A GEAR VR EXCLUSIVE REVIEW
On the developer’s, Llŷr ap Cenydd‘s, own webpage it describes this app as such:
“Ocean Rift is a Virtual Reality experience that immerses you in a vivid underwater world. Inside Ocean Rift you will find habitats full of wildlife, including dolphins, tropical fish, turtles, sea snakes, rays, sharks, whales, and even extinct prehistoric reptiles!”
He doesn’t have a lot to say about his wondrous creation, so GearVR News has decided to say it for him. And let’s start with a Grand Slam right off Home Plate: Ocean Rift might just be the most perfect experience currently available for the GearVR to date.
It’s got something cute and cuddly for the kids and something terrifying for the thrill seekers. Its got bright airy locations, neon jellyfish, and deep, murky locations where it feels like no sunlight has ever reached. It has also has organic life-like model animations running at 60FPS without exception. The graphics are some of the most vivid and detailed yet available for a mobile HMD, with procedural texturing used to animate an incredible volumetric-light sub-scattering effect which is dappled over the skin of the animals. The top layer (at the ocean surface) ripples and undulates convincingly, with light rays everywhere. Fog is used to add moody atmosphere to the lower areas, of which there are 12 total, ranging from 100 meters up to 1 kilometer in size. Dinosaur monsters roam the larger exhibits, but the tiny morsel you are, you have to find them and that’s a scary proposition because death can sample you from literally any angle. Its unnerving to be so exposed in the open ocean with 360 degrees of terrain to scan for dangers. Welcome to the life of fish. It’s really hard on you, psychologically, constantly scanning every angle; in fact, you may start to panic a bit. Some of those deep-sea titans will eat you before you’ve even had a chance to even see them. But then again … maybe you won’t want to?
EXTENDED DEVELOPMENT TIME:
The app has been out since the early days of GearVR when Note 4 was the it thing, so this could almost be considered a Retro Review; however, the enormous amount of time and energy the developer has continued to pour into the title since the first CE1 Public Release guarantees that it hasn’t lost its touch. But all that time refining this app paid off, in making what’s probably the most polished thing running on the GearVR thus far. As the world’s first virtual underwater safari park, you can swim in a variety of locations to admire the dense tropical beauty you find there.
The developer Llŷr ap Cenydd often posts openly about his game on Reddit. In one post, he had this to say about his creation:
“Ocean Rift took 2 years to develop and features a novel procedural-animation system created specifically for the project. The conceptual idea was to organically simulate close encounters with creatures in VR, and that required a lot of R&D. Also, most of the creatures in the full version are mammals and prehistoric reptiles. I had a choice a year ago to either release a big free demo for the Innovator Edition launch, or wait a year for the Consumer Edition. I chose the former, partly to give people something to play with on day one of (Note 4 Innovator Edition’s) launch. Hopefully, you will like what I’ve made here!”
Indeed we do! Reddit is full of loyal fans and supporters of this app and the especially man himself. Some people don’t care for sea exploration one bit, but still bought the app merely to ensure that development of VR titles at this quality scale continues. I agree. Please reward diligence of this kind with all the support we can muster! It gives the rest of the VR community something to strive toward and sets the bar high.
In the newly-added and larger environments, things gets deep and dark and you can’t see 20 feet in front of your face, which makes moving around a horrifying experience. I showed this app to some Chinese people where I live and after 10 minutes in those dinosaur habitats, they tore the mask off and they … were … DONE. Nothing would get them to put the mask back on. I also became sick to my stomach once, but not from VR motion sickness. I got sick from plain old adrenaline and fear! This happened after an hour of swimming around in the largest dinosaur’s lair waiting for it to show up and eat me. Which it actually did, too! I never saw it coming! The reason for the fear is the amazing sound effects for the Mosasaurs and Megalodons. They are without a doubt the scariest roars I’ve heard in any game before. They are so authentic sounding, you’ll wonder if the developer didn’t just go back in time to record them for real.
This is not a game but an exploration of the sea. You could choose to sit in one place and watch the fish, dolphins, manatees, sharks, whales, killer whales, etc, all wander by you … or you can pick up a controller, take charge, and swim off into the unknown! You currently have no avatar (presumably to keep the FPS higher) but for future versions, I hope an avatar will be added in when it can be. I think part of the fun of swimming around in the Ocean would be seeing your flippers, your hands, and scuba mask sometimes filling up with water and needing to get blown out. It would also be endearing to see your hand stroking the soft underside of a dolphin or pulling the tail of a massive whale … if you’re bold enough. Although many complain GearVR’s narrow 96-degree field of view is already too cramped, for an underwater title like this, I’d still like to see a mask-shaped stencil around the visuals here masking off our view even further. I say reduce the FOV to 93 degrees but add the immersion of being in a Scuba Mask, which naturally already limits a person’s F.O.V. when worn.
The wildlife is comprised of some of the most realistic-looking creatures and sea life ever to grace the GearVR. Everything is alive with motion and character. The water looks like real water, with fluid animations at the surface layer as it would really appear from below. There are clear blue habitats and murky dark-green ones, cute animals, and scary monsters: literally, a taste for every curiosity. But just be sure you don’t become the … curious taste at the end of these teeth! (image below) haha!
Furthermore, meshes actually deform when animals move, allowing fish, sea lions, manatees, and Mosasaurs all to move convincingly, enhancing Presence. Textures are colorful and detailed at almost any proximity to them. That attention to the liveliness also has another side effect some will like and others will not: the fear it can create. The deep sea area has huge undulating grasses that move realistically, so when you’re in the foggy areas, you don’t know if it’s a shark or dinosaur coming at you or just some seaweed swaying mysteriously. The use of fogging to occlude the terrain so as you move, dark things suddenly loom out of nowhere, terrifying you, is particularly good (if you like that kind of claustrophobic shadowy thrill). The frame-rate is 60 FPS and feels as slippery as as a seal’s belly at all times. The movement rate (your swim rate) has been slowed down enough that I no longer feel VR sickness while exploring like a year ago when the demo first came out. Everything is polished to a level I haven’t seen before on GearVR.
The dinosaur sounds are particularly excellent as I mentioned before. They are so good, I felt tremendous fear and even got a headache waiting nervously for the sea monsters to finally appear. When the Mosasaur did appear after almost an hour of hunting, I got eaten before I could even see it! Argh, no! I had to try two more times before I ever saw it, which makes it quite a challenge and also more of a thrill when you finally get a glimpse, however brief. As incredible as the majority of audio work is, there are a few things I would like to see improved in the future:
- Dolphins are not as cute as they could be. The animations certainly are, but there aren’t enough varieties of dolphin noises and cute sounds. I think the biggest thrill with dolphins is knowing they actually are smart enough to mean something behind all those clicks and undulations of their nasal passages and throat. So every sound has got to be there or else the illusion falls through. We know they’re complex because their language is. Dolphins deserve the best treatment, and in a title already this good why not just go all out?
- Dying Declarations: when you are being rushed by a violent sea monster undersea and you’re certainly going to die, water or not, you can be sure someone is going to scream inside their mask: “No NO! OH GOD!” or something like that. I feel the immersion level and emotional impact of getting eaten would be better served by a few voice catalogs. There could be two Men templates and two Women templates in a variety of voices that all scream the similar things with slight variations. You pick the voice catalog you like best. And get an extra thrill when eaten as you cry for your mommy. Perhaps this audio layer would need to have a Parental Restriction option to turn it off for children. Adults can choose to scare themselves or not, but children don’t need to have bad dreams for a month.
- Positional Audio: I would like to see positional audio by use of a hydrophone. Normally, in water, you can’t pinpoint a sound’s exact source. But with the use of a hydrophone, you can derive 3D spatial surround and thus be able to hear where sounds are coming from. I hope the Dev will consider adding in a hydrophone (and thus spatial audio) for this app some day. Because locating the screaming Megalodons by voice alone proves impossible as it stands now. There is no positional audio, so without a hydrophone the lack of 3D sound is actually correct. The lack of positional audio is a downer, as it could actually have a true purpose in hunting down the elusive creatures. I want to be able to hear where the Mosasaur is when it screams at you in the darkest depths of the sea. Right now, you have no idea where it is.
SUGGESTIONS & IMPROVEMENTS:
As wonderful as this app is, I have a number of suggestions of my own, as well as the combined ideas of the Reddit community of fans added below if the developer is interested. The community really is looking forward to any updates to this title which could improve the fun factor substantially and give us more to do. We aren’t ready to move on yet, there is so much more fun waiting to be had. And more profits, too. I’m willing to pay an extra $10 bucks for these new features and abilities, if implemented, and I wager if I did a poll, many others would agree. The habitats are fun to explore for a while, but there isn’t any reason to beyond pure curiosity. Some extra elements could turn this title into an even more compelling part of GearVR history than it already is:
- Scuba-Mask Stencil: the GearVR already has goggle face but the shape isn’t the same as professional undersea scuba masks. You could add a bit to the immersion factor by shaping the outline of the mask around our actual view, stereoscopically. As we turn our head, the mask will shift slightly with inertia, allowing us to see a small portion of our breathing apparatus, and to remind us we have a mask on our face.
- Great White Size Too Small: based on the size of the cage, I think the shark must be about 5 feet long. I think a Great-White shark would be around 10-14 feet long, so the shark needs to be twice as big and feel more massive and bulky. Good stereoscopy, like a car’s side mirror, makes real-life objects appear smaller. The Great White really is way too small and is the only creature not well done in the whole game. It should be double the size and much meaner looking when it attacks. Sharks usually grip you and rend you apart, sawing through you. This one does not. In addition, a shark’s gums are quite hideous and serve to create fear just by looking at them as this image demonstrates:
- Fear Events: you might even have a sequence where, as we experience extreme fear, some water gets in our mask and actually warps the image and we have to do a “clearing the mask” sequence (button presses). And don’t forget when people are really scared, their heartbeat can be heard pounding up in their ears. Especially in the confines of a mask, the sound gets amplified, so that’s also an audio update you could easily do.
- Multiplayer Mode: let us bring in 1 friend or random stranger with us if possible. We would talk through audio drivers adapted to mimic heavy breathing and a tinny-enclosed space. During the breathing sounds, we get muted.
- Avatar: let us have at least one arm visible in our HUD. Our arm has a special watch with a radar system linked to our friend so if we get separated, we have an undersea GPS to track them with. The system wakes up automatically when they are out of visible range. Our masks are made of the latest technology, so it can display a HUD line indicating the direction of our lost ally.
- More Animal Interaction: I would love it if you added a way for some of the smarter animals to know we are watching them by having them imitate our head movements. For example, with the Manatees, they often cock their head. So what if we, trying to show we saw them do that, cocked our head? And by doing this, the Manatees turned their head more? So we turn our head more, and then they flip over on their bellies to show us they liked our interactions. And if we shake our head “NO” visibly, the dolphins can shake their heads no too. So everyone is going around doing a “no no no” head dance underwater. It would be hilarious, maybe the dolphins would make laughing noises, simulating human laughter?
- Double Tap Backs Up: if we double-tap the track pad, we back up instead of going forward. So if we see the sharks or dinosaurs coming at us, we can try to back up. This would be accompanied by huge jettison of bubbles as we begin stammering from fear, our own heart-beat up in our ears.
- Octopi Behavioral Change: I feel the Octopi should speed off if we get too close, I saw in some videos they don’t like divers getting close to them, they always shoot off.
- Arm Avatar: for big whales, we should be able to click a button and see our arm go up and pet their underside as they stream by (if we are close enough). We can watch our hand sliding along their belly. Same with dolphin’s noses and Manatees bellies. Can you add an arm going up and doing this animation if we press a certain button within range of them? This would add a ton to the experience. If our hand touches them, dolphins might make a cute noise of some kind and spin over and seem to enjoy it. When they are that close, due to your incredible animation system, the feeling of Presence is so good. I really want to see my hand go up and touch them. It would feel good psychologically even if I can’t do it for real.
- Events: you could implement some unique things that happen that give us something to talk about. For example, a dolphin might bring a shoe up from the sea floor with its mouth and throw it at us as a joke. What are the odds? We’d have something more to talk about… A: “Did you … just see that?” B: “See what?” A: “That dolphin just threw a boot in my face!” B: “Whaaat!? Are you serious!?” A: “Serious as a boot to the head, man!” B: “Oh, shut up!” Ha!
- Exploration Tasks: let us do some basic treasure hunting. You could hide a few shipwrecks in the deeper places and give the player some way to sign up for tasks. This could begin to resemble a game mechanic. “Film a dolphin for 30 seconds with in-game camera” or “find the gold in a treasure box somewhere in the dinosaur’s lair.” During this quest, sharks and other big fish might come at us, try to slow us down, keep us scared so our time limit runs out. We’d have a shark taser to scare them off with, but would need to hit a specific point on their snout to fend them off. Every month you could increase interest in this app by releasing a patch with 2-3 new exploration tasks to solve so we’d have more to do. Example: take a photo of a dolphin going through a hoop. Or feed the sharks with chum from a pouch, but don’t get your arm bitten off. Ha!
- Blood Mode: if we turn “Blood” Mode on in the Settings, the screen doesn’t black out when we’re bitten, the water around us fills with blood and a plume of bubbles as we hyperventilate from fear. The sea monster thrashes us around in the water, meaning our P.O.V. gets shaken up (potentially making us feel ill from the shock). Also, when people are about to die, time slows down, so the actual initial bite should be done in slow motion, but then when being rent apart by the thrashing, that should go 20% faster than normal speed to illustrate the out of control nature and violence of it. This feature would be fully disabled if the Parental Features have been activated.
SUGGESTIONS FROM OTHER REDDITORS:
- Faster Travel: sail through the sea using an underwater scooter or a submersible craft.
- Achievements: An (unlocking system) for finding Easter Eggs & hard-to-find creatures.
- Breath Matching: the game listens for our real breathing and blows matching bubbles.
- Educational Elements: adding informative text overlays that display when enabled.
- Voiced Narrations: Morgan Freeman or David Attleboro narrations would be sublime.
- Changing Habitats Issue: the game stutters and locks up and shows black bars when changing between habitats. I suggest cleaning this issue up in future iterations.
- Increase Animals Sizes: all animals appear too small, especially Great Whites. Enlarge all creatures to make them feel more life sized compared to a human’s scale.
- View of Top Side: Let us stick our head out of the water and see a different sky box for each of the 12 habitats. Distant islands, cloudy skies, rain storms, distant shorelines, and tumultuous ocean waves doing their undulating dance. Watch whales flap their tales out the water and dolphins breaching the surface with back flips. Whales blow water plumes from their blow holes. It would be nice to have both below and above environments available so we can actually have a moment to breathe out of the ocean (have our heads above water).
- Improved Selection Menu: let us use the Back button rather than a tap on the touch pad to bring up the Menu System. It’s very glitch prone as is, always getting tapped accidentally by children who don’t know what to do after that. They never find their way out of it.
Ocean Rift is an experience that offers something for everyone. Whether its children or adults, cute animals or prehistoric titans of the deep, this app will find a way to amuse you. While many of these suggestions are things we would love to see, the app already stands alone in a class of its own. It’s already polished, already fun, and amazing on many levels. The suggestions in no way imply they are needed. But I for one would be willing to shell out another $10 to upgrade this app to have some of these suggestions implemented, and I think there are more than a few people out there who would agree with me.
Even if you don’t enjoy something like this yourself, you should still get this app. Reason is, you probably already know someone who will love it. You could make a new friend, or let your existing loved ones do the exploring for you. It’s a good app to use for showing VR to your neighbors, classmates, or … that girl you’re trying to impress. They will fawn over this experience and beg you to let them try it again. For many Redditors, this is their go-to app for showing people what VR is about. The wonder and the excitement people feel when they see this stereoscopic marvel for the first time is something you’ll get to share again and again for as long as you keep this app installed. For that reason, and many many more, Ocean Rift earns the GearVR News “Highest-Excellence” Award!
Here’s a small taste: