Cloudhead Games’ The Gallery has been a highlight of the virtual reality (VR) videogames scene since the launch of its Kickstarter campaign back in March 2013. Then known as The Gallery: Six Elements, the videogame has gone through many changes over the past three years and arrives on HTC Vive as an episodic experience. The first episode, Call of the Starseed, is a taste of what is to come over the subsequent three parts, and it does very well to set the scene for the player.
Designed as an entry experience for VR – as many titles of this earliest stage of the medium are – The Gallery: Episode 1 – Call of the Starseed first introduces the player to the HTC Vive’s roomscale, grabbing objects and the ‘blink’ teleportation mechanic. The latter is a simple technique for traversing distances that is being used in numerous VR titles: simply aligning your thumb on the HTC Vive motion-controller touchpad will bring up an icon signifying your destination which is moved in alignment with your head, releasing the touchpad will fade to black and fade up with the player in that position.
Once the basics have been established The Gallery: Episode 1 – Call of the Starseed throws you into it’s world. A dark and gloomy beach offers the fascination that VR aficionados lived through over two years ago, yet newcomers will undoubtedly marvel at. The ability to pick up and visually analyse objects is an asset on which Cloudhead Games has not skimped. Tins, bottles, fireworks, chairs, popcorn, shells and more litter the environment with no real purpose, and yet they’re all present for the player to idly waste their time in wonder of the new medium. It’s a design afforded to newcomers but the visual fidelity of The Gallery will also encourage experienced VR users to interact, if with much greater brevity.
The core gameplay of The Gallery: Episode 1 – Call of the Starseed does revolve around object interaction, but there are very few of those available that have any place in the player’s objectives. Cassette tapes tell the story of your missing sister and offer clues about how to progress, notes will inform the player of dangers ahead, torches and lanterns can light the way and other objects can be used for essential puzzle solving. That may sound like a lot of things to carry, but the player is equipped with a backpack accessed by simply placing the motion-controller behind your back, pressing the trigger and pulling it over your shoulder. Only essential items can be stored in the backpack, so the player need not worry about filling their inventory with shells and tins of baked beans.
The opening section of The Gallery: Episode 1 – Call of the Starseed is far from taxing; simply an exploration piece over anything mentally or physically challenging. However, approximately halfway through the developers seem to decide that the player is now ready for the videogame to begin, and suddenly there’s a roadblock. It’s obvious where the player should go – The Gallery: Episode 1 – Call of the Starseed is very well signposted – but seemingly immovable objects block their path. This is where the logical puzzle challenges come into play. Hidden clues around the area and the objects collected thus far will always hold the key to progress, but the player is suddenly left to fend for themselves. Thereon, things become significantly more interesting.
The Gallery: Episode 1 – Call of the Starseed is a short and sweet introduction to The Gallery, offering the player a taste of the interaction that the subsequent episodes will hopefully deliver. It’s unlikely that many will find themselves engaging with this first episode for more than a couple of hours, but the hints at the evolving storyline and mechanics will certainly leave them wanting more. The hope would be that Cloudhead Games can expand upon this intriguing first episode and deepen the core puzzling gameplay opposed to simply relying on the wonder of exploration that VR can offer, and with any luck it won’t be too long until the second episode will be available for us to find out.