There’s a moment in Neverout in which you drop into the title’s central hub for the first time. It comes after around 20 levels of excellent puzzling action that plays on your understanding of gravity and comfort with heights, yet remains impressively comfortable itself. For a moment, you can’t help feel a pang of disappointment, as you assume that means the ride’s over. This is a Gear VR title, after all, and even the best experiences offer a meagre amount of content. But then you take a look around a notice that there another four portals filled with levels to complete.
Not only does Neverout have a mechanic so engaging it makes it one of Gear VR’s best titles, it’s also one of the rare videogames on the platform to have enough content to keep you busy for a few hours. For this, developer SETAPP should be applauded.
Neverout promises much from the moment you’re introduced to its first-person gameplay. A distant scream brings you to life, though it doesn’t appear to be much of one. Your surroundings are a grimy, basic room, with four walls and a ceiling that are all identical in dimensions and divided into squares that resemble a grid-based system. It reminds you of Psytec Games’ Crystal Rift in this sense, the key difference being that you’ll quickly find you can walk on any surface.
Tapping the Gear VR’s on-board touchpad moves you forward one square. When pressed against a wall, crate, or fence, you’ll move onto that surface instead. The room then shifts around you, making the area you stepped onto the floor, with the gravity switching accordingly. With this mechanic in place, you’ll have to locate the exit to every room – occupying one square itself – and then find the best way to get to it.
Usually, this involves managing to position yourself above the exit, perhaps by manipulating crates with the shifting gravity or negotiating your way across a path in which one wrong step could send you towards the floor. If this all sounds a little overwhelming to you in terms of comfort, then rest assured that Neverout is as comfortable as a VR videogame about altering gravity and falling through the air could possibly be. The grid-based movement system lets you set the pace, and you’ll be able to prepare yourself for a shift every time you move to a new surface. When standing yourself, falling towards the ground can be a dizzying experience, and it’s certainly not something that should be used for a first-time VR title, but anyone that knows their way around the Gear VR should be fine here.
Neverout’s presentation also does its best to keep you happy. There’s no HUD to speak off, and the simple aesthetics of each room allow for extra processing power to be spent on crisp textures. A particularly nice touch is the presence of dust particles, which are often exaggerated in traditional videogames to convey detail, but here invite you to stare in wonder as they hang in front of your face. It wouldn’t win any awards for art direction, but this is a clean package that ensures nothing gets in the way of the player and the first-person puzzles that await.
It’s somewhat unavoidable, then, that this invokes what remains the hallmark of the genre, Portal. Fortunately, Neverout does this in all the best ways. Solving a puzzle delivers a very similar sense of satisfaction because each task is about reaching a destination rather than making something work, giving you a very real sense of progression. Each time you drop into a new room there’s a genuine enthusiasm to explore what it’s got in store for you.
Puzzles slowly bring in new elements such as spike pits, panels that lock crates in place, teleporters, and even electrical fields. The campaign throws a good amount of ideas at you, but it’s fair to say that they’re rarely especially challenging. That’s not necessarily such a bad thing, as this could easily turn into a headache-inducing slog, though once you have the basics down you’ll be able to tear through many challenges in seconds. A precious few will genuinely stump you, but overall it’s short of those ‘Eureka!’ moments in which you figure out something that’s been staring you in the face all along.
Perhaps the most ingenious aspect of Neverout, though, is how it forces you to revaluate your plans as you act them out, even if you have them right the first time. That is to say that you can work out exactly what you’re meant to do before twisting the room around, but the moment you do that you’ll have to gather your bearings once more and think through the next step carefully. In this way, it requires concentration throughout and is sure to satisfy those that love to get lost in puzzles.
Gear VR is in no short supply of fresh content, but fans looking for an experience that stands up to last year’s big releases have been feeling a little left out recently. Neverout is a worthy answer to their call, with a great central hook that fuels a ton of engaging puzzles. It’s an easy recommendation for any puzzle fan looking to get into VR.