Tethered has restored our faith in VR

This week we attended EGX in Birmingham UK. Whilst we were treated to appearances from the likes of Titanfall 2, Horizon: New Dawn and Destiny: Rise Of Iron, VR was very much the showpiece of the conference. With the PS4’s PSVR launch only a few weeks away it was understandable that as many developers as possible wanted to get their VR game in front of consumers.

On show were a wealth of VR titles, from AAA titles to small indie offerings but each game made one thing alarmingly apparent, VR seemed to be nothing more than a tech demo, a one level example, a potential cash grab fad.

Until we saw Tethered.

I felt for the developers of Tethered who spent a lot of time chatting to us about the game while we waited for our turn, as it was hard for them to put into words exactly what Tethered is, and now we are facing the same issue, but here goes nothing.

Tethered is, in essence, a god sim. You as the player are omnipotent and you look down upon carefully crafted and initially barren islands which float in beautiful skyboxes. The objective of the game is to amass spirit energy to restore life and harmony to these islands. You do so with the help of Peeps, small cute creatures which can be assigned tasks. A few of these tasks include mining, farming, building and fighting. To aid your Peeps you can “tether” them to various objects including Totem poles which allow you to alter their class, clouds which offer bonuses such as wind power or the sun which offers firepower. You can also tether clouds or other environmental phenomena to the island, sun and water will help crops grow for example. Occasionally Peeps will grow despondent if they don’t have much to do, tethering a rain cloud with the sun will produce a rainbow which will cheer up your suicidal Peep so you can get him back to work.

It all is quite beautiful as you set up your island environment and the barren land soon becomes a beautiful play area full of resource management and fun things to do. When darkness falls, however, the game takes on a new twist. Evil creatures will slowly begin to crawl from beneath the island and wreak havoc on your utopia, sabotaging resources and attacking your Peeps. With some well-timed strategy, you can minimise the damage with some well-placed hero Peeps who will do their best to keep your island alive until morning.

So how does it lend itself to a VR title? Watching people play as we waited our turn we weren’t exactly blown away by what we saw on the screen, but when putting on the PSVR headset we were captivated. The game is just stunning and within seconds we were lost in the fantasy world that Tethered offers. Your vision acts like a mouse cursor and only one button on the PS4 controller is needed. Simply look at what you want to do and hit X and you’re golden. The tethering is done by looking at an object, holding X and then looking at another object. It doesn’t sound very enthralling but it has to be tried to be believed. It has a very visceral feel to it. The standing point of your character is fixed and talking to the developers they said that they wanted to restrict movement in order to offer the best possible experience, but don’t let that put you off, Tethered works wonderfully. From where you’re looking you can see everything you need to and it feels just right, need to switch angle? Simply look at another cloud and you’re teleported to it, whereby you can see your island from a whole new perspective which can reveal hidden items and resources. The headset also picked up leaning, we didn’t realise that there was a stack of gold to be mined until we leant forward to peak over a wall in our way.

The game also makes great use of the 3D audio option. With some clever audio design, the music and sound effects are dynamic and each piece of sound has been recorded multiple times in different keys so it can adapt to what you’re doing on the fly. It’s subtle and although it doesn’t add a huge amount to the gameplay it just goes to show how much care and attention has been put into this game.

The great thing about Tethered is that it takes the tech demo feel of so many VR titles we’ve seen and throws it out of the window. We only got 10 minutes to try out the tutorial level but we could have sat there for hours. There was so much to do and experience and even when we weren’t actively engaging with our island, we were happy just being in the world that had been created.

We were told that Tethered may be a launch title for PSVR but it was still undecided. Either way, we’ll be picking it up as soon as it hits the store. Batman, Battlefront and Driveclub VR may come out as a show-off piece for friends now and again but Tethered is definitely a VR game you’ll stick around with.