son of a millionaire, Augustus Vanderberg, and most notable, legendary inventor Thomas Edison. After all of the guests seem to file into the entry way of the mansion, Tesla’s assistant, Flora White, notices a man outside attempting to flee. Gustav once again takes command of the situation and forces the man outside to come in. Discovering that the fleeing man, named Victor Mundy, is a murderer, it would seem fairly cut and dry as to why he was running away from the mansion.

It is at this point in the narrative where the “gameplay” mechanics come into focus. With all of the characters presented, players now have several options available: continue following Gustav and Mundy to find out what is being discussed between them, or freely move around the mansion and follow any of the other guests to see what they are up to. Additionally, players may choose to rewind the narrative and follow a particular guest to see what they were doing before being summoned to the entry way of the mansion.

The narrative is broken up into four chapters (with a bonus chapter 0 that unlocks a revealing prologue) and each chapter provides additional details about each character, their backstory, and what potential motivations they may have for wanting to kill Tesla. Like any good murder mystery, everyone is suspect and plenty of reasons are presented for all to justify committing the crime. Objects throughout the mansion can be picked up and rotated, but nothing from examining these objects is necessary for completing the game (aside from earning a trophy for collecting all clues). Photographs, newspaper clippings, and pages from Tesla’s diary can be found to help unfold the story. Finding all of the photos or newspaper clippings is similarly unnecessary for solving the murder, but they do enhance and build a lot of backstory on the suspected guests. Tesla’s diary provides a lot more insight into the overall operation that is going on in the mansion from a science perspective, adding yet another layer of mystery to the story, as well as a compelling reason to thoroughly explore the mansion.

The Invisible Hours is a virtual play where players basically only control the camera to change the perspective from which the performances are viewed. It is rare to see such truly fine acting in a video game. Clearly the actors playing the roles put a lot of nuance and thought into choices for their characters. Due to the nature of being able to rewind and follow the actions of different characters, there is a good chance of seeing the same scene play out several times, but I found that I never wanted to fast forward or skip the performances. There are several jaw dropping moments when you learn about character relationships that wouldn’t land with the weight that they do if the performances by the actors weren’t as impressive as they are.

One complaint I do have is with the slow rewind and fast-forward mechanic. The speed at which this device is set almost doesn’t feel fast enough going forward or backward. I found that more often than not, I would skip back to the menu, start from the beginning of a chapter, and fast-forward to a new point of action that I hadn’t seen rather than rewind and move to a new location in order to see all of the potential scenes play out. Another minor complaint is that playing on the PSVR without a PS4 Pro gives a clear feeling that the game is not being presented as the best possible version. There are times where the facial detail and animation becomes degraded in quality due to the deficiencies of playing on the standard PS4 hardware.

As a fan of strong narrative and excellent acting, I can’t recommend The Invisible Hours highly enough. There are so many fun and intriguing moments to discover while moving through the mansion, watching each of the guests interact while they try to either shift guilt onto someone else or conceal the true reasons why they were brought to the mansion. With a complex, masterfully designed story set in a well-crafted environment, The Invisible Hours is exactly the new type of innovation between gameplay and storytelling that I want to see more of in VR. The ability to participate without necessarily affecting the outcome of a series of actions is very interesting and provides an almost voyeuristic sensation of being able to move up close and feel the raw power of each line as its being delivered by anyone among the great cast of actors.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Excellent acting performances by all
+ Mysterious story to discover
+ Fun rewind and fast forward mechanic

Cons:
– Blurred facial animations on standard PS4
– Fast-forward and rewind speed could be quicker

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PSVR, also on HTC Vive and Oculus Rift (VR headset required)
Publisher: Game Trust
Developer: Tequila Works
Release Date: 10/10/2017
Genre: Murder Mystery
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1

Source: PSVR code for The Invisible Hours was provided to VGBlogger.com for review purposes by Tequila Works.

Buy From: The Invisible Hours is available on PlayStation Store, Steam, and Oculus for $29.99.

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.