Land’s End Review

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by VRift720

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INTRODUCTION:

      Land’s End is not so much as an “adventure” as it is an experience, and it should be listed as such in the Oculus Home Store.  It is a fun experience true, but a very short one to be sure.  The entire game fits into my idea of what “level one” of a full game would be. This experience only had five tiny levels.  If it had 20 levels, it might have been quite an accomplishment in early VR gaming.  It is still an amazing experience, but only if you try it first, before playing solid games like Dead Secret, Anshar Wars 2, or Darknet (titles that really are games and offer a decent amount of actual content for the money.)  To play this game after playing those games is slightly disappointing because you enjoy it so much that you really want more of it, but then it’s over.  That’s a flaw that’s also its greatest strength.  But the feeling that it’s too short doesn’t pester you at all because the experience is worth it. 

      Land’s End is not really a game because it does not offer much freedom to explore on your own; basically, it’s on rails, and there is only one actual choice in the whole game, on level 4: whether to go up or go left, that’s it.  Until then, you go where it wants you to go and do everything in order.  Not that this is bad per se; I’m just defending my position that it’s not really an “adventure” or “game” as UsTwo’s Website description (provided above) portrays it to be. The word “adventure” should be saved for games like Herobound 2 which actually IS an adventure, taking 22-30 hours to complete. Land’s End, by comparison, is easily completed in just 30 to 60 MINUTES

      The designers also spent a lot of their research time when creating this piece ensuring that motion sickness wouldn’t occur. Their whole philosophy for this title was based on that premise.  I found the experience’s motion did have a small impact on me, but I repeat: small. I did not get sick, but I did notice it a little.  But only after 45 minutes of play, long into the experience.

      One cool thing that Land’s End does have going for it is that it has a really great in-game-cinematic ending that’s worth seeing.  Most games in these early days of VR don’t have those famous Xbox-type endings that show an in-game cinematic or some kind of cool video to finish off the story you just spent 20-40 hours of your life completing. So Land’s End might just be the first experience to offer a real ending. It’s short but it’s great. Even Dead Secret’s ending was quite unsavory, leaving you high and dry and wanting more. They left you without any kind of cinematic visual explaining what happened in the murder, so you could not feel you understood what happened at all, very upsetting. But Land’s End doesn’t leave you hanging; the last visuals are quite dazzling.

      You will look around and enjoy the visuals first, because they are soothing and meditative and pretty great.  Then you find the triangle in each location and use your head to connect the dots to the small power sphere that creates a conduit for electricity to flow. When this is done, things in the environment change and re-arrange and adjust, creating some interesting surprises in the later levels. What looked like a tiny level can suddenly become a giant crater, or what looked like a small snowy plateau can become a monstrous hole diving deep underground. As you move about, the experience highlights your movement with odd sound effects and musical tones that serve to heighten your trance-like state. This game is all about receiving Zen and getting your mellow on. Even the act of connecting the dots adds to your sense of etherealness and meditativeness.

      There isn’t much choice in the game play itself, and the challenges are too easy except for two that were real stumpers.  But even these didn’t last for very long.  That’s because the harder challenges have clues built into them to let you know you’re on the right track. Even a mistake can suddenly cause the clues to enlighten you and allow you to progress forward.  There’s nothing here meant to seriously challenge you or harsh your mellow in any way.  The flimsiest of challenges are there just to give you something to do while you take in the experience. From that perspective, you won’t feel quite as upset about the money you spent, especially if you’ve already read this article and went ahead and purchased this anyways.  You know what you are in for right from the start, hahaha.

      One thing I didn’t like is if you accidentally activate a movement icon, you’re stuck going all the way to the destination point and then having to come back. It’s like 2 minutes round trip in some cases. It can be quite frustrating because nobody likes to be taken somewhere against their will, it literally feels like a kidnapping when this occurs.

      I think they (the Devs) could just as easily give you an out by letting you shake your head inside the first 5 seconds to opt out.  Then the game could easily flip you back around and return you to where you just were.  It would be so easy, because the first thing you do automatically when this accident happens is shake your head “no” without even thinking. So if they were reading for that body language, they could just flip you around and return you without making you suffer the flight to the target point and back.  It does happen quite a bit because the look-time-on-point for activation is quite low, so you can get sent accidentally off to the distant point, however much you might want to stay.  This is really upsetting and could be remedied with a little “head shake” action right after it happens.

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GRAPHICS:

      Both the graphics and sound are there to serve the trance-like nature of this experience.  The graphical and musical styles both come from a first-version of their first award-winning game Monument Valley, but in stereoscopic 3D this time as homage to VR’s sense of Presence.  To facilitate that, the game designers combined whimsical fireflies made of tiny balls of light that serve both to illuminate the darkness in gloomy places as well as create more 3D depth in the space around you.  Without those fireflies, there would be times when there is not enough 3D depth to the world because so much of the scenery is far away from where you’re standing.  Other times, you can be poised dangerously on the edge of a cliff with an amazing view of an undulating sea below.  The designers took extra efforts to add the 3D sense back into the experience whenever the distance from nearby objects threatened to remove that feeling.  For that reason, this title has true 3D depth syncopating through it.

      There are caves and snowy bluffs, misty valleys, and deep places.  There are also vast oceans and wind-swept sand dunes: that’s a lot of variety for one small experience.  One particular thing I liked about the graphics is that all the textures have some kind of speckled effect built into them up close.  This makes the textures pop out and are almost too detailed to be any real texture given how close you can get; therefore, I believe they are procedural textures (graphics composed by math) that give all the sand and stone a kind of crystalized feeling that is so wonderful up close. Other games can’t compare their textures to this kind of amazing procedural texturing that really serves to add an HD quality to the visuals when in seen under a microscope. While other titles get worse looking the closer you get to their graphic walls, Land’s End’s visuals only get more detailed and crisp the closer you get. Really nice work on this, guys!

      I appreciate seeing human intelligence at work. More GearVR texturing should be procedurally-generated textures (at least at the texture level, not necessarily the geometry level) because then everything could look crisp and detailed no matter how close you get.  In these early days of bad resolutions, every trick is needed to sell these illusions. And Land’s End offers a real solution here for these early days of VR.

 

MUSIC/SOUND:

      The music is incredibly immersion building.  Not because it’s wild or action packed or anything, precisely the opposite.  It is serene.  It is also gently layered.  Each track is quite sparse upon entering the level, but as you begin solving challenges which change the landscape, the track receives additional layers over top the pre-existing track. So the experience becomes more engaging as you progress.  I was really feeling tranced-out by the music, which is well aided by sound effects that blend seamlessly with the graphics to create a mood much like Monument Valley once did as a tiny game in my hand.  That phone-game’s power lied in its music, because the visuals were too small to really enjoy. But in VR, the worlds are all around you, so the music needs to be too.  Todd Baker is the music & sound effects designer for Land’s End. They both really did need to done by one person here because of the angle they were taking of making all the sound effects serve the ambiance of the experience.  Todd is very talented and deserves a lot of credit here.

      I was also amazed (and delighted to report) that the audio effects in Land’s End are positional!  The waterfall really is where you see it, and hear it, to be.  The sound matches your spatial orientation.  Turn to the left, the waterfall is on your right and you’ll hear it roaring in your right ear more than in your left.  This is something of a special case because thus far, many titles are not yet incorporating spatial audio.  Land’s End does a fine job of showing off its coolness as positional audio really adds to immersion.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

        Land’s End is a stunning experience that I won’t soon forget.  Something like this makes owning the GearVR worth it all by itself, not to mention a lot of other great stuff.  This is the only title I’ve seen so far that has a really great ending that the developers obviously put a lot of time into.  It has stylish music, ethereal vistas, and is something you can complete in one sitting before dinner.

      Even the end credits are fun to enjoy; you wouldn’t dare quit this part either, until you have to.  The music trails off over a minute and slowly becomes wild-life noises at the edge of a vast ocean.  You hear the sea beckoning you, roaring way off, the birds far away with it.  The sounds are so haunting and moody; you feel it all completely. The night-time-Credits scene captivates you and won’t let you go. You don’t want to leave, but you find you must.  The review you are supposed to be writing awaits…


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*The Final Score here really depends on how you interpret this title.  If you consider it a game, as OZWE‘s own introduction claims, then my score would be 7/10 due to low game-play factors and not having enough variety as a “game.”  Plus the level of challenge for a “game” is too low, too easy, and the challenges are simple.  But if you deem this an “experience” as I do, then the score would be 8.5/10 because as an experience, no game play elements are needed, and are in fact only a bonus to the overall experience motif.  The game’s AUDIO is it’s most exciting factor over all, since it blends positional audio with interactive music and dynamic sound effects that titillate your ears at every turn (pun intended).


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