Lies Beneath has hit upon a splendid wheeze for naming games in a way that’s redolent of a well-known film without having to pay a penny in copyright. Just leave a word out! I’m looking forward to other titles following suit; A Nightmare on Elm, perhaps, or The Girl WIth the Dragon.
ON HAUNTED HILL
Lies Beneath is a first-person spooky horror game, with combat and the occasional mild puzzle. Its story, focusing on a woman returning to her rural home town to face her past, is pretty by-the-numbers stuff. Like other successful examples of its genre, though, the tale is in the telling, and this is where the game comes into its own.
From the off, it’s clear that Lies Beneath has a very polished presentation. Conveyed in a distinctive cel-shaded, comic-strip fashion, it uses the tropes and framing of a graphic novel to tell its narrative and justify its graphical style. This device can often seem a bit hokey when used in other media, sometimes with very little understanding of the craft that goes into a good comic strip. It’s usually less of a love letter to the medium than an excuse to hide a low polygon count. Here, however, it’s clear the team has done their homework and have an innate appreciation for the form used. The story sequences are very well realised, with a beautiful art style that manages to simultaneously convey the feeling of reading a graphic novel and be an immersive VR conceit.
THE HAND THAT ROCKS
The game starts with a car crash in a snowy wilderness, and a trail of blood to follow. That’s about as much of the story I’m going to give away. What I will say is that it’s a solid, spooky plot which does a good job of propelling the player through the levels, or chapters as the game would have it.
The VR interactions here are simply marvellous, and a lot of thought has been put into how to make use of the format. The player has a lighter which can be used to illuminate and show the way, and for some other clever things I’ll leave for you to discover. You can pick up weapons, like axes and guns, to aid in combat, and they all feel solid and rewarding to use. There are so many lovely touches here that sell the world; you have limited space to store things, and two hands to hold them with, so you often have to drop items to store others before picking them up again. I was delighted when I found out, for example, that axes could be stuck into the wooden trees, crates and walls to free your hands when looting, to be retrieved afterwards. It’s something you’d do were you unlucky enough to be in this situation ‘in real life’, and such interactions largely avoid the slight jankiness that can pervade VR titles. Other physics-based interactions feel just right, including some rope-and-pulley mechanics that are just a joy, and these really help sell the world.
The gameplay loop consists of exploring, scavenging for ammo and clues, catching sight of terrifying figures, and either fighting them or avoiding them. The combat is rewarding and just panicky enough to keep you on your toes. There are supernatural elements to the proceedings, but nothing that is frustratingly vague. All too often in horror games and fiction, there is an imbalance between keeping the scares fresh and explaining everything that’s happening in a satisfying way, which often leads to the scares diminishing. Here the level of unease and narrative intrigue is kept at a balanced level, and the gameplay never tires. With twenty chapters to go at, the game is a decent length without outstaying its welcome. It throws up enough surprises and variety to keep you hooked until the end. I’d say an average playthrough will last about eight hours, maybe quicker if you really click with what you’re doing.
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT
In a post-Half Life: Alyx landscape, perhaps the highest praise I can give Lies Beneath is that it has a similar level of polish and understanding of VR. In not overreaching and keeping it simple but stylish, Drifter have crafted a superbly playable survival horror title that deserves a seat at the top table, and which is truly a technical marvel on Quest. Not one you can show off to the whole family, given the subject matter, but definitely a showcase for what the hardware can achieve given the efforts of a talented developer.
TLDR : Summary
A genuinely scary, technically impressive, solid and thrilling Quest title that contains a surprising (and all too rare) level of polish for a VR game.