Imagine what life would be like if you could watch a movie from any angle you wanted. If you could follow every character at any point and stick with them even if they weren't part of the main action. Then on a whim, you could fast-forward or rewind time to see what's happening elsewhere.
That's the premise of The Invisible Hours, a virtual reality game where you don't play the hero or the protagonist. Instead you're an onlooker; a fly on the wall, quietly watching people at their deepest and darkest moments without them being aware at all.
Sounds great, doesn't it?
A classic in VR form
The game starts at the edge of an isolated island. In the pouring rain a small boat drops off disgraced detective Gustaf Gustav, who makes his way to a large house, which is the only property of the island. The detective quickly stumbles upon the body of its owner, Nikola Tesla, and then things kick off in a "whodunit" fashion.
There are other occupants at the house, so Gustav sets about trying to uncover which of them – each of whom was invited to the house by Tesla in order (as we later find out) to help them undo a mistake in their lives, or for some other intriguing reason – is the most likely culprit. There's a convicted murderer, an actress, Tesla's rival Thomas Edison, Tesla's former assistant, and the son of a wealthy railroad magnate.
Sound familiar? That's because this game is, in part, the virtual reality form of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, which most recently was dramatised as a short series on the BBC.
Expore at your leisure
As a floating head, you're free to explore both the house at your own leisure. Following the different guests reveals interesting parts of the story, as each of them appears to have a secret (or multiple secrets) that reveals if you keep a close eye on their actions. We won't give too much away, as this is one of those games where it's hard to explain just how brilliant it is without revealing spoilers.
You'll rarely find yourself watching a character who's just standing around doing nothing waiting for their next part in the story. Even if they aren't engaged with Gustav they're busy poking about in the rooms of the house, doing something mysterious that reveals new secrets, talking to themselves or arguing with someone else in another room. It's immense fun watching a character for a time, then pausing, rewinding or fast-forwarding and watching someone else in a different place.
The house itself also holds some mystery to be explored - with hidden doors and incredible inventions sprinkled throughout the rooms and floors. As you explore, you find clues in the various rooms – diaries, letters, newspaper clippings, last will and testaments. Each of these can be picked up and will register in your inventory – but you cannot keep them. Letting them go pushes them back to their position in the world as if you're just a watching ghost, wishing to be a part of it. Finding all these items unlocks achievements.
Although you can find these clues, doing so makes no difference to the story at all. You cannot solve the crime itself by being in the right place or by picking up the right items. Events are out of your control. You're just there to watch as they unfold around you. This is certainly unusual, for any game, nevermind a VR game, but we love this point of difference.
You'll quickly come to your own conclusions over who committed the crime and who's to blame for Tesla's death. But when other bodies start to drop your opinion will almost certainly change. It's a twisting and turning tale.
Great control mechanics
The controls of The Invisible Hours are brilliantly well handled too. You merely need to touch the trackpad in order to highlight where you want to beam – there's no need to click, so movement is a joy. You can also change the direction you'll face when you reach a destination, meaning you can easily move around the rooms and see the action from the best locations with ease.
The game's mechanics also allow you to attach yourself to a character and follow them as they move about the house and its grounds without even needing to touch the controls yourself.
Since you're only really an observer, there's very little need for loads of movement control. Which means there are none of the usual frustrations with getting tied up in headset cables or tripping over real-world objects. We found we could just sit or stand and watch the story unfold before our eyes; the story would be an hour in a liner format, but we spent about three hours exploring it end to end.
The Invisible Hours is not only well-crafted and incredibly well acted, it's a new sort of game style which we've not seen much elsewhere. The design makes for a brilliant virtual reality experience and shows the possible future of VR for story-telling. Despite the story riffing on a classic (whether you know it or not), as a game it's a rare and brilliant original.
From the first moment we started playing we were hooked and wanted to explore every nook and cranny at every time point through the storyline. It's a game packed full of intrigue that'll keep you guessing to its last. It's hard to be able to say much more without ruining it with spoilers.
But trust us: The Invisible Hours is certainly one of the best VR experiences available today.