The first few scenes in the Half + Half virtual space evokes in me the same feeling as pouring cream into my coffee mug every morning. For a few blissful moments, I get to exist in a calm, peaceful state of serenity during which it feels like nothing can go wrong. I was charmed by the world created by Half + Half and was poised to love this title the second I started it up. But like the jolt from that morning cup of coffee, the initial buzz I got from it wore off far too quickly.
You are introduced to Half + Half with a short scene. You appear in a blue space and a vision of your Teletubby-like avatar, whom the developers have named “Wanda,” appears before you. It won’t take you long to realize that the avatar in front of you is a mirror image. When you lift your arms, Wanda lifts its arms (I say “its” because “Wanda” is completely androgynous). Wanda’s arms wiggle whenever you move them. Words appear above your head. You are welcomed and told you will soon meet the others. The game then quickly instructs on how to teleport, and a door appears on the other end of what seems to be a vast space. You practice teleportation by going to that door. Once you step through it, you have your first introduction to the lobby: a mostly white space with five doors leading to mini-games. When you start the game from then on, you will immediately appear in the lobby.
There is no tutorial in the lobby, but the menu button on your Oculus Touch controller will bring up a sparse menu. The menu has 3 options: “How to play,” which brings up an image of your oculus touch controllers with some pointers on how to use them in-game, “Invite friends,” and “Mirror.”
Flat out: Mirror does not work unless they’ve fixed it by the time you read this review. The mirror will show you a grey disk, but if you stand in front of that disk, all you see is the blank grey disk. I realize there are bugs in virtually every game…but this one really rankled me. Why include such a simple function if it can’t be executed properly?
To test the “Invite friends” function, I invited a few of the writers from 6DOF Reviews to play with me. A seemingly simple action, sending an invite to a friend from your list to join your party, was extremely frustrating and wildly inconsistent. When I received an invitation, I’d click “accept,” and nothing would happen. When I’d invite others, some would appear in my lobby, or rather our party’s lobby…others would not. I’d click to “leave the party” to see if that did anything and the screen would say “Joining Party,” and then I’d just end up in the lobby by myself.
Eventually, we all paused the game to try to troubleshoot why our invitations weren’t working. We tried inviting each other through the Oculus home screen…that definitely didn’t work. After about an hour, our editor got so frustrated that he stopped trying to join us and asked for a refund from the store. The party functions may be fixed after a few updates, but Half+Half is a game almost entirely based around social interaction, so a glitch in this fundamental aspect of the game definitely deserves mention.
Already that calm, happy feeling the beautiful imagery in Half + Half initially evoked was beginning to disappear.
Once I was able to join a party, there were positive points. Whenever a member of my party spoke, Wanda’s lips moved with their speech. I thought this was absolutely adorable. I also admit I love Wanda’s wiggling arms.
The developers of the game appear to be attempting to create a family game that will be appropriate for all ages to play. Wanda is clearly an androgynous character, free of even the remotest possibility of appearing attractive or unattractive. Wanda is simply cute.
Making New Friends?
Unless someone you are in a mini-game with is already on your friends’ list, you will not be able to hear what they say to you. You will see their lips will move, and you’ll hear a sort of cooing noise that varies in pitch, but no actual words.
The voice-scramble function is one I have mixed feelings over. Half + Half is marketing itself as a game designed to establish so-called “meaningful” interactions. But how can you make new friends if you can’t really talk to them? Sure you can add the random avatar you’re paired with to your friends’ list, but because you haven’t actually spoken with them, you also don’t know if they’re creeps, so you remain reluctant to do so. This makes every interaction with a non-friend a fleeting one.
On the other hand, I’ve met a lot of creeps and jerks in other social applications, especially when I design an avatar as a female. These negative interactions in other apps have made me wary of even entering multiplayer gaming spaces. For parents, I could see how voice-scrambling could be a desirable function. I do wish, however, that it could be disabled or that we were given another way to communicate with others in the game.
To enter a mini-game, you click through one of five doors in the lobby. Four out of the five mini-games will let you proceed through the door without another person available. So theoretically, you can play them by yourself.
The objective of the SpaceWalk game is to contort your body into the shape of what I can only call a police chalk outline. When you first enter the game, your height is measured, though my height personally was measured either an inch taller or an inch shorter than I actually am. The outline of the avatar that appeared during this measurement period had its arms out…but was I supposed to put my arms out as well? I have no idea. There were virtually no instructions (which was an underlying theme in the mini-games).
Once the round of SpaceWalk began, I attempted to put my body into the shapes of the outline. There was almost nothing challenging or all that interesting about this game at all. Put your arms out or above your head. Lean toward the side. Bend your knees. I think the entire point of SpaceWalk was to make you look ridiculous in the real world. If that was the developer’s sole intention, then they succeeded. If they were trying to make a mini-game that the player would enjoy, then they failed spectacularly.
I can imagine this game being entertaining for children between the ages of four and seven, for whom merely moving your body to shapes can be interesting…but I’m not four, and there aren’t very many VR users who are.
Hide and Seek
Hide and Seek seems to be the only genuinely developed game with any kind of meaningful tutorial. This is also the only game within Half + Half that consistently pairs me with another avatar to play with when I’m not already in a party.
When you enter the game, you are brought into a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired cityscape. For about thirty seconds, you and any other avatars in the space are all the same size. This short time gives you just enough time to wave your wiggling arms at the other players, possibly mutter some scrambled speech, before you realize that no one can understand what you’re saying (unless they’re friends) thanks to the voice scrambler. Eventually, the randomly chosen seeker grows to giant size, while the other players shrink.
As the hider, you shrink to the size of a mouse and the seeker Wanda grows to Godzilla-like proportions and is briefly blindfolded. You are given a brief tutorial on how to use a slingshot to teleport around the city. You are instructed to hide, find orbs located around the city, and of course, not get caught. Being tiny, you don’t know where the orbs are, so you have to seek those while evading detection. You try to stay out of sight as Godzilla Wanda hunts for you, throwing balls at you that will make you grow. You can’t just find one hiding spot and stay put, because without finding orbs, you don’t get any points. The game doesn’t bother to tell you this, but collecting orbs is the only way to win points in this game.
When playing as the seeker, you become a giant and are brought to a pretty star-spangled space for about thirty seconds. You are told how to move around, which is not by teleporting, but by pumping your arms. This smoother locomotion made me queazy, as I always get a little motion sick from games where I appear to move in-game but remain still in the real world. For this reason, I wouldn’t recommend using Hide and Seek to show VR off to your friends. We want people to enjoy VR play spaces, and no one enjoys nausea. After the thirty seconds are up, you will hear a countdown “3…2…1…. Seek!”
Only… you’re not told how to seek. You have to play around with the buttons until you press the trigger button and finally, you see something to do. You get a black ball and are just instructed to throw it, but you’re not told what that accomplishes. When thrown, it explodes on impact. So you seek by throwing balls at strangers to make them grow. Your hiders are given away by the squeaking sound they make as they teleport…and the fact that, eventually, they will have to jump into the open to find orbs.
Throwing the balls was more challenging than it should have been. Even with just a small flick, the ball would go soaring far past where I aimed. There seems to be a goldilocks force, but when I actually managed to spot my hider, I just started throwing balls at different strengths and hoping that one would hit. From the number of times I’ve played, randomly throwing balls and hoping you hit a hider by accident seems to be the most effective strategy.
This was the most fun of all the games I played on Half + Half. It was fun with painfully short rounds. I’m sure I could or would sign on to play a relaxing game with friends, had it not been for the motion-sickness I felt when I played as the seeker. Put simply, this game was just good clean fun and reminded me of being a little kid playing hide and seek in my backyard with my neighbors from across the street.
“Swim” is marketed with the promise that you will “swim in an endless ocean.” I wouldn’t necessarily call this false advertising, but that’s what it feels like. First, I can’t really call this an “endless ocean.” There appeared to be only two schools of fish at the most. Second, I can’t really call this an “ocean.” It was a blue space: the higher you “swam,” the lighter the blue got, the lower you “swam,” the darker the blue got. The school of fish stayed squarely in the middle, looping around the same area, over and over.
You’re also not told how to “swim.” I did eventually figure out the movement though: If you move your arms like you’re doing the backstroke, you will go up. You pull the water towards you (like you’re doing a pull-up) to move downwards. The movements made no sense whatsoever, except that I am sure I looked ridiculous in the real world.
This “game” had absolutely no discernible purpose. I admit that, for the first few minutes, I thought the ocean was cute. While I had a friend in my party, and it was a lovely space in which to have a conversation (mostly trying to figure out the controls), we could have done that in the lobby.
Overall, I think Swim is a great concept executed poorly. There needs to be more to it. There needs to be something to see, beyond the one looping school of fish. There needs to be something to interact with, and the locomotion mechanics just feel wrong.
“Wind” is the only mini-game where you have an Out-of-Wanda experience. “Wind” put simply, is a hang gliding race. You control your avatar by pumping your arms to make your glider rise and fall. The faster you pump, the higher and faster your avatar will go. If you hit the barely-visible streaks of wind, you will glide much faster through those streaks.
There is no tutorial to this game at all, but it’s not hard to figure out. That being said, there is only one round, and the racecourse never changes, which I think is unfortunate. I could actually see this mini-game being fun if there was slightly more to it.
Glide, by far, was the most confusing mini-game of the bunch, which is saying something. You are told when you first step through the door that you can hit the ball with your glider…only you don’t see the ball anywhere. It’s there. Look down. It is WAYYYYY below you. You have to glide down towards the ball, which you then realize is gigantic. And you’re supposed to hit it….with your glider? Okay…so you hit the ball, and it starts to accelerate in one direction with a comet-like tail. But there’s nothing for the ball to rebound against, so it will just keep going in the same direction.
There are three levitating hoops set up in a triangle. If you are in a party with your friends, you and your friends can work to bounce the ball off each other gliders to get it through the hoops. You do hear a celebratory ping if you happen to get the ball through one of the hoops…so is that the point? There’s also a white monolith in the distance, far from the hoops. Are you supposed to race to the finish line? This game was so difficult to understand that it’s nearly impossible to give a review on it. I will say that I have absolutely no idea how we’re supposed to collaborate with non-friends (given that you can’t understand their speech) to get the ball through the hoops.
Frankly, I think Glide is an underdeveloped concept and has no place in Half + Half as it currently stands. I have no doubt that Glide could be refined and developed to be more fun, but every game needs some kind of achievable purpose or set of objectives. Glide was missing this element entirely.
This game has a lot of elements that I found playful and calming. I liked the general atmosphere: The feeling that you are just having some innocent, child-like fun. I know we’re supposed to be adults, but games are supposed to bring out a sense of whimsy. You came into the world of Half + Half to play just for the sake of playing. The gameplay is simple, and the stakes are low, so clearly, Half + Half is only supposed to be a pretext to socialize and make friends. But if that’s the case, why scramble the speech of strangers? Why not give us the option to disable that feature?
Other than Hide and Seek, frankly, the games were uninspired. How many times do you think you’ll play a game where you put your arms into YMCA shapes without hearing that catchy tune? The ocean might have been endless and relaxing initially, but they didn’t put anything in it besides some fish and nothing to do.
Possibly, Half + Half is a game I would show a child to introduce them to the concept of VR, except for one big problem: I would never start someone in VR on a game that used a locomotion method, like the one in “Hide and Seek”, which is almost guaranteed to make them queasy without so-called “VR-Legs”. For now, I’ll stick to First Steps and First Contact to demo VR to friends and family.
I admit, some of the elements in Half + Half utterly charmed me. I loved the minimalist graphical style, and I thought Wanda was one of the cutest avatars I’ve ever seen in a game. “Hide and seek” was good old-fashioned fun, though the motion sickness-inducing locomotion made me wary of repeat play. I was charmed by Half + Half‘s world and the idea of an innocent space in which to play and socialize in a non-judgmental world.
In a world where cyberspace brings out the worst in people, the world that developers Normal try to bring you into could be a tempting one if it wasn’t so frustrating. The difficulty with the multiplayer aspects, the confusing party invitations, and the non-functional mirror….all these issues yanked me out of the illusion the game attempts to create. Swimming in an empty blue ‘ocean’ wasn’t relaxing, it was boring. I love the idea of playing with a child-like sense of whimsy, but I’m not a child, and, as I’ve mentioned above, I’ve moved past the stage in my life when standing still while making a shape was fun.
Half + Half feels like a concept demo, rather than a full-fledged game and it definitely wasn’t worth the price. I think developers Normal made a mistake in not marketing Half + Half as a free demo while developing a better thought-out experience that was worth purchasing.