A quick disclosure before we dive into this review for Esper on PSVR. I love physics-based puzzle games. I don’t know what it is about games that require you to manipulate objects over diverse terrains, but I just can’t get enough of them. Whether we’re going back as far as Kula World on the original PlayStation (if you haven’t played this classic, trust me, you haven’t lived) or, more recently, the brain melting Statik on the PSVR, physics based puzzle games give you an opportunity to test your deductive skills, ability to assess a situation and explore with lots of (generally forgiving) trial and error. ESPER on the PSVR is no exception. Hailing from Coatsink, the indie developers who brought us the excellent Shadow Point and Augmented Empire, Esper is re-enactment of what a 1950’s CIA experiment to establish telekinetic ability must have looked and felt like. You’re the test subject in a single room and the only company you have a disembodied and very sarcastic but inoffensive narrator.
Over the course of some two hours you’ll be faced with repeating the same task time and time again. Move object A to place B. That’s it. You use the move controller to grasp the object – sometimes a ball or a rubics cube – and you have to navigate your way through and around several obstacles including see-through tubes, ramps, glass walls, water…You get the picture. The beauty of Esper is in its refreshingly minimalistic approach. All of its focus is on the puzzles. You stay in the same room throughout the whole game. You can’t move around and there’s no-one else to interact with. It’s just you sitting in in a chair in a test room with an unseen narrator and puzzles after puzzles to solve.
Initially the challenges start off pretty easy – as in pick up the ball and put it on the block easy. But after a short while you’ll find yourself scratching your head (not an easy task when wearing a PSVR unit) and mumbling under your breath. Just out of curiosity I timed my first few attempts at cracking a puzzle and then compared my best score with the harder challenges. The first couple of tasks took me around 3 minutes to figure out. The harder ones were averaging around 15 minutes a time. Now it could just be because I’m pretty dense sometimes and can’t see the obvious, or it could be that some of these puzzles are harder than a bear armed with a flick knife. I obviously prefer the latter explanation. But, in fairness to the game, even though you may find yourself stumped on some puzzles, you always have the nagging feeling in the back of your head that the answer is staring you in the face. You just can’t see it. Yet.
For those moment when you’re sure you’ve really messed a level up, Coatsink have provide a handy red reset button that you can push to help you start over. Excellent. Also there are no penalties in Esper and no glittery prizes on offer. Rather, after you solve a puzzle and land the sucker in the right spot, you get the priceless feeling of being able to punch the air and whisper ‘yes’ to yourself. A feeling that never gets old. It’s worth mentioning that as Esper has you sitting in the same spot throughout the test, there is zero chance of motion sickness. A huge plus in my book.
Graphically, Esper delivers exactly what it promises. A realistic looking virtual room filled with objects that you have to traverse. Everything looks shiny and colourful and each object lends itself superbly to feeling that you really are in a room being tested for potential telepathic powers.
If I had any niggles with the game it has to be with the fact that Esper is short. Very short. The whole game took me just under two hours to complete and that was in one sitting. Statik on the other hand took me just over 8 hours and my head still hurts when thinking about it. The fact that Esper’s challenges are so varied means that, after you’ve completed the game, you can quite easily return to the beginning as you would probably have forgotten most of the solutions and try your hand again. So the game does offer a degree of replay value if only by default. Oh, and, just as a suggestion; it would have been great to have some sort of leader board available so I could check how well other players did when solving puzzles. But these are minor quibbles that are best described as ‘mind over matter’. You shouldn’t mind because, in the long run, they don’t matter.
The truth is these shortcomings are by any means deal breakers and they do nothing to detract from what is an incredibly fun, polished and challenging game. As the PSVR continues to evolve we take our hats off to developers not afraid to explore new genres and possibilities. Without them we wouldn’t have great games like Esper to enjoy. Go play.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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Gameplay - 8/10
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 8/10
Replay Value - 8/10
An incredibly fun, polished and challenging game.