Monday, 26 Feb 2024

Review: Lies Beneath

At some point every virtual reality (VR) developer needs to do a horror title, whether it’s purely psychological or filled with jump scares, the genre is such an easy fit for VR purposes. Drifter Entertainment (Gunheart, Robo Recall: Unplugged) has done just that with its latest project Lies Beneath for Oculus Quest, offering a middle ground between those two whilst laying on plenty of action for an enjoyably terrifying experience.

Lies Beneath instantly grabs you thanks to its comic book design and story layout. It puts you under no illusions that you’re not in a realistic world and that doesn’t matter or make Lies Beneath any less suspenseful. What the videogame does, it does really well but there are a few little things here and there which stutter the experience.

One of the best aspects of Lies Beneath is its narrative and the way Drifter Entertainment lays it all out. That comic book style runs through the entire title, introducing the story of college student Mae and her father returning to the quiet Alaskan town of Slumber. There’s no narration, you have to turn the comic’s pages to uncover the story every few levels, a nice touch to keep a player’s attention as to what the hell is going on and what’s happened to the residents. Throughout the levels you’ll spot story snippets along the way, most of which are Mae’s internal monologue remembering her home town whilst trying to make sense of it all.

And this is one hellish landscape. Starting in the outlying forest before venturing into the town, the paths are winding yet fairly linear to keep you on the story track. There are the occasional offshoots which can reward you with useful resources but these tend to be dead ends or filter around to the main path. Not that you want to go exploring in the darkness as Lies Beneath has some monstrous creatures to deal with.

Most of these tend to be of the humanoid variety, shuffling around screaming until they spot you, coming tearing forwards like they were out of World War Z. In true monster fashion, there’s no subtlety to their attacks, it’s all about closing that distance to you. So you can attack and defend yourself in several ways depending on whether you prefer close or ranged combat. Lies Beneath suitably caters for both, with pistols and shotguns offering decent stopping power whilst knives, hatchets (a personal favourite) and other spikey objects can be used to remove heads and even thrown.

The studio has gone for a little VR realism with the weapons to help ground you in the world, but not too much that it hampers the experience. You don’t have to manually reload the guns but you do still need to pop the chamber open or use the pump action on the shotgun. Likewise, the blades are super useful if ammo is low – there’s usually enough around – but they can become wedged in enemies’ heads and bodies which can leave you scrambling for another weapon.

Which leads onto the fact that Lies Beneath is a very mild horror in comparison to others. Now some may find it truly petrifying when the odd jump scare happens yet for those well versed in VR terror Lies Beneath won’t really prove to be too alarming. Actually, it’s the sections in between the action which can prove to be the tensest as the audio is superb, just the right mix of distant shrieks and groans combined with horror movie violins, so use some good headphones.

It’s a shame then that especially in the early stages the draw distance is so close, either with pure darkness or fog. If it was done for atmosphere then it’s not particularly effective, more annoying. If it’s done for technical reasons then why does it occasionally jitter, like the odd frame is being dropped? This darkness can be somewhat illuminated by the lighter but once again the reach isn’t great. Unlike most videogames the lighter proves to be super useful, activating checkpoints, burning effigies and highlighting enemy weak points. The pistol/lighter combo is one of the best in Lies Beneath.

Lies Beneath might not be one of the scariest titles on Oculus Quest but that doesn’t stop it being intense and suspenseful. Drifter Entertainment has created a dark and twisting journey which has wonderfully atmospheric moments supported by a strong storyline backbone. If you’re looking for perfect synergy between classic horror movies and VR on Oculus Quest, Lies Beneath is worth a peep; just don’t look behind you.

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