Gravitational, from Brazilian developer Electric Monkeys, was developed from the ground up with VR in mind. Out now for PC-based headsets on Steam and on PlayStation VR, we checked out the PSVR version – there’s a Quest version coming later as well.
Puzzle games like Portal and Q.U.B.E. have always seemed like they’d be a great match for VR – except perhaps for some of the high speed stuff in Valve’s game. Their clean look and physics-based gameplay mechanics feel like a great match for the medium, which is why we enjoyed titles like ChromaGun VR as well Gravitational also taps into this, letting you use blocks to manipulate your environment and overcome challenges aboard a space station.
You play the role of Sebastian, a wheelchair-using scientist hoping to repair a reactor before it melts down. Your wheelchair translates to some interesting movement mechanics as you can either grab the wheels or use a virtual joystick to get around – with the former being the more unique experience. With a space station that’s falling apart it’s more convenient to go with the joystick option though, which makes it easier to traverse past obstacles.
When there are holes in the floor ahead of you, you can use gravity manipulators to move blocks around and create a path for yourself. But while much of this game is block-based, the behavior of blocks depends on their color. Some act as power sources, others can be extended or moved in various ways, forming the basis for the game’s puzzles.
The idea of playing the VR player inside a wheelchair is a solid one, and it works quite well most of the time too. You can get caught on parts of the scenery though, and without any kind of physical feedback this is more immersion-breaking and frustrating than a representation of the struggle of getting around in a wheelchair in a place that’s falling apart at the seams. There are a few zero gravity sections as well where this isn’t an issue, but the game is generally quite unforgiving about head movement and will frequently reset your position. Both of these things don’t add to the immersion factor, but luckily could be fixed in a post-launch update.
Audiovisually, Gravitational goes for a clear look that works well in VR, using floor and ceiling panels to convincingly conjure up a space station without having to draw too much visual detail. But while that sounds monotonous, there’s a good amount of diversity to each section of the space station as well thanks to well-placed scenery elements and visible damage to the station. Add some synth-fueled music and the occasional conversation with an AI entity, and you’ve got a convincing sci-fi look and feel – though the story delivery is so-so thanks to some sub-par voice acting.
Gravitational has some solid ideas behind it when you look at its premise and puzzle designs. Unfortunately its controls should have been more streamlined at launch to allow for a smoother experience that lets players enjoy what it has to offer more easily. Now, the game gets in the way of itself at times, which is a shame. Hopefully future updates will let the game reach its full potential – the fact that it’s still in development for the Quest means that developers aren’t done with it just yet. Fingers crossed.