It’s V for Viking in this VR experience.
Always a sucker for a good story, it was no less concerning to read that FATED: The Silent Oath, “focuses on emotion over gameplay”. Virtual reality or not, to see Frima throw the interactivity of their new Viking experience onto the pyre doesn’t seem altogether the most sensible thing.
FATED tells the story of a father and husband. Ulfer lives the life you might expect of a Norseman: he hunts deer, he cares for his family and he tries to avoid death at the hands of ancient giants. Things aren’t going so well when we meet him. Awakening into an ethereal encounter with a Valkyrie (Old Norse for “chooser of the slain”), Ulfer has died. In exchange for his voice, though, he is offered a second chance at life.
Losing your voice is an interesting design choice for VR. What this means for the player’s character interactions is being limited to nods and shakes of the head. This is the fulcrum on which FATED rests its efforts to be emotionally affecting, played out through a tightly funnelled story over the course of a couple of hours.
So Ulfer chooses life, without the corresponding Trainspotting soliloquy. He finds himself in a horse-drawn cart, accompanied by his wife, who is clearly concerned for his wellbeing. Nod if you understand, she says. I nod. It feels curiously intimate to do this, even though there’s almost certainly no consequence to this decision. The spell is cast, and I feel close to this person.
Events unfold and I am plunged into troubling circumstances for my (Ulfer’s) family. Without saying too much, FATED does all it can to build the torment of a father who is unable to speak to his child or to reassure his wife. The most tragic of words cannot be mustered. Instead, merely a look, a gesture.
It may not be a real game, but it is an interesting experiment in what VR can do. In that regard, it works. It’s just a shame that by more traditional measures the experience falls down. Visually, though it begins with a stunning vibrancy of colour and emotive characters, a closer exploration of FATED’s environment reveals distractingly bare modelling with glacially barren floors. In an experience made only to envelop you, this matters.
On the audio front, some of the voice acting is fairly atrocious. Ulfer’s son is clearly reading scripted stutters, for instance. That said, the example is an aberration and not the norm; his daughter sits at the other end of the scale, managing to evoke an unnervingly paternal bond in only a few interactions. The game also has effective soundtrack, and its more emotional moments are heightened by its shrewdly measured score.
Walking around this world is what breaks the spell most thoroughly, and I get the sense that FATED’s origins on PC over a year ago may date its choices for 3D movement. Turning is achieved by degrees rather than smooth rotations (as is the norm to avoid motion sickness). This is fine, but forward movement is also locked to discrete trajectories. Having to constantly zig-zag as a consequence becomes an unavoidable distraction, detracting from the interactions FATED cares about.
With these problems besetting something that I valued as an experience, I find myself torn between a nod and a shake of the head in conveying whether I can recommend FATED. There is undeniably something unique here, and as an early adopter of VR technology I feel experiments like this are what it’s about. I just can’t help but feel ambivalent, and VR doesn’t track my shrugs, just yet.
FATED: The Silent Oath was provided to us by Frima & Plan of Attack PR via a download code for PlayStation VR (played on a PS4 Pro).