Transference is one of those games that’s best experienced knowing as little about what awaits you as possible. As such, we intend to remain as vague as possible when it comes to discussing narrative threads and consequences, while still giving you a good idea of how the experience adds up as a whole. Although, with The Lord of the Rings’ Elijah Wood contributing his talents in an artistic director role, what else do you really need to know?
In an opening speech from scientist Raymond Hayes, it is explained that we are about to experience the collective minds and thoughts of himself, his wife, and child, via a virtual recreation of his own apartment. Within, you’ll learn of Raymond’s transformation from fatherly figure into a monster.
Dealing with themes such as child abuse and a failed marriage, Transference throws punches that hit hard. Despite its other-worldly nature, these are issues that are very much a problem in the real world, and you’ll bear witness to the effect they can have on their victims. It’s powerful, but thanks to being more of a commentary on events rather than having a clear message behind it, there may be some who find its concluding moments a little fruitless.
Developer SpectreVision pitches the game as a sort of escape room that takes place in your own mind, and in reality, that descriptor is pretty on the mark. From a first person-perspective, you’ll explore the confines of an apartment and the surrounding area, while solving simple puzzles, collecting items, and making progress towards eliminating something within the vicinity.
To give things a little more depth, you’ll also be switching between two different realities that house different versions of the apartment. One is more picturesque and homely, while the other has descended into chaos. Navigating between the two is done via flicking the light switches situated around the flat, and you’ll be able to carry objects from one rendition to the other. This mechanic comes into play when attempting to solve puzzles within a particular reality that doesn’t house the required tools, and so it’s time to take a trip to the other side to figure things out.
It’s fairly simple, but it’s effective. The overwhelming sense of tension and dread that lingers in the background of every single room keeps you on edge from beginning to end, and on occasion that’ll bubble over into a full frontal fright. We’ve never been so nervous to simply ascend a staircase or take a trip down to the basement due to the possibility of something creeping up on us increasing by the second. Jump scares are aplenty, and while some think that the tactic is a little over-done thanks to horror movies, it’s a device that still works to a decent degree. This all works best in virtual reality, and it’s from this perspective where the game really shines.
Transference can be played entirely with PlayStation VR or without it, but you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t take advantage of the headset for this experience. The title is designed around utilising virtual reality in every single aspect. The spooks are heightened, interactions are much more natural, and the environments feel lifelike. The game is perfectly playable without VR, but it’s a much lesser experience as a result.
In terms of gameplay, the only real issue takes the form of the objects you can interact with. Picking them up will make some suspend in mid-air as if you’re holding them in your hands, but once you’re done with the interaction, around half of them will ignore gravity and stay suspended in the air instead of retreating back to the place you picked them up from. This can be fixed by simply leaving the room and re-entering it, but it takes you out of the game a little when a book manages to hold its own against the Earth’s pull while you’re trying to solve a brain teaser right next to it.
One more problem crops up when evaluating length, with a single play through taking us less than 90 minutes from open to close. There are collectibles to go back and acquire if you wish, but without even a hint of alternate endings or deviating paths through the story, this is a one and done that might leave a sore spot for some when its launch price is brought into the equation.
At least Transference can boast about an eye-catching presentation that blends full-motion video with realistic environments in the real world, and not so authentic designs in the other reality. On top of that, the sense of uneasiness is cranked up an even further notch by a phenomenal audible performance. Whispers in your ears will send chills down your spine, while select musical pieces rack up the suspense as you turn every corner.
Transference is an experience fit for VR, and from that perspective, the game does a phenomenal job of providing tension, scares, and narrative beats. Those looking for value may feel a little short-changed, especially so without the implementation of virtual reality, but the overall package should leave you satisfied if horror and terror is your forte.