Separation Review

A Brief Walk Through the Myst

Separation is definitely a first-person game that moves at its own pace. It’s not concerned with running about or getting places quickly. Based on the developer’s description for his game, this is both intentional and, I’m guessing, technical. No one wants to get vomit all over their controller because the VR hardware couldn’t keep up. Motion sickness shouldn’t be a problem here. This is a decidedly relaxing journey through a strange alien landscape.

There are massive ancient temples and structures, strange alters, and bizarre technology strewn about the place. Giant robot sentinels the size of skyscrapers lay abandoned, rusting away like fading echoes of some once-great civilisation. Energy is the focus of Separation. Moving vivid beams of energy around through large crystal obelisks spread everywhere, to be precise. Each obelisk catches the beam of energy and reflects it on to the next.

Channelling energy through these crystals makes up the vast bulk of the gameplay. You’ll need to manipulate valves and solve some minor puzzles to get the crystals aligned, but mostly you casually walk around the lonely landscape looking for the next obelisk. Sliding puzzles are used to bring power to mechanisms like elevator cars and turning wheels rotate things. Another sequence requires you to focus on audio cues to figure out which phone to answer in a room containing a series of them.

Sorrows… I have a few

There are also burnt bodies to find that contain “sorrows”. Finding all 10 of these is basically a sidequest that adds a bit more to the narrative. These sorrows are usually semi-hidden near your next objective and punctuated by a murder of crows squawking above them.

Later in the game, you’ll use a rowboat to get from place to place, and the VR controls are such that the boat basically goes where you’re looking. Separation doesn’t have combat or platforming acrobatics, so there’s no jumping or hitting. It’s played with a standard PS4 controller and just naturally uses smooth scrolling movements (as opposed to teleportation-based).

It runs well, with a smooth framerate and no hiccups. Granted, the reason is probably because of the slower movement pace and, more importantly, the lower poly landscape graphics that honestly reminded us of PS2-level textures and overall visual fidelity. That said, there are definitely some impressive sights, which seemed to have a bit more polish than the standard mountains and rocks of much of the game.

This Game Was Meant For Walking

The ambient electronic soundtrack is terrific, significantly adding to the overall moody atmosphere of Separation. Effects and voice work are otherwise spare, but the music (done by Vector Lovers) carries through the whole game. Admittedly, that’s not a huge block of time, since the whole journey only takes a couple of hours. You can eke out a bit more if you enjoy combing the entire map just to see what’s there, but either way, this is definitely a short ride.

Separation isn’t likely to garner a lot of attention. It’s not flashy and is definitely indie (developer Recluse Industries is really just one guy), but there’s a distinct appeal to a game where the whole point is to soak up a moody, solitary, and evocative atmosphere. There’s no explanation or tutorial to sit through, the game just starts with a simple message and lets the player figure things out on their own. It’s not a bad way to spend a few hours, but probably not a game that will linger on your hard drive either.

[Reviewed on PSVR]