Minotaur’s have been the stable of many a fantasy game over the years. Hulking big brutes with their heavily muscled human bodies, huge bull heads with vicious horns on either side and usually fuelled with a dangerous rage to rip the players’ character apart. Now, as popular an enemy archetype they may be, very few games have actually attempted to tell the true story of their Greek mythological origin and Theseus, the latest title from Forge Reply, is the latest game to tackle the subject.
The problem, however, this is where Theseus kind of hits its first stumbling block. Now, unless you know the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, even loosely, like I did, then you are going into this game completely blind as the game does nothing to explain who you are, where you are and why you are there. There is no real narrative, no voice over or any kind of preamble to introduce you to the world you inhabit. You’re left hoping that the game opens itself up to you as you work your way through the game but it never really does in any satisfactory manner.
Putting aside the poorly delivered story to Theseus, your first half hour into the game gives a strong showing for what could potentially be a good game here. An effort has been made here to create a very moody and dangerous sense to the world. With otherworldly planes of existence covered in endless lakes of blood, to decaying structures littered with ancient corpses and dangerous vast drops. Your introduction to the Minotaur gives off strong God of War/Shadow of the Colossus vibes, hinting that stealth, patience, and intelligence are going to be the weapons to wield in the inevitable confrontations ahead. Even your first, unnerving encounter with the games minor enemies; a phenomenal scene involving you, an impenetrable dark tunnel, a torch that can barely light beyond a few meters in front of you and numberless giant spiders hiding in the darkness hints at some potentially well thought out encounters ahead of you.
But this is where Theseus next and most damning problem kicks in, after this initial good impression, it feels as if Forge Reply just ran out of ideas. After our first encounters with the Minotaur and the minor enemies, nothing really develops beyond these grand entrances. There is no other enemy types beyond the spiders and the Minotaur, and the sense of danger the giant spiders initially invoked are quickly removed once you have the ability to defend yourself with no encounter ever improving on the sense of helplessness and fear you initially felt. Equally, encounters with the minotaur never goes beyond a 3 or 4-second dash to escape the room your both inhabiting until nearer the end when you finally know what you have to do to deal with the Minotaur threat. It’s a damn shame that Forge Reply never expands on the strong precedent set by the first half an hour.
Then we have the length of the game, I completed the game in one sitting that took me roughly 2 hours or so. And that wasn’t rushing through the game either. I was taking it in my stride and even involved a few scenes I had to repeat due to deaths. But I could easily see someone being able to rush through this in probably 60-90 minutes if they tried. This isn’t a difficult game in any way and there is little punishment in death. A few poorly placed checkpoints will briefly inconvenience you if you manage to let yourself die, forcing you to go through the same sequence of wall climbs and fights until you finally trigger the next checkpoint, but all in, it’s nothing to be too concerned about. There are also, a few endings available to unlock depending on the number of collectibles you find in the game which seems to be the only real incentive to go back and replay the game.
As a VR experience, it is good. Very few games have married third person adventure games and VR so well. Using a combination of fixed camera placements around the room, like the classic resident evil games, with your neck acting as a gimbal joint allowing you to spin, pivot and even lean the camera into spots you wouldn’t have been able to see normally, to fixing the camera behind the players back for a more intimate third person experience, such as the dark tunnel mentioned above. VR offers the levels an authentic sense of depth and scope, giving the player a real sensation of being in vast open areas or being funneled through narrow, claustrophobic tunnels. Scene’s involving vast, bottomless drops are much more dramatic in VR, especially when the camera is placed high above the player and depicting a real sense of height giving the player a genuine sense of how far down the pits can go. Sometimes the camera placements feel very deliberate in trying to instill fear in the player. One particular scene, the player was wandering through dark tunnels and the camera had been placed in a hole in the wall, with the only detail to be seen was beyond the broken bricks of the wall I was behind. Nothing but blackness and emptiness behind me had me constantly looking over my shoulder, to make sure I was definitely on my own and there wasn’t a jump scare waiting to pop up.
All in, Theseus is an extremely short game that starts off strong, promising a lot but ultimately fails to live up to its strong opening. There are some great ideas here but Forge Reply, for whatever reason, fails to capitalise on them and it ultimately leaves you disappointed. And it’s a damn shame, as the use of VR compliments the game wonderfully and has left me pining for a Shadow of the Colossus/God of War type game in VR. Not only that, but Theseus also hints at the potential a good Theseus and the Minotaur game could be like if it was fully fleshed out more.