The makers of The Exorcist: Legion VR have brought their other hit VR horror title: A Chair in a Room: Greenwater, to PSVR, 3 years after its initial release on the HTC Vive. Even as a horror enthusiast, Wolf & Wood have created another strong outing that had me engaged and horrified from the moment I saw the creepy main menu.
The game has an extremely strong opening where you are undergoing some mini memory exams in a mental institution known as Greenwater, with no clue as to who you are or why you’re here. It’s interesting but it’s also really uncomfortable in a way that a strong horror game should be. You can’t help but feel a deep sense of isolation, as there is always a wall between you and whoever is talking to and observing you, making you feel like you’re always alone and possibly dangerous. This sets up an intriguing horror title that only gets better as you play.
The plot progresses with a series of flashback-type situations that aren’t clearly connected. I’m not certain but I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt that this is an extremely clever design choice by developers, Wolf & Wood, to mirror your character’s scattered and questionable memory. To move on you must solve some simple (in answer) but obscure (in execution) puzzles, by moving objects in the environment around and seeing what goes where. What makes the game the most interesting though is how the environment is used to tell the intricate details of the story in a masterful way.
The game even utilises the environment to explain to you how to play the game, with mental health propaganda posters including diagrams that blend in with the asylum, showing you how to move around the various rooms and interact with all the objects. The environment also houses lots of little nods to what is going on in your character’s life.
There are many games where collectables add weight to the story but few do so as well as A Chair in a Room: Greenwater. You’ll find yourself opening: drawers, doors, wardrobes and even safes, scouring for clues and tools to progress. In the midst of this, you will find many clues as to not only how to progress, but also to all of the events that have led you to be institutionalised. I had a blast flicking through books, postcards and posters, finding any piece of information I could about what was going on; it was very fun to piece it together and fill in the blanks between what is overtly explained to you throughout the 3-4 hour campaign.
On the other hand, while it is fun seeking out clues to the story, it can be extremely frustrating having no idea which exact random item you need to interact with and how to interact with it. The only help you get from the game is that you can look at the back of your hand to ask yourself a question that informs you of an objective, which still doesn’t really help you figure out the puzzle.
The saving grace though is that when you do figure out a particular puzzle, there is an obvious and satisfying sound cue that triggers to let you know you’ve made progress.
From a technical standpoint, I think A Chair in a Room: Greenwater is generally very strong. There were quite a few physics-based issues where object collisions would send important clues flying away and sometimes even getting stuck inside floors and walls. However, thankfully there is a mechanic where important items return to their original positions, should this happen. There were also some problems with reaching things on the floor, even with the crouch option coupled with the move controllers. Reaching around aimlessly for minutes at a time trying to scrape a random item off the floor definitely brought a halt to the suspension of disbelief. I don’t fully blame the developers here though because they are of course limited by the PSVR headset and its immovable style because of the use of the PlayStation camera.
Visually, I think the game looks amazing for a PSVR game. PlayStation VR is known to have considerably lower resolution than it’s competitors and ‘Flat’ games, plus there is an obvious distance between this and say Resident Evil 7, yet the game looks fantastic as its eerie setting is horrifying to live inside. The lighting especially is terrifically haunting. There are so many dark corners that you’re forced to look into with sometimes nothing but a lighter and it can be very difficult to build the courage to enter that area, as you wonder what is lurking in the secrets of the rooms.
The game utilises PSVR masterfully, allowing you to experience the game in whichever comfort settings you prefer, including with Move controller or the DualShock 4, teleport or fluid movement; whatever you’re comfortable with you can adapt the game to suit you, which is a brilliant way of stopping it from feeling overwhelming. The tiny studio of Wolf & Wood deserves massive credit for being determined to make beginner and veteran VR players all feel comfortable.
The feeling of being inside those enclosed, inescapable rooms is extremely discomforting and I genuinely had to “nope” out of the headset a few times when things got intense. The audio plays a massive part in this and I would say this has some of the best audio in a horror game that I’ve ever played. With the 3D audio of the PSVR headset, the whispers, bangs and music gave me endless goosebumps. In particular, the middle sections of the game turn the horror up to 11 and I was questioning whether I could even continue – but I persevered because I had to know what was going on.
The sounds play into the unstable mental health your character seems to have and the voices you hear have you questioning your sanity – is it your mind or is there genuinely something behind you? There are some truly terrifying sounds in this game that made me freeze a few times to ask “no seriously, what the F%@ is that?” All of these factors contribute to some top-notch horror moments, which you are forced into experiencing. This is a great decision because there is nothing more frustrating when you want a game to be scary only for you to miss what was supposed to be spooking you. Even if you try your best to look away while you play, events do not trigger until the game detects you looking directly where you need to, which makes moving forward exceptionally terrifying.
Overall, this is a genuinely horrifying but encapsulating game. I’ve never wanted to push through a game that I simultaneously wanted to wimp out of at the same time, but that’s what is so brilliant about A Chair in a Room: Greenwater. I had this overwhelmingly tense sensation where I was almost paralysed in certain parts because of the atmosphere the developers have created in these little rooms. But, just as you are within the asylum, I felt trapped into seeing how the story was going to progress. While the story isn’t the most amazing you’ll experience in a horror game, it’s a satisfying enough ending that makes it feel worth persevering with in order to get there.
The technical issues do plague the game somewhat of feeling fully immersive, and the puzzles can take a frustratingly long time because they aren’t very clear. Otherwise, the game feels fantastic to play and I enjoyed every second that I had exploring these mini-environments. Wolf & Wood have raised the bar for VR horror titles and from now on I will be comparing all future games in this genre to A Chair in a Room: Greenwater and The Exorcist: Legion VR.
A Chair in a Room: Greenwater largely delivers on what you would hope for from a Virtual Reality horror title. The story is short and engaging enough to be played in one very tense sitting and delivers some fantastic moments of terror. The puzzles can be testing but if you have the intention to inspect every dark corner of each set-piece, then you should stumble upon the answer eventually. It’s worth all those moments of frustration just for the satisfying final few areas.
It’s not the best horror game you’re likely to play but it is definitely an experience I won’t ever forget.