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Albino Lullaby: Episode 1 Oculus Rift Review

Albino Lullaby

It should be clear, first, that this is a review of the VR gameplay of Albino Lullaby, using an Oculus DK2.  While this should be representative of the gameplay in the consumer VR headsets, it is not likely not the same review I’d write if I’d played this game on a monitor.  The immersiveness of VR in this horror game adds the element of, well, horror that this game is mostly lacking in its 2D incarnation. Our review of the original PC version can be found HERE.

It’s an exploration puzzle game at heart, through a twisted, disfigured world. You’ll collect snippets of conversation and piece together the bizarre story via notes scattered along your journey to grandmother’s house.  Oh, and you, the worm, are being chased incessantly by grey, slimy, seven-foot-tall sausage men with a bone to pick – the grandchildren.

These guys are disturbing, obviously disturbed themselves, but otherwise very slow and sort of laughable antagonists.  They have no arms or legs, and move by sliming around like slugs.  They will manage to capture you, somehow, if you spend too long in close vicinity, at which point you’ll presumably die a gruesome, agonizing death, then start again from the previous checkpoint.

This game touts itself as a horror experience with no gore, no blood, no jump scares, and it delivers on all of those promises, though ‘horror’ could be considered a strong word.  The puzzles are very simple, more like prompts directing you to various buttons to press distributed across each level.  Laced with toilet humor, all of this amounts to a pretty casual for-anyone experience.  Intensely weird, but overall fairly easy and not Alien: Isolation levels of frightening.

The low mental load combined, a vibrantly colored and well-crafted atmosphere, and an excellent sense of scale, come together to make the VR experience very good – until you try to move.  Unfortunately, mistakes were made, and at least in the revision used for this review it’s easy to see why the game garnered an “intense” comfort rating in Oculus’ upcoming store front.

The main problem is in the use of the classic FPS control scheme, which, especially while turning, can cause vestibular nastiness for even seasoned VR users.  I’ve played a few experiences like this, and while I find they’re never lovely, this one seems to be particularly bad.  This is a rare title which I can say definitely gave me motion sickness, and limited my play time to 30-45 minute sessions over several days.  Standing and using my body to turn instead of the controller was a big improvement, but is a tiring compromise.  A snap or comfort turning mode would be appreciated, at least.

The mechanic for note reading is absolutely awful as well, and it’s clear that it did not receive “VR polish”.  Whenever you pick up a note, it gets plastered to the camera view – your face – in a fixed position which moves with your head.  This is extremely uncomfortable, and even more the position and text was far from ideal for reading in the DK2.  I feel like I may have missed a few jokes or some understanding of the world simply because I could not make out all of the notes, and I couldn’t stand having them displayed for more than a few of seconds.

I also caught a couple instances of lens flare early in the game (my eyes are not cameras!) and some severe stereo mismatch where 2D effects or objects were used in a couple spots.  Black smear was also an issue in my DK2, but I won’t knock off points as it is a problem of hardware reportedly resolved in consumer headsets.

Those negatives said it is also obvious why Oculus allowed Albino Lullaby to be a launch title; VR adds intensity, immersion and a clear benefit to this otherwise simple and dry game.  The grandchildren are actually very imposing up close and personal.  They’re much bigger than you and they’ll swarm with a moment’s notice.  Turning a corner to meet one face to face quite literally made my heart skip and forced out a yelp.  No intentional jump scares, it would seem.  That the game has no real weapons adds to the imposition, as your only real choice in any situation is to run away from the grey sausage-folk.

This episode has a playtime that seems to be around 3-5 hours, and so in a VR world currently full of short experiments and 10 minute demos it’s a breath of fresh air to find a game with some substance.  Even if that air is filled with bat farts.

Albino Lullaby is an episodic story-driven game, this being the first of three installments, with the remaining two slated to release sometime later this year.  While I approached this strange looking game almost expecting to be put off, or at least not to be very impressed, I’m now excited to continue the story in my Rift.  We’re all waiting for you, grandmother!

This article is written by Pat King.

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