The reason I bought a Vive over and Oculus earlier this year, as VR went from pipedream to reality, were the controllers bundled with the Vive. Though it's possible to use an Xbox or PlayStation controller in VR, it's just not the same as a device that's meant to closely resemble your hands. With the launch of Oculus Touch this week, though, Oculus has joined the rest of the VR crowd, and games like I Expect You to Die shows why more natural input methods are so important in VR.
I Expect You to Die, currently only available for Oculus and PlayStation VR, has players fumbling around as a secret agent in a variety of scenarios designed to quickly kill you. Dying is part of the fun, though; poking around the puzzle rooms and figuring out what you can pull off what makes I Expect You to Die so charming. "Oh, maybe I should think about what chemicals I'm mixing together next time," you might say, as a canister full of explosive gas suddenly blows up in front of you.
The puzzle rooms in I Expect You to Die are small but dense, filled with tiny secrets and ways to do exceptionally silly things. This, for example, made me laugh for a straight minute. It's not an objective, it's me screwing around.
Of course, if you want, you can smoke the cigar by holding it up to your head.
Your hands (and a few fingers) are represented by the Oculus Touch controllers in real-time, allowing you to do neat tricks. If you release one of the buttons on the controller, your index finger points forward, so you can "poke" things in the environment. (One room has radio stations that you can jump between.) The "blue line" telepathically pulls objects towards and away from you at will, allowing the designers to build areas larger than what's immediately around you.
The Oculus Touch controllers sport a unique design that wraps around your hand. So while you're only pressing a button to, say, flick open a lighter, that flicking motion happens after tapping your index finger on the controller, granting a closer physical connection between actions in both worlds. I'm sure this same action works just fine with a Move controller—or, heck, even a regular Dual Shock 4—but these subtle touches make the Oculus version really stand out.
But a fancy controller doesn't mean very much without meaningful interactions, and that's where I Expect You to Die's deployment of smart, funny puzzles inspired by old spy films come into play. In the second area, the game subtly hints that a slew of lasers are hidden in front of you, but there doesn't appear to be any way to find out where they are. Stranded on a platform thousands of feet in the air, you look for something that might function as a tool. The game doesn't tell you what objects are useful and what objects are window dressing, leaving it up to you to experiment. And that's when I had my first gut-busting, laugh-out-loud moment:
(In this case, my left hand is holding the bottle and tapping a button to release the spray, while my right hand simultaneously points over at the locker to open it, grab an ID card, and bring over. These kinds of complex interactions happen seamlessly, after you get the hang of it.)
That ability I talked about before, where you tap and release buttons to manipulate in-game fingers, comes in handy here, too. This section's major puzzle involves a series of chemical combinations, forcing you to refer back and forth between several pieces of paper. Just like I might tap and point at a piece of information to help commit to memory in real-life, or shuffle paperwork around to make sure it's in the right line of sight for quick reference, I soon lost myself in the virtual world, naturally taking to the controllers, and mimicking the same motions.
Besides the moment when I slammed my hand into my desk, spilling coffee everywhere, it was only only minutes before this seemed totally normal, easy to pull off, and crucially, the right way to play. Though other input methods, like a mouse or traditional controller, might technically work, that's like saying Wii Sports would have been exactly the same without motion controls.
I haven't touched my Vive in several months, outside of occasionally showing a friend or family member. Even when properly setup, it's a bigger pain to start something in VR than a regular ol' video game. But the arrival of PS VR and Oculus Touch have me dipping my toes back in again, and it's reminding me why I was such a big proponent for VR in the first place. The screen is one thing, yes, but how we interact with that screen is just as vital, if not moreso. Hopefully, games like I Expect You to Die are a sign of things to come, as developers create new verbs in VR.
You can't argue with stuff like this, you know?
You're pretty okay, video games.