Visiontrick Media has been working on its first virtual reality (VR) title Mare since at least 2016, a puzzle experience with beautiful scenery and a mysterious plotline all about a girl who needs your help. Little had been heard from the team until the title reappeared on the Oculus Store, now exclusive to Oculus Quest. But can a videogame which looks gorgeous yet seemingly unchanged after all these years still offer the type of VR gameplay everyone now expects?
When you first look at Mare its scenic, atmospheric visuals are instantly enthralling, a patchwork of sweeping vistas that stretch far into the distance. From open grassy plains to crumbling ruins of settlements long forgotten, the pastel colours and low-poly design in combination with the ambient soundtrack by space music pioneer Tony Gerber create a relaxing, almost meditative experience.
You’ll find yourself in control of a mechanical bird, a steampunk style creation which is repeated throughout Mare, providing a stark contrast to the landscape it inhabits. As this bird, you become acquainted with a young girl who appears lost, in doing so you both help each other navigate the towering peaks and dilapidated buildings looking for a way through.
Nothing is ever explained in Mare. There’s no text, voice or options of any kind to explain why you’re here or what you’re supposed to do. That’s left entirely to your imagination and also in part due to the simple, linear structure of the gameplay. Comfort is a complete non-issue as the bird you control moves between electrified pylons with a click of the controller, fading in and out between locations. So it’s best to find a comfy chair that spins for the approximate three hours the game will take to play through.
While the point-to-point flying creates a comfortable experience it does make Mare feel somewhat dated as the lack of being able to freely fly through the valleys and into the clouds – which it looked like you could do in video clips – would’ve been great. It wouldn’t have helped the puzzles just the sense of freedom as you want to explore this lush landscape yet you’re constrained to the various pylons which mark your route. There are also no gaze controls, removed in favour of point and click interaction with a single controller which floats as a ghostly outline, ruining the view and the immersion.
And that view needs to be good as you wait for the girl to run through the level. This is actually part of the overall puzzle design as she’ll follow you, chattering away in a seemingly made-up language. She’s got plenty of leg work to do, running up and down steps endlessly yet always happy in her task. It’s very endearing and even with the annoying four lines she repeats when she disappears from view, you do begin to worry where she’s gone. You don’t have anywhere near the character connection titles like Moss employ, yet the barren environment coupled with the superb musical score ensures Mare has an ambience and soul few VR projects achieve.
The main environmental challenges aren’t that taxing which can make the first half of Mare seem more like an interactive experience rather than a fully-fledged videogame. It’s the lost artefacts littering the levels which provide the real meat of the gameplay, some hide in plain sight yet they all require careful examination of the environment to collect, only the girl can pick them up and you can’t directly manoeuvre her. They’re well worth collecting and thankfully the studio put in a chapter and map select do aid that process, the only option selection in the whole game.
Mare is as an enchanting as it is bewildering. There’s nothing wrong with its vague narrative as that mystery is what keeps it interesting. The art style never gets boring and the detail achieved on the Oculus Quest 2 makes it a feast for the eyes. But (and there’s always a but) just because it is pretty doesn’t mean to say Mare forms a cohesive whole, feeling like it’s not quite reached its potential. The whole experience goes by in a blink even when waiting for the girl the catch-up. Mare is one of those VR videogames worth a look at some point, even if it’s just for the view.
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