Review: Broken Spectre

Broken Spectre

As someone who’s been playing just about any VR horror game I could get my hands on for the last five years, I can say it’s not too often that I see a lot of innovation within the genre. Much of the horror game selection available for VR platforms relies on cheap jump scares, minimal interactivity, or boring horde-mode gameplay, which often just ends up feeling like a haunted house simulator or arena shooter with not much substance past its concept.

However, in the Summer of 2022, I was able to play a hands-on demo of an upcoming game called Broken Spectre at a horror convention, and I saw the promise of something quite new for the genre in several ways. Even in its very early state, Spectre introduced a handful of mechanics that weren’t very often seen in the VR horror space, such as using the Meta Quest 2’s hand tracking system, allowing controller-less gameplay for extra immersion, full exploration/puzzles, and a fleshed out story to back it up.

Now the full version of the game is available, and I got a chance to see if Broken Spectre lives up to its early promise.

Broken Spectre: Cabin in the woods.

Broken Spectre follows the story of a young woman who sets out on a trail in the mountains of Northern Canada, as she looks for her long-lost father who never returned from a hike many years ago. As you start the game, it greets you with a very short and simple tutorial that teaches you the five hand gestures that let you navigate the entire game without a controller if that’s what you choose (controllers can be used but are optional).

From the start, it was very impressive how responsive and intuitive the hand-tracking controls were. I was able to start moving around the world and interacting with objects very quickly and with almost no missed inputs or misreads on what I was trying to do. This definitely made things feel unique and gave a sense of freedom and immersion that just isn’t quite there when you’re holding controllers in your hand.

The hand-tracking comes into play very heavily as the story goes on to the point where using a controller might feel a bit awkward comparatively, and it goes a long way towards feeling like you’re in the world. With this intense level of immersion, I caught myself almost leaning my body onto a table or object in the game more than once, which is something that I haven’t had happen in another game.

Broken Spectre: A hand holding a pocket watch.

The gameplay itself consists of moving through the forests and caves of the mountain while finding notes and clues to flesh out the story whilst giving you an idea of where to go next. Light puzzles start to be introduced pretty soon. Here you’ll need to obtain and use certain items to open the next part of the game, and none of them ever feel too difficult, making this pretty accessible for most players.

There are some other aspects that, as the game warns you about in the beginning, are definitely not for children, including some intense scenes of gore, mutilation, self-harm, and scenes of cruelty or terror that may have an effect on some. These all contribute to a feeling of genuine horror that makes it stand out, setting itself apart from most VR titles, lending to a general sense of dread, isolation, or cosmic horror without relying on jump scares to shock the player (even though there’s a small handful of them).

Broken Spectre also features several scenes where you need to use your hand to reach into strange holes, boxes, crevasses, and other scenarios with some unwelcome consequences for your poor hand. The effect is a surreal bit of immersion that makes you feel these things are happening to your own hand, unlike anything I had felt before in a VR game. This strange element of immersive body horror is a major step forward in how we think about horror in virtual reality and what kinds of responses the player will have when the control system moves away from traditional controllers.

Broken Spectre: A surreal and dark landscape with a caravan at the end.

Aside from the scenes that are just creepy or disturbing, there are also some sections that elicit genuine fight-or-flight panic reactions, like being chased by monsters and having to run away in real-time, or being confronted by something very large, overwhelming, or strange. As a horror fan, these were a joy to experience.

The narrative weaves quite a compelling story about the mystery of the mountain, the story of your relationships with your family, as well as how this mountain has affected those you have known over the years. I was rather invested in it by the time I reached the conclusion, which is pretty rare for a VR game.

Broken Spectre: an underground mine.

When it came to the visuals, this was one of the few unimpressive aspects of the game. While the visuals and art design do very well at telling a story and immersing you in the world, they aren’t always the prettiest or most realistic things to look at. It features a slightly basic and almost comic book/watercolor feel to everything, with fairly low-poly models and low-res textures, but it doesn’t detract from the game very much, only making it feel a little lackluster compared to how good some VR games look nowadays.

The audio design is superb, from the voice performances to the spatial and ambient audio surroundings and the music, which only pops up from time to time, but always fits the scene, adding a little cinematic flair or tension when there needs to be.

Broken Spectre: A creepy shack in the middle of the woods.

The whole game will likely take between 2-3 hours to complete, which feels just about right for a VR game to be satisfying without overstaying its welcome too much. However, it also feels like much more than an on-rails haunted house or arena shooter.

If you’re a fan of VR horror and have a Quest 2, Broken Spectre is an experience you won’t want to pass up. It’s not your typical jump-scare fest and requires a lot more interaction and exploration, but the reward is a much more satisfying experience that’s worth your time and attempts to move the genre forward in its own way.

9 out of 10 stars (9 / 10)


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