At this year’s PAX East, I had the great opportunity of spending time with Mare. The upcoming game from Visiontrick Media uses the player’s gaze as the primary mode of interacting with the sprawling world. A young girl is accompanied by a mechanical bird who acts as her guide and savior, as she makes her way through the ruins of a once-mythical city.
Mare utilizes a wide spectrum of viewpoints that can only truly be achievable in VR. Players assume the role of the mechanical bird, who flies to different perches within the environment to lead the girl to safety. In this sense, the bird is her guardian and she uses the creature’s location as a landmark. For example, if he flies away towards the west, she attempts to follow and ultimately stand right beneath him. Reaching the faraway perch is simple enough for an air-dwelling creature, but it’s a bit more complicated for the land-anchored girl. The ruins are often a labyrinth of rubble, gaps, and ledges which results in her having to find a more feasible route.
Similar to Ico, the young girl relies on the bird to protect her and show her the way. Aesthetically, the games share some analogs such as the ruins, a made up language, and shadowy lifeless enemies who attack in waves. Mare’s beauty comes largely from its fantastic use of VR depth and verticality of its world. From high above, the player looks down at the young girl slowly on her way to meet the bird. It is a game best played in a rotating chair since the focal point is constantly changing. At times, I would need to turn my body completely around just to keep track of the girl, who often disappeared within the tight confines of the ruins.
In addition to its environmental depth, Mare also holds beauty in its mysteries. From what I played, there is no explanation of why the mechanical bird and other like-minded technology exists, who the girl is, or what happened in the ruins. In fact, it took me a long time to figure out what exactly I was supposed to be doing. I was told by the developers that I just needed to take in the world and I would “figure it out”, which turned out to be exactly right. At the beginning, I was in a large chamber flanked by two staircases. Looking down, I discovered the young girl, devoid of any significant features, staring up at me and waving. Immediately I got the feeling that she was an explorer, an optimistic young soul who wanted to see the world. The way she was animated told me she was eager to move forward and was looking to me for guidance.
Unsure of what the mechanical bird’s role was, I gazed at a nearby perch which prompted the creature to fly to it. There were a total of three perches and a locked gate, which I knew I had to get through somehow. Flying the bird to different perches caused the girl to follow, so I had to land on them in the correct “order” which caused her to discover the correct path. Since the only method of interacting with the world is player sight, solving puzzles is fairly simple. Once found, she opened the gate which revealed a new area to explore.
While Ico suffers from bad camera angles, Mare benefits from all the perspectives that VR has to offer. The environments are sprawling and can be explored freely by looking in any direction. Gameplay is pure and simple, which allows for a sense of wonder. Mystery shrouds the story and setting, creating a somber atmosphere. During my experience playing Mare on the show floor, the developers told me that it would approximately a three hour experience and that most plot points would be open to interpretation. Such a tranquil experience is one that should be played by those who enjoy Ico, The Last Guardian, and atmospheric games in general.
Mare is set to release before the end of the year on Oculus Rift.