Paranormal Activity – The Lost Soul is now available for Playstation VR and ties in to the movie franchise, though its plot is an original one. How does the movie experience translate to VR?
The Paranormal Activity movies all have a certain buildup, where not much happens during the first half of the movie besides a few strange occurrences, after which the unexplained events take a turn for the creepy and extreme – resulting in a cataclysmic ending. I remember watching the first movie in the franchise and thinking “what am I watching?” for a good portion of the movie, as it reserves its stronger moments until the end.
The videogame version is actually quite similar, with amazing moments that frighten the gamer very effectively due to its combination of atmosphere and jump scares – but also with gameplay sequences that feel like filler content rather than the edge of the seat horror stuff we saw in Resident Evil 7. In Paranormal Activity, the buildup is slow, and every now and then the game resorts back to making you look for keys and items in rooms you’ve already seen half a dozen times. As with the movies, this results in portions that are largely forgettable – and thus uneven pacing.
I also had a few issues with the game’s control scheme for Playstation VR, which was built around the use of Sony’s Move controllers. Unlike games like Resident Evil and Robinson though, this one doesn’t give you the option of free 360 degree turning – which is a terrible shame in my book. For those who don’t experience VR motion sickness, a step-based turning system will always feel like a compromise – and the game loses a degree of immersion in the process. On the bright side, the game does make good use of the Move controller’s button layout and doesn’t limit itself to just the trigger and move buttons like so many other VR games do. Because of this, you can easily navigate your inventory and make use of items with either your left or right hand without having to go through complicated menus.
Paranormal Activity’s strongest points are definitely its jump scares and atmosphere, and they’re delivered extremely well. The house is rendered with plenty of detail, the lighting is sufficiently dark and creepy, and the audio mix only enhances the sense of dread and adds to the intensity of the scares – bring a good pair of headphones! It’s in these moments that the game shines most, because the gameplay in between doesn’t just suffer from having too much backtracking and item finding, there is also a strange divide between which objects you can interact with and which ones you can’t – giving the game a “tech demo” kind of feel at times. I would have preferred a system where nothing can be interacted with unless there’s a subtle highlight to the object, although I suppose that could break some of the sensation of actually “being there”. If the latter is what they were going for, then the trial and error nature of the game doesn’t really help.
The game sits somewhere in the middle between providing an interactive movie experience and a proper videogame, but both approaches suffer on account of the other one. The movement scheme and uneven pacing don’t help the cinematic angle move along in a fluid way, while the backtracking elements stop Paranormal Activity from being the kind of stellar gameplay experience that Resident Evil 7 was. Nevertheless, fans of the movie probably shouldn’t think too long and will definitely get enjoyment out of this – the atmosphere, story and scares are exactly what they’d want from a game like this, and in that sense the game definitely delivers. If the movies didn’t do anything for you though, then you’d be better off booting up RE7 again.