A Wake Inn- Short Review

Release Date: February 25th 2021

Developer: VR Bros

Genre&Topics: atmospheric thrilling adventure, mistery, soft horror, dystopia, steampunk, art-deco aesthetics, immersive VR

Lately I discovered a PCVR game that deserves the attention of the VR community. A Wake Inn is a thrilling atmospheric experience developed by VR Bros, an indie studio based in Krakow, Poland. After years of gaining skills by building commercial VR apps (e.g. archviz apps), they decided to develop games focusing on quality of immersion. I can say they succeed on the first try, at least from a technical point of view. Let’s examine their work in detail.

A Wake Inn is a soft horror game combining exploration, puzzles, action and storytelling. You wake up as a human sized doll in an abandoned, retro style hotel, where apparently something bad happened in the past. Strange machineries scattered throughout the hotel definetely have something to do with it. You have to understand what happened, solve all the misteries and put an end to the horrors in the inn.You are not alone, the voice of mysterious Doctor Finnegan, owner of the estate, accompanies you through the shortwave transmitter. The hotel is occupied by other dolls similar to you, but they have no friendly intentions; you have to fight and get rid of them (recommended), or try to avoid them (not recommended). Well, it’s not easy to do stealth on a wheelchair! Yes, you sit on a wheelchair! Weird, but very cool! The control system is very realistic, immersive, smooth and refined. You can push the wheels with your hands, like in real wheelchairs, or you can use the on board joystick, like an airplane cloche. The first method is recommended when you have to run on long distances in a straight line; there is a lot of inertia and it’s not easy to turn left or right by moving the hands in opposite verses. It’s not a defect, it’s just a realistic mechanic. The second method is slower but it’s the most accurate for short movements and the one I used the most.

I can say A Wake Inn has one of the best implementation of locomotion in VR so far. I had the goosebump when I tried the experience for the first time. So far better than any roller-coaster experience! Let me underline that I’m used to VR since 2017, it’s very hard to surprise me! People more sensitive to motion sickness could not stand it. However this is not a defect, on the contrary this is the proof of how much realistic and refined the locomotion mechanic is. This is NOT motion sickness caused by technical issues (low refresh rate, stuttering, jittering, eyes strain, etc. etc.). This is motion sickness caused by the brain. Thanks to the great technical quality of the experience, the brain is convinced that you’re really on a wheelchair; so, it expects signals from the vestibualry organs, but they don’t come! A sort of sea or car sickness. It gives me the exciting perception that I’m really moving through the virtual world, but some people not used to VR can get sick because of this. I suggest developers to introduce tunable options and several configurations and settings. I enjoy the complete uncompromised ultra-realistic experience, but someone could not stand it. A Wake Inn would need to add smooth locomotion through sticks of the motion controllers and adjustable speed and acceleration.

I played the game in the last two weeks and the experience was very smooth and with no issues at all. However I read some complaints about issues people experimented in the first weeks after the release. It means that developers in the meanwhile worked hard and solved all the issues. Well, almost all, some negligible bug not affecting the experience is still there. I can assure you that actually A Wake Inn is a very smooth and refined experience. From a technical point of view, the small indie studio has reached and maybe surpassed the results of AAA mainstream studios in VR gaming. I’m always in search of valuable VR experiences; they are very rare lately because of the “meta-questization” of VR aka “casualization” of VR aka “wii-mote syndrome of VR”! 🙂 🙂 🙂 When I tried the demo for the first time, I was surprised, I could not believe it! That was not expected from an indie game! I bought immediately the game. How is it possible that a small development team has reached such a high technical level in the creation of virtual experiences that triple A games like HL: Alyx or Lone Echo can only envy? Incredible but true!

Developers at VR Bros have the art and technique of VR in their hands! It’s not just a matter of locomotion and mechanics. You can see your virtual body, your hands, your legs, your arms, your abdomen, etc. Every detail and movement is so well defined that you feel totally embodied in the mannequin! When you turn your head, you can see the back of the wheelchair. Obviously you have to play seated. Everything is so smooth and realistic such to fool your brain. On the front bench of your wheelchair there is a box where you can collect items (keys, fuses, batteries, etc.); putting items in the box is very natural and items fall and scatter in the box with very realistic physics and collisions. At your left there is a metallic support where you can store the old-style electric torchlight, weapons (pipe and axe) and films. In this way everything comes in handy and you get rid of traditional inventory pop-ups breaking immersion in VR. Very smart solution! You’re on a wheelchair and your movements are limited; a mechanical prothesis comes in handy to pick up the most distant items. Another smart solution very well made. Not to talk of the realistic gestures for replacing the battery of the torchlight, awesome! There is more! The torchlight, the pipe and all the objects that are close to your eyes, they look “glossy”, like in real life, very well contrasted to the background, with very accurate textures and wonderful reflection and scattering of light.

The feeling of realism is very high, the sense of scale and 3D space is huge, the 3D depth is outstanding. When I wear the headset I have the feeling to really enter a big convincing 3D world hidden “beyond the lenses”, it’s like reality gets replaced by the virtual reality. I’m like Alice going beyond the mirror! I enter the matrix! It’s magic! I experienced something similar with RE7 VR on PSVR, but let me say that this time is even better because with my HP Reverb G2 and my high tier PC I have very defined and high quality visuals! Maybe the secret lies in the word “coherence”. Thanks to their experience in archviz apps, developers managed to build a very coherent virtual world, a sort of efficient simulation of the real world such to fool the brain. I mean, coherent in terms of visuals and audio cues. Let me explain.

In many VR games, even AAA VR games, your brain can still discern that you are looking through a stereoscopic device. It’s more something like stereoscopic 3D than Virtual Reality. In some way, the superposition of the two fields of view of your eyes is not smooth and accurate. Sometimes you can notice too much diplopia that shoud not be there; at least it would not be there in real life. And it’s not a matter of IPD. On the opposite, in some games you can notice a lack of depth, or at least you perceive a low sense of depth that is not so realistic, the image looks a bit flat. Even HLA lacks of the right level of depth; RE7 VR is better. Until now, A Wake Inn is the number one! Here I have the perception of realistic 3D visuals, with the right depth, the right scale of objects, walls and furnitures, perfectly coherent fields of view of the two eyes. The virtual reality looks as a whole coherent reality. I think it’s the result of the coherent combination of different visuals and audio cues. Above all, the state-of-the-art rendering of light: global and selective illumination, scattering, reflections, colors, shadows, contrast, etc. they are breathtaking, a joy for the eyes! The volumetric and aerial effects (smoke, fog, particles, etc.) make your mouth open and put at hard work your GPU. I noticed a sort of defocusing of the more distant visual planes, but I don’t know if it is just my impression, maybe my brain is just fooled by the realism of the simulation. I perceived something similar only in RE7 VR. It’s like to perceive many vertical visual planes placed along the z axis with different focal lenght, getting a very strong 3D depth. As said above, objects look “glossy” and concrete like in real life, the nearest objects are very well contrasted. Textures are not the best seen in a video game, but still very very good, the smart rendering of light makes them very realistic.

The 3D audio is awesome, the audio cues perfectly integrate with the visual cues to create a convincing virtual experience. I experienced something similar only in RE7 VR. I told you in previous articles, simulation of 3D audio makes the 40% of VR, the remaining 60% is simulation of 3D realistic visuals. Sounds seem really localized, coming from the environment, also thanks to the suspended speakers of the G2. The creaking of the wheelchair is fricking awesome, so realistic; you can put a few drops of lubricant on the wheels to get rid of it, but I suggest you to enjoy the creaking!

A Wake Inn is also a work of art, developers show not only great technical expertise, but even great artistic talent. I love the art-deco aesthetics reminding of Bioshock, the neoclassic statues, the cinema posters, the steampunk style. You can also watch old short movies by Ruttmann, Melies and other early film-makers in the projection rooms. When I watch the movies I can forget to be in virtual reality, my brain thinks I am really in a projection room! Outstanding! People complain of small FoV in today VR; with A Wake Inn you completely forget the limits of the field of view! Magic of perception!

Everything is smooth, locomotion is a pleasure, no stuttering or jittering, no bugs, everything looks well optimized. It’s hard to find VR games well optimized like this! E.g. Lone Echo is not well optmized like this (maybe it’s Revive fault?); however in terms of optimization, HLA remains the best so far. Even the physics are quite good, interactions with objects are smooth and realistic. I don’t like just interactions with other mannequins; they are buggy and not well animated. The fights are weird and clumsy. Here you can see limits of small indie studios. Give a look at the ending credits, few people made everything: graphics, physics, mechanics, audio, animation, story, voice acting etc. A Wake Inn is a work that exudes love and dedication to VR from a talented small team. The result is awesome, it’s a miracle, but VR Bros cannot compete with hundreds of employers in AAA studios. They would need more animators, writers, game designers, programmers, etc.

On paper, story is quite good, it’s told through documents and dialogues. However the lack of animated and interactive NPCs, of multiple choice dialogues and of varied interactive narrative situations make story not as compelling as it could be. The inn is huge, but space is not well exploited and looks too empty and repetitive despite the good art and the good rendering of light. You cannot interact so much with the environment, it doesn’t react so much to your presence or actions, except in a few sequences. The acting voices are really professional, an added value for sure, but don’t compensate for the lack of interactive narration. Puzzles are not well designed, you can see that developers don’t come from gaming. However this is not bad, it’s good. Video game renewal may come from people outside the ludic tradition. In my opinion the VR Bros made the mistake to focus on puzzles, fights and challenges. Video games can be other than challenges, they can be deep, meaningful, interactive experiences; the key is to experiment new forms of gameplay, interactivity and interactive narration. Triggered events like in Layers of Fear, interactive dialogues like in Telltale games, smart NPCs like in Lone Echo, peculiar scripted sequences and peculiar mechanics like in What Remains of Edith Finch, interactive storytelling like in Firewatch, compelling exploration like in Subnautica, deep meaningful contents like in Inside or in Twin Mirror, etc. they could be all viable alternatives to challenges.

In conclusion, A Wake Inn is a wonderous game from an indie studio rivaling AAA studios in terms of technical rendition of VR. Despite the need of better design, better gameplay, better animation and richer interactive narrative, they made a real miracle. VR art and technique are in their hands. It is really unfair that such a title does not have the right visibility and recognition in the VR community. It deserves more attention. Please, buy the game, sustain AA indie gaming, sustain the outstanding VR Bros, fight the meta-questization of VR, sustain the evolution of VR development, sustain high-quality PCVR. If you are not used to my articles, you could think I’m doing endorsement. Not at all, the VR Bros didn’t pay me, I have nothing to do with them; I purchased the game at full price. Do the same please! Content creators on You Tube: please, do some walkthrough and gameplay videos! Spread the word! Thanks!

For sake of clarity, here they are my ratings:

VR technique: 10/10

Rendering of light and sound: 9/10

Aesthetics & visual art: 8/10

Immersion: 8/10

Thrilling atmosphere: 7.5/10

Gameplay (the global interactive experience): 7/10

Story: 6.5/10

Interactive narrative: 6.5/10

Puzzles design: 5/10

Animation and AI of enemies: 4.5/10

Interaction with enemies: 4/10

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