PlayStation VR has opened the doors for all sorts of creative ways to tell stories. With new game experiences that put you in the action seat and eyes of the hero, as well as movie-like experiences that would otherwise not be possible on a traditional TV display. I’ve never really been interested in these PSVR experiences. To me they always seemed like low effort cash grabs designed to lure in the unsuspecting PSVR owner. For me, Manifest 99 changed my way of thinking about such things.
First things first, let’s kick off with the basics. You’ll need a PSVR headset but you won’t need any controllers. No PS Move wands will be waved, and no PSVR Aim Controller will be harnessed. Even your trusty DualShock 4 gets a little break on this occasion as all you need to do is use your noggin.
Manifest 99 isn’t a game. The developers were keen to stress that in the review notes I was given. Fair enough, then. It’s billed as a “20-minute experience” that’ll cost $5.99 on on PSVR and other VR platforms. As it’s reliant on its story, I can’t really be posting a very detailed account of what happens minute-by-minute. That’d be a bit shitty of me and it’d ruin the fun for you, the reader and/or buyer of Manifest 99.
The story, which is told without a single word being spoken, is that you’re a bird. A blackbird, to be precise, and you’re the observer of people. It all kicks off with you being perched on a rock by the side of a train track. It’s here you’ll learn that eye contact is a means to progression. By that I mean you need to stare at another blackbird until it glows white, and then you’ll be transported to where that particular flying rat was sat. It works well and I can’t really fault it.
There’s more to staring like a creep, though, as you’ll meet several characters along the way. These characters are anthropomorphic folk (animals dressed like people, for those who aren’t familiar with the word) on a train journey. Ah, the train. Yes, this is where 97% of the experience takes place. It seemed to be some kind of European train. That’s not important. What is important is what happens along the way. You meet these shy characters who don’t really want to make any eye contact with you. With a bit of perseverance you’ll manage to lock eyes and learn a little about what brought them to the train.
Ah, but that’s not all. No silent story would be complete without a villain of sorts, would it? I should note that it’s not actually a silent story. While the bear man, the deer lady and the owl granny don’t talk, there’s plenty of music to help set the mood. It’s actually really well done and, without sounding like a pretentious twat, it really does give the whole tale a voice. Back to the villain…
There’s a strange presence flowing through the train. You’ll only glimpse the bad guy fleetingly, but when he does make an appearance it is a little unnerving. That’s VR for you. Immersion, yo. It turns out that not everything is as it seems, though, and there’s a rather touching twist to the tale that brings the bad guy to the foreground in this tale of redemption. He’s basically a thieving little shitbag who’s been nicking people’s stuff on the train, but he gets his comeuppance in the end… Not in some glorious fist-fight, but in a way I genuinely didn’t see coming. As I said, I can’t really go into the specifics without getting a “dude, WTF?!” email in my inbox from the developer, but it’s a worthy payoff that will probably lead less burly men and women to tears. Not me, I’m a total geezer, but others. Oh, this tissue? Er, yeah, I have a cold from doing manly sports in the snow…
Manifest 99 PSVR Review
This is all going to come down to one thing: cost. If you don't mind paying a few quid/dollars for something you'll likely only use a couple of times, I say go for it. This kind of work deserves to be seen and the effort deserves to be rewarded. It's just a shame that these kinds of experiences are still limited, but this does show promise and I look forward to whatever Flight School Studio produces next.
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Reviewed using PS4 Slim.