Along came a Silhouette! Despite the massive promise of hand-tracking in VR, and the advances made in hand-tracking on the Quest with the release of version 2 last year, and the newly released update bringing it up to 2.1, the titles that support hand-tracking have had mixed successes.
We’ve had titles like Rogue Ascent, Cubism, and Unplugged, that use it very well and, despite occasional glitches, provide a fully playable and enjoyable experience, and then…we have titles that struggle with the promise.
The real problem with hand-tracking, of course, and that most titles still suffer from, is that, unlike controllers, even the best hand-tracked games don’t work 100% of the time, which means that sometimes, even with the titles mentioned above, the worst thing that could happen in a video game takes place, you lose without it being your fault.
With games like Cubism, it’s not a big deal. Cubism is a relaxing puzzle game, and the occasional hand-tracking failure costs you nothing but a few lost seconds. With games like Unplugged and Rogue Ascent, however, it could cost you a combo, or worse, avatar damage.
Know Your Shadow
Silhouette is a puzzle game where you use your hands shadows to solve puzzles, that you find littered throughout the game’s environment. Solving a puzzle rewards you with one of many black triangles that adorn a bracelet worn on your right wrist. Together, those triangles act as keys to unlock doors that open up more areas, leading to yet more puzzles.
Locomotion is also based on hand-tracking, there are teleportation stations littered throughout the environment. You can move to those that you find nearby by pointing at them with an open palm, as though you’re presenting them to an unseen audience.
When you reach a puzzle station, there’s a light behind you, a puzzle illuminated on a wall, the shadows of your hands. All the puzzles are based on guiding a small shadow character to the exit of the puzzle, often navigating him/her/it to pick up a key that’ll they’ll use to unlock that exit once reached.
To that end, you’ll use your hands’ shadows as platforms for the character to walk across, or elevators that they can ride as you lift them to a higher spot. Occasionally you’ll use your shadows to form a gun to destroy obstacles in the character’s path, etc.
The gameplay is interesting but inconsistent. When I first heard of the game, I imagined it might involve real shadow play, making shapes of objects or animals with your hands to solve puzzles. I imagined a game where you might make a dog to scare off a cat, or a cat to scare off a mouse or match silhouettes with nimble hand-coordination.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and aside from shadow-casting a gun, occasionally, the shadows you make are mostly of the platform variety. Make a platform and move it sideways! Make a platform and move it up! The novelty comes not in how you use your hands but in the design of the puzzles themselves, and I consider this a massive waste of a great opportunity.
The puzzles do become progressively more difficult, but not for the reasons you might expect. More on this in a bit.
The Shadow Knows
The environments of Silhouette are pretty, if very simplistic and cartoony. They offer some variety, but not much. They’re good enough that they didn’t bother me, but at no point did I feel compelled to take a screenshot to show off to a friend. They are…adequate.
The music fares a little better. It’s upbeat and chill, keeping you calmly motivated until the controls come along and beat some of the motivation out of you.
So let’s talk about that.
The Heart of Darkness
The real problems with Silhouette all revolve around its greatest selling point; hand-tracking. With puzzle games, the difficulty should revolve around figuring out the puzzles, not executing a solution that you’ve already figured out, and this is where Silhouette has issues.
After solving some of the simpler puzzles very quickly, I started getting stuck on some puzzles not because I couldn’t figure it out, but because hand-tracking, as implemented in the game, just wasn’t always up to the task. It’s incredibly frustrating to see the solution to a puzzle, know exactly what you need to do, and fail repeatedly because the hand-tracking keeps glitching out at inopportune moments. These glitches often result in your trusting shadow character falling to a miserable death, or you accidentally squeezing them to death.
One time, I couldn’t move the character because the pinching movement used to select a target location simply stopped working until I exited my session, returned to the main menu, and came back in again.
The same annoyances even happen while moving through the environment using the teleportation station, the palm open towards a station gesture is supposed to draw an arc from your hand to the station, whereupon its rotation accelerates for a couple of seconds before you teleport to it. Luckily you can speed up the teleportation system so that it takes far less time to activate teleports, but even then, sometimes it just doesn’t work.
Prince of Darkness
I don’t mean to come down on Silhouette too much, after all, it’s a budget title, priced at just $9.99, and it will keep you busy for 3–4 hours, more or less, even if some of that time is wasted on occasional hand-tracking issues. The environments are colorful, the music upbeat and relaxing, and the puzzles engaging if not particularly challenging. It’s a simple way to while away an afternoon or a few brief sessions, but the puzzles might only prove challenging to younger players.