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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

With a little help from Nikola Tesla, The Invisible Hours expands our idea of what a VR "game" can be

Illustration for article titled With a little help from Nikola Tesla, The Invisible Hours expands our idea of what a VR "game" can be
Screenshot: The Invisible Hours

Having recently succumbed to my ever-growing urge to join the “TV screen strapped 3 inches from my dumb face” set—which is to say, I finally broke down and bought myself a PlayStation VR—I’ve been casting around semi-desperately for a steady stream of new content to justify my ludicrous purchase. Few digital experiences have come as close to fighting that unquenchable fire as The Invisible Hours, the latest “game” from Tequila Works, the studio behind Rime and last year’s delightful time travel puzzler The Sexy Brutale. I say “game,” because The Invisible Hours is an almost entirely non-interactive experience, straight-up describing itself as a “play” in its opening minutes, and tasking players with exploring the secret-passage-filled mansion of mad-science recluse Nikola Tesla. Unlike so-called “walking simulators” like Gone Home or Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, though, Invisible Hours doesn’t ask you to put together the pieces of the story from clues left behind in a long-abandoned environment; instead, the game’s events and characters play out right in front of you, as Tesla’s various guests, lured to the island by promises of “undoing a past mistake,” try to unravel its (and each other’s) mysteries. The “game,” then, becomes working out their motivations, secrets, and ugly, unstoppable fates, rewinding and fast-forwarding time to track their movements, and slowly building an understanding of what the hell Tesla—who lies dead in his own foyer from the moment the game begins—was actually trying to do.

The Invisible Hours doesn’t have to played in VR, but it should be, because the immersion a headset offers is key to what makes it such a fascinating success. Although the writing and story—an homage to Agatha Christie, with just a bit of The Prestige thrown in for good measure—are both above-average, the game’s biggest draw is in the way it allows the player to insert themselves into its world, choosing their own angles and areas of focus; at times, playing it feels like a radical new take on what watching TV could someday be. (And if you don’t feel like playing the role of DIY cinematographer, you can always just turn on the “follow” mode, which tracks the game’s various broken-down detectives and scheming industrialists as they wander around the house.) There’s something thrilling about watching an argument play out between two characters, then spotting another sneaking off in the distance, and being able to wrest control of the camera and follow them about their own grim business instead. I’ve got my fingers crossed that this sort of virtual play won’t be a one-off experiment, but at least the one we have now is a fascinating proof that the concept itself can work.