Tethered review code was provided by the publisher.
Ah, now this is more like it. At the launch of PSVR, there was a tendency for some titles to focus on providing an immersive experience at the expense of fashioning compelling game mechanics. So it is then that the cosmos has decided to balance things once more with Tethered, a VR strategy title from some of the same people behind Driveclub, it is most assuredly a game first and an immersive experience second, and that is a good thing indeed.
A Rare treat
God sim strategy titles are thin on the ground for PS4, let alone for Sony’s shiny new PSVR headset and so even conceptually speaking, Tethered would seem like quite the breath of fresh air. Viewed from the first-person, Tethered has players taking up the mantle of a god-like entity called the Spirit Guardian, with the goal being to absorb as much spirit energy as possible in order to repel a nocturnal blight that has afflicted the kingdom.
Of course being a god, you’re also a master of delegation and it’s by leveraging your dominion over the various elements and a cute race of Lombax-like creatures called ‘Peeps,’ that you can then go about scooping up all that spirit energy loveliness. Speaking of the Peeps, initially arriving within the confines of an egg, you have to tether a sunny cloud to said egg in order to warm it up so that each helpful Peep can spring forth and be ready to accept your commands.
To this end, you can order them about, getting the little critters to unearth artefacts that allow them to build structures, which in turn provide you with more spirit energy to consume. Before you do any of that however, you need to harvest the requisite natural resources to build these structures, not to mention keep your Peeps well-fed lest they fall into despair whereupon they just refuse to do much of anything.
Something else that must be taken into account is the day and night cycle that Tethered embraces, simply because once the sun decides to retreat over the horizon, the denizens of the night creep up from the underbelly of whatever island you’re on to engage in a spot of Peep murder. Because of this, you must ensure that at least some of your population are trained fighters, lest the death of your Peeps makes it take that much longer for you to collect all the spirit energy that is required to complete the level.
Although it might seem like there’s a lot for you to keep track of, Tethered does an excellent job of keeping you focussed with its menagerie of vibrantly colourful menus and VR-friendly large and bouncy text. While the micromanagement elements may inevitably bore some, for the most part it never feels overwhelming or tedious; the satisfaction of completing one island before moving onto the next proving to be a very welcome sensation indeed.
There’s real, substantive challenge here also, since in each of the dozen or so different realms you can expect to put in between sixty and ninety minutes of time in as you construct your realm, maintain it, discover new artefacts and fight off the nocturnal monsters that threaten your kingdom. Something to be aware of with Tethered is that no save option exists to preserve your progress on a given level, which when taken in tandem with the need for frequent breaks during PSVR usage, means that an average session of Tethered can take up far more of your time than you might prefer it to.
Elsewhere, if there’s a complaint about the range of options which exist for upgrading units and building structures, it’s that there aren’t quite enough of them to properly offer a wide creative scope for armchair strategists to deal with. The flipside of this of course, is that Tethered is a compelling prospect for younger audiences, as it has just the right amount of depth to hook them without completely swamping them in micromanagement tedium.
Whether you are commanding a cloud to rain down on some plants to improve your crop, getting a Peep to mine some stone, chop a tree, or attack an oncoming horde of nightly denizens, everything is controlled by the titular ‘Tethered’ mechanic. Thankfully, it’s a cleverly implemented system that relies upon you looking at it is you want to tether, holding down the ‘X’ button on the DualShock 4 controller, and then simply looking at whatever it is you wish to link it to. Equally, the switching of camera angles is also handled well; you simply look at the cloud you wish to sit on and you’re immediately there. It’s a testament to not only the quality of PSVR’s head tracking and the immersion that brings with it, but also the accuracy of it too as such actions are pulled off effortlessly.
With a range of ultra-serious, po-faced racing games under their belt such as Driveclub, it’s great to see that same talent being put to use in creating something more fantastical and nowhere is this more evident than in Tethered’s resplendent audiovisual presentation. Both looking and sounding like it came from some sort of alternative timeline where Rare and LittleBigPlanet developer Media Molecule decided to team up on a PSVR game, Tethered’s wonderfully twee and whimsical sights and sounds are a grand treat for the senses indeed.
A world away from the ‘tech demo’ fodder that has blighted PSVR’s otherwise decent launch line-up, Tethered stands as a shining, though perhaps not consummate example of how developers using Sony’s new technology can do so with traditional game mechanics in mind. More of this please.