STAFF REVIEW of Transference (Xbox One)

Tuesday, October 30, 2018.
by Chad Goodmurphy

Transference Box art It came as a surprise when, in 2017, actor Elijah Wood joined Ubisoft on stage at E3. He was there to announce and, of course promote, a new game. That game was Transference. It was created as a joint VR-focused venture between the publishing giant and Elijah’s own company, SpectreVision, which makes its headquarters in sunny Los Angeles, California.

Instead of offering a lot of details and showing tons of gameplay, SpectreVision decided to keep its cards close to its chest, and went with a cryptic marketing tactic. At that E3, and the one that followed, they showed just enough to get us interested, without giving too much away. The idea was to make everyone wonder what the hell Transference was and, in this case, it worked. I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t been wanting to play this game since the day it was announced.

Developed with PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive in mind, Transference is a visceral horror game that is told from a first-person perspective. Part walking sim, part spook-show, and part light puzzle game, it’s a dark and disturbing affair.

Things begin across the road from a darkened city block, which is outlined by grid lines. As players make their way across, they’ll see a music store and the door to an apartment building, which requires a key that you have to find. Both locations are important to the story because, while everything takes place inside and on the perimeter of one particular apartment, the family who lived there also owned the music store. In fact, the mother was a talented musician with love for both creating and performing.

Make no mistake though, Transference is a dark story, and the family in question is far from perfect. Their domestic and personal issues are on full display here, and that includes the mother’s depression, the father’s obsession with his work and the son’s feelings of being left out. There’s also a family dog who’s gone missing, and whose image appears on flyers outside the building.

Over the course of about two hours, players will find themselves trapped within a domestic nightmare, albeit one with more to it than most. Saying much more would potentially spoil what is a narrative heavy experience, but it must be said that the father’s work is not of normal variety. He happens to be some sort of doctor and inventor, who could best be described as a mad scientist. He has also been hard at work on something both new and creepy, which involves themes of reading and digitizing human memories and consciousness. Thus, one can expect themes of life, death, philosophy and mental illness.

As mentioned, the gameplay found in Transference is quite basic. You walk, or crouch, and can pick things up to further investigate them or use them for solving basic puzzles. One may involve placing letters in the correct order, while others involve tuning radios, adjusting clocks and playing the piano in a specific way.

All the while, you’ll be exploring this family’s Boston-based apartment and encroaching on all of their darkest secrets. Taking the initiative to search every nook and cranny will also reveal further details of the family, via audio logs, notes, phone messages, and video diaries.

Yes, there are videos to watch, and like the introduction at the start of the game, they incorporate real-life actors who give pretty good performances. You won’t see them all though, unless you really scour the environment. I did my best, but I came up short and missed several of them.

What makes the searching more difficult is the fact that Transference basically consists of two different planes of existence. In one, the place is relatively normal with the white lighting that you’d normally associate with an indoor environment, meanwhile, the other – the alternate dimension, if you will – has a reddish tint to it and is a lot darker. It’s here where some sort of metaphorical monster lives, and you’ll not only see it but you will also see the family's child's drawings of it. There are actually quite a few disturbing drawings, words, and messages to see throughout this short experience.

In order to complete Transference, one must hop between these planes, the real world and the digitized world. Puzzles involve managing both of the planes, and so does exploration. The story move back and forth through both, plus, as one might expect, the apartment changes as things progress, and can be different in each plane.

There may not be a whole lot to Transference, in terms of gameplay or length, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth playing or isn’t good. It has a lot of atmosphere, and it kept me pretty interested from start to finish. Yes, a couple segments got tedious, as did the character’s slow walking speed, but that happens in this type of game. There’s also an expected amount of repetition despite the short length, but then again, I may have explored more than most would.

Of course, almost all of the aforementioned atmosphere is conveyed through sound and imagery. The creepy sights, noises, and spoken words of Transference do a good job of disturbing the player. I found myself even jumping once when, upon entering the kitchen after doing something else, the child appeared and asked me where his "f***ing dog" was. That wasn’t the only time I saw someone, or something, though.

For the most part, the sound here is top notch, and the visuals are also decent. This game won’t win any awards for its graphics, but they definitely do the job and are decent overall. The lighting makes it so that lots of detail isn’t always needed, but the development team still went above the call of duty in that regard, as the apartment feels quite detailed and realistic. That is, when you ignore all of the audio/video and scientific equipment in both it and its garage.

Speaking of which, why, out of at least 6-10 apartments, does this family have full ownership of the building’s backyard and its garage? The former is where the family vehicle is parked and the child’s playhouse is located, and the latter is one of the father’s home labs.

Transference is an interesting, haunting and disturbing game that is short but spooky. The themes that it evokes can be somewhat confusing, because there’s not a lot of explanation there, but they are disturbing and innovative nonetheless. If you are looking for something scary to play this Halloween, SpectreVision has a pretty solid, albeit somewhat overpriced, option for you in Transference. You don’t need VR to play it either, because it’s still pretty good without.

Overall: 7.0 / 10
Gameplay: 6.6 / 10
Visuals: 7.3 / 10
Sound: 7.5 / 10


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