Area Man Lives is a brand new and highly original game that’s exclusive to VR. It’s out now for the Oculus/Meta Quest and PC-based headsets, and we played the Quest version for this review.
Although it was developed by Numinous Games, Area Man Lives is being published by Cyan – who we of course associate with the legendary Myst franchise. This is a very different kind of experience though, and it’s nice to see them (as a publisher) do something quite different – something they’re also doing with the recently announced crossover between Myst and Walkabout Mini Golf which is coming out later this year.
The game features puzzle-based gameplay, but that’s about the only Myst comparison you can draw. Area Man Lives casts you as a radio DJ in your booth, which is where you’ll control the game from. It’s an original setup for sure, especially when you consider that the bulk of the narrative – which stars the titular Area Man – takes place outside of your booth. And while you play the usual music and ads during your time there, it’s a myriad of other things that lets you interact with Area Man’s exploits – trying to keep him alive until you reach the end of the adventure.
While that sounds like a tense thriller-like setup, the overall tone in Area Man Lives is a comedic one, which shouldn’t come as a surprise when you consider that voice talents from the likes of Joel McHale and Max Greenfield are on full display here. Ironically, you’ll experience most of those talents through failure, as not keeping Area Man alive often results in a comedic end to his tale – while making the right choices pushes the story along. With close to 100 ways for the game to end prematurely, there’s plenty of content to uncover.
You’ll see a range of items you can interact with inside your booth, but one of the most interesting ways to interact with the game is through voice recognition, which is rarely used in VR even though it’s one of the most immersive elements of games that employ it (like in The Inpatient). Reacting to what people say and having them interact with you is a magical feeling, and the game rarely failed to recognize our input – and when it did it was because we got too immersed and started rambling on.
As immersive as voice controls are, it’s disappointing that Area Man Lives relies on teleportation and click-turning to get around your little booth. For a game that doesn’t appear to be too demanding in terms of visual fidelity and the size of its game world, that’s a tad disappointing and immersion-breaking. The cartoon-like/minimalist look and feel is a good fit for the Quest though, keeping the game’s performance at a good level. We could see PC-based VR gamers be less impressed though, but that’s a matter of personal taste.
It’s nice to see VR still being used to more experimental gameplay, and Area Man Lives is certainly a great example of that. It’s weird, it’s funny and it offers plenty of content for its asking price. It could have used a bit more polish for the controls and a bit more visual detail, but if you enjoy narrative-driven VR games this should be right up your alley.