WARNING: This is a review for Wilson’s Heart. We’ve done our best to keep things spoiler-free but some very light story elements and a few gameplay surprises will be revealed.
Do you know that feeling you get when you’re standing at the end of a long, dark hallway by yourself? That constant buzz that tickles the primal parts of your brain and makes you wonder if anything is waiting at the other end?
In the back of your mind you know it’s silly to think anything might come around that corner. But for Robert Wilson those fears aren’t silly. They’re real. And they are coming straight for him.
Wilson’s Heart is the debut virtual reality game from Twisted Pixel. The studio describes the title as a “psychological thriller,” but don’t let that fool you. Wilson’s Heart is scary. And bloody. And sometimes gross.
But what it is most, is wickedly enjoyable.
In the game you take on the role of Robert Wilson, an elderly man who wakes up one stormy night inside what appears to be an abandoned insane asylum. However, as you begin to explore your surroundings you’ll quickly learn that the hospital is full of inhabitants. And most of them want you dead.
Visually, Wilson’s Heart is an absolute treasure. The black and white aesthetic was used by Twisted Pixel to evoke the familiar feelings of an old time monster movie and it creates an unforgettable atmosphere that pulls you into Robert’s horrifying world in an instant. Technically, the absence of color also allowed the studio to use larger texture sizes which makes the carefully crafted characters and environments look more striking than most fully-colored VR experiences. Everywhere your eyes go there’s something new to drink in. Just be careful, some things might be watching you back.
The only method of locomotion possible for Wilson’s Heart is node-based teleportation. Silhouettes of Robert will let you know where you can travel to and provide a hint as to what to do when you arrive. In most VR games, this would be an annoyance but in this one it feels like a smart decision.
This game is all about experiencing a specific story. Being able to walk into each and every corner of the asylum might feel more freeing, but it really wouldn’t add much to an experience built around storytelling and would have actually disrupted the constant flow of intrigue that kept us so steadily entertained as we played.
Limited locomotion doesn’t mean that there’s no exploration here, however. There’s plenty of little Easter eggs and environmental storytelling devices scattered around across the map. You may find a telephone to pick up, a newspaper to consult or a radio to switch on. All of these moments provide non-essential, but delightful moments of supplementary storytelling so be sure to check your surroundings carefully.
Your primary goal as Robert Wilson is to figure out what you’re doing in this hospital, how to escape and (perhaps most importantly) what happened to your heart? You learn fairly early in the story that you’re human heart has been replaced by a surrogate that is equal parts mystical and mechanical. This false organ will become accessible to you at key points in the game when it can be used to solve puzzles or fight enemies with a variety of different powers.
The puzzles you encounter are mostly based around progressing deeper into the bowels of the asylum. None of the puzzles are too challenging but they will require you to think and remember what resources in your environment you may need to move forward. One thing these challenges have in common is some sort of supernatural twist that get steadily more insane as the game wears on. We won’t spoil anything hear but you’re going to see and do some seriously messed up stuff if you manage to make it through to the end.
Many of these messed up things want to attack you, but thankfully Robert still packs a punch in his old age. That’s right, this game has combat and you’ll often find yourself slugging away at fiendish ghouls, blowing them away with environmental weapons or zapping them with a specific heart power.
Combat is one of Wilson’s Hearts rare weak moments. The enemies all look terrifying at first, but defeating them can feel repetitive. There’s a definite “rinse and repeat” feel to fighting in this game, which is disappointing for a title that’s so magnificently engaging in just about every other area.
One such area is the game’s audio. The sound design, music and voice acting are without question the best we’ve ever seen in a VR game. All star performances from bona-fide stars like Peter Weller, Rosario Dawson and Alfred Molina take the cinematic nature of Wilson’s Heart to a whole new level. The score is unnerving without being overbearing, and the sound effects are perfectly placed to make you check over your shoulder at just the right moments.
In the end, what makes Wilson’s Heart truly unforgettable is simply how amazing it is to experience. There’s a real story being told here and it’s being told with more technical skill and narrative charm than any other VR game to date. You’ll be thinking about this adventure long after the credits roll and the headset comes off.