Fast Travel Games arrived on the virtual reality (VR) scene in 2018 with its impressive sci-fi bow shooter Apex Construct, and while its been involved in other VR projects since then, what comes next is very different. Delving into the horror genre for the first time – one that VRFocus is always fond of (very scared by) – the team opens up the World of Darkness universe for players with Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife. Part ghost story, part murder mystery, what you have here are the thrills and frustrations of a deeply atmospheric experience.
If you’re not into tabletop role-playing games then you might not have heard of World of Darkness, a supernatural world full of vampires, werewolves, and where Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife is concerned; ghosts, spectres and whatever else doesn’t manage to pass on. This is a videogame that likes to keep the tension taught but without too many jump scares where you’ll just want to whip the headset off and say ‘no f**k that!’
The story is set in the Barclay Mansion, a huge sprawling complex owned by Hollywood mogul Howard Barclay. Barclay is dying, so naturally being the extremely wealthy man he is calls a few people together for a séance. Playing as Ed Millar, a photographer hired to cover the event who brought his girlfriend along, something major goes wrong and you all end up dead. Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife starts off heavy and doesn’t let up when it comes to the narrative, offering what’s essentially a crime caper where you have to find out what happened so you can hopefully escape this purgatory.
So you’re presented with this impressive-looking building – and it is, with very bleak, minimalistic architecture which is haunting in itself – yet you’re introduced to this world in baby steps. Most of the doors are locked, with a white padlock appearing when you get close so you don’t lose your way and get completely lost. Which you easily could because there’s no map to reference once you’re deep into the campaign, you have to remember the layout and be careful where you tread; this is horror after all.
As a wraith you’re provided with several supernatural perks, you can grab things from a distance – using a wrist flick reminiscent of Half-Life: Alyx – sense nearby objects (Sharpened Senses), and best of all walk through walls. Sharpened Senses will also help should you ever really get stuck, providing an ominous heartbeat towards the next objective. All very useful considering that even as a wraith, you’re completely defenseless against the Spectres. These are malevolent spirits that only appear in certain parts of the house and are where all of the scares come from, very nasty creatures that can kill you with a couple of swipes.
This means Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife is about being sneaky, staying low, and being quiet (they generally react to sound). Before you even meet the first one you’ll be on edge, Fast Travel Games has done an excellent job with the atmosphere and audio. On the Oculus Quest 2, the sound is a bit rubbish out of the standard speakers so decent headphones are highly recommended. Not only will some decent cans allow you to hear all the little floorboard creaks and faint whispers, but you’ll also hear the Spectres too and where they’re located.
A fair bit of time is spent hiding behind sofas, in cupboards, basically anywhere you can block the line of sight. Otherwise, they’re fast and you’re effectively done for. Sound can be used to your advantage though, grabbing a book or wine bottle to create a distraction. Because the one thing you need to be in Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife is patient, rushing won’t help, creating frustration instead.
There are only three Spectres used throughout the campaign, each one has its particular quirks like the one with broken limbs that knocks out most of the lights so you have to use your Relic Flash to light the way. When she appears out of the darkness even the hardiest of players may need to compose themselves. But there is a really tall Spectre who wanders around adding more annoyance rather than fear to the experience. There a clever sequence where you have to use Barklay’s dictaphone to open safes, so of course that attracts said ghost…and death. Most of Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife has a nice flow to it, balancing horror and gameplay yet this sequence dissolved the atmosphere.
It also highlighted an important mechanic, saving. Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife has manual save points littered around the house – they’re not always available depending on where you are in the story – a bit of an old school feature it must be said. However, they do serve a couple of other purposes. As mentioned, Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife comes with a rich narrative, some of which is played out in black and white offering a visual split between the past and present whilst the rest you have to find by locating letters and newspapers littered around the mansion as well as using Millar’s camera on glowing memories. These provide further backstory and once picked up are stored in the Memory Palace, accessed via each save location. It’s these items that will provide longevity, encouraging you to step back in. Otherwise, once the campaign is done it’s done.
Spectres aside, you’re not completely alone in the Barclay Mansion, you always have your friend; The Shadow. A manifestation of your dark subconscious, The Shadow provides most of the narration and some of the most twisted elements in Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife. He’ll point you in the right direction and drop the odd hint between the times he’s not completely evil. The Shadow adds a lot of character to the experience, filling those gaps in between where you’re just wandering around (you’ll do a fair amount of backtracking). Like a good comic book villain he has that love him, hate him quality.
Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife may dole out the tension and unease in spades but it still wants you to be comfortable. There are plenty of settings to ensure your wander around the mansion is purely creepy rather than uncomfortable. Play seated or standing, add vignettes for locomotion and turning, even choose to have arms or just hands if you want to. There’s also a pseudo teleport mode called Projected Avatar which moves an icon on the floor that you jump to.
For those that love slow and tense survival horror Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife certainly delivers. While it’s not completely plain sailing as the Oculus Quest 2 did at points look to struggle a little with objects occasionally popping up out of nowhere, the atmosphere and tension the whole experience creates make this a worthy horror title. Coming in at around eight hours of nail-biting content, Wraith: The Oblivion – Afterlife does the World of Darkness proud.