In its infancy, virtual reality tech seemed as hokey as 3D televisions and movies. Unlike previous flavor of the month tech, VR is proving to be a medium for telling stories uniquely catered to stepping into new worlds. Game developer Zoink’s living diorama, Ghost Giant, for PSVR is the latest in a VR storytelling evolution.
Developed by: Zoink, Thunderful
Published by: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Available for: PlayStation VR
On its surface, Ghost Giant‘s cute paper mache exterior covers the deceptively complex emotional journey of a tiny fox named Louis. Throughout a number of scenes, you’ll act as his guardian angel, helping him navigate storybook level dilemmas such as gathering seeds to plant and harvest. It’s when you pay attention to the even smaller details of this world that the tear jerking begins. The hard life of this character is eerily relatable to the real world. Louis constantly lets down his best friend and lies to cover up his own mothers whereabouts, all the while wearing a sadness from all this emotional weight. In the early parts of the game it’s all a mystery shrouded by jokes and high fives. It’s in those moments where he breaks his happy go lucky exterior that you just want to reach through that screen and hug him.
It’s a feeling that’s tailored to VR and one you can definitely do more than push X for.
When you read Alice in Wonderland, how many times did you go down the rabbit hole? In Alan Moore’s Watchmen, did you ever feel like you were doing more than looking through the glass at a city on the brink of war? It’s history’s place to tell just what the final word on Ghost Giant will be, but with games such as Moss and Batman Arkham VR before it, players are getting treated to a blend of true story with immersion. When you put the ice-bucket shaped PSVR headset on and take the PlayStation Move controllers, you become more than just the observer. Your role as a guardian is the vehicle that moves the story along. Your own clumsy hands get brought into the game as you clear roads, light pathways, literally blow into the air to chase off birds in order to help your tiny friend achieve his goals.
As with any good story, it’s the details that make or break it. You can miss a lot of the small things in this world if you don’t buy in. VR is the only place where a tape and thumbtack held together canvas such as this can be explored. Just move your head. As the ghost giant, you have a unique above it all view of your surroundings but much of the game only comes to light when you decide to break the wall. Leaning down to look through the windows of tiny structures such as houses and shops, you’ll notice the incredible amount of detail. In one scene, you can lift the roof of a house with your mutant shaped virtual hands and then look down as if you were peaking into a hamster cage. It’s simply fun to see these characters living and breathing their lives. We could see Louis’ friend Maurice interacting with a piano and monologuing over his argument with our friend. Then there’s one of the saddest written scenes in gaming. When Louis confronts his mother, nearly lethargic in her bed, it’s a moment made more powerful because despite your over size and control in this world you still feel powerless to help either one. Having to see a miniature version of this character so frail and damaged by depression is a kick in the stomach with every carefully animated sigh they exhale.
If you enjoy story driven games, this is definitely on the level of Gone Home or Edith Finch. Ghost Giant is a great example of a mid stride VR title.
Though it isn’t without flaws. While it fully understands how to blend vital story beats to the immersion offered by the tech, there is a level of too much gimmick at times. Basing an entire game on puzzle solving isn’t inherently wrong but some of these moments felt a bit more dragged than necessary when that puzzle came in a double digit amount of parts. In one instance you needed to find parts to repair a crane, fix the generator attached to the crane, and use the crane. Each of those bits having two to three mini tasks of their own to complete. These things are done in the name of creating a variety driven experience fully utilizing VR but having a bit more faith in the story would have just allowed us to observe certain moments and give the player a break.
Ghost Giant is the evolution of that old Tomagachi you forgot to feed as a kid or that Nintendog you left on the virtual animal shelter doorstep. This is a story that turns you from an observer hitting buttons to an active participant. Your level of investment in your friendship with Louis determines how rewarding you’ll find Ghost Giant once you get through this story. To their credit, the developers have given you every well-executed reason to win you over along with a lesson that’s not preachy. In a society that posts support messages on social media about dealing with life hindering depressions, Ghost Giant puts you through that pain of having to watch someone you grow to care about deal with it, but also giving you a real feeling of power to affect change in the short virtual lives of these characters.
Ghost Giant is one of the best surprises of 2019 and definitely worth a look if you own a PSVR system.