Surviving the Paranormal Activity VR Demo


When I was invited to the Universal lot in Los Angeles for a hands-on experience with the new Paranormal Activity Virtual Reality game, I went with tempered expectations. That’s not to say I don’t like VR or the Paranormal Activity franchise. It’s just that my previous exploits with virtual reality had been incredibly hit-or-miss.

Some titles I was super excited for ended up leaving me with a level of motion sick I didn’t even think possible. Others I enjoyed immensely. Going into my appointment, I had no idea where Paranormal Activity VR was going to fall on that scale. So it was with hopeful excitement that I waited for those VR controllers to be put in my hands.

My experiences with VR headsets up until this point had been limited to the Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear, and Google Cardboard. Paranormal Activity VR was initially created for the HTC Vive VR system. This includes real-time motion tracking within a pre-set location, which allows your entire body to enter VR environments. Let me say that the Vive experience really is incomparable. There are movement peripherals being developed for the Vive’s competitors like the Virtuix Omni, but they offer freedom of movement at the expense of being tied down to a platform.

For those who haven’t had a chance to test out an HTC Vive, here’s a quick rundown. You have your headset, external headphones, and a pair of handheld controllers. The headset itself is surprisingly comfortable to wear. Sometimes headsets have a tendency to feel awkward and clunky, but I never really had that sensation with the Vive. I was able to wear my glasses comfortably within the headset, and the headphones fit well over the top. The controllers look a little silly in reality—they’re essentially plastic sticks with a halo at one end—but they feel light and easy to handle. Within the realm of Paranormal Activity VR, a click of one of two buttons on the sides of the controllers opens and closes your character’s hands. A trigger used by your pointer finger allows you to interact with some objects. Practically everything else is intuitive as long as you remind yourself that it’s meant to mirror reality.

Paranormal Activity VR

You can move by pushing up or down on a D-pad, but most exploration is done via actual physical movements through the navigable space. This is really where the Vive motion tracking system shines. I was told after my playthrough of Paranormal Activity VR that if I wanted to lie down on the floor and look under a table, I could do that with the Vive. That, my friends, is something that you just can’t experience with other VR headsets at the moment. Paranormal Activity VR will be ported to all the other currently available virtual reality systems. Small changes will be made to make up for the different styles of headsets. So it will be interesting to see how gameplay differs among the systems.

Enough of all this hardware technical jargon though, am I right?! How was the GAME?! Was Paranormal Activity VR all it’s hyped up to be? Is it really scary? In the spirit of transparency I have to point out that some of the jump scares in the demo I played will not be in the full game. Demos have to show audiences the best of the best, all in a very short amount of playable time. So of course the game’s creators have to spook you outright to grab your attention. However, the main scare in Paranormal Activity VR is truly in the environment. Some of my favorite horror movies are the kinds that leave you hanging. Much like Frankenfurter in Rocky Horror Picture Show, I just love to be left in antici… pation! It’s the waiting that gets me. When is someone going to whisper to me from the dark? When am I going to see something that shouldn’t be there? That’s true dread right there.

I can honestly say that the guys over at Beast Media and VRwerx have taken that conceptual bull by the horns and wrestled it into submission. Paranormal Activity VR is spooky. There’s the way the doors creak when you push them open. The way some rooms are lit by solitary candles, leaving certain corners permanently unlit. Even entering rooms that looked completely normal just felt off, like you were waiting for the light bulbs to explode and an unseen entity to tackle you to the floor. I admit the vast majority of my play time was spent slowly creeping through the halls of the house the game takes place in. After I exited Paranormal Activity VR, I was told that your character has the option to run, which is necessary at some points of the game. Even if I had known that ahead of time, though, I don’t think I would have. There’s just something about knowingly running into the face of danger that I couldn’t do.

When I first entered Paranormal Activity VR, I was transported into the foyer of a dimly lit home. I looked towards a side table and pushed up on the D-pad to make my character walk over to it. As I looked down to glance at the items on the table, I was told to actually physically move my body in closer to get a better look at the things sitting there. That was the moment when I immersed as fully as I ever have in a virtual reality environment. Controllers in hand, I really felt like I was picking up the envelopes that laid there. As I held them closer to my face, I could see the words “Past Due” stamped very clearly on them. A music box played on the table. A quick tap closed the lid to silence the music. Only then did the pressing silence of the house really set in.

Paranormal Activity VR

In my playthrough of the Paranormal Activity VR demo, I was able to explore a handful of rooms. There was the foyer, the bathroom, a living room, a closet, and (briefly) another living room. In the bathroom I discovered how intuitive the game can be. I found a prescription bottle on the bathroom sink and instinctively looked down for my lighter in my other hand. By holding the prescription bottle up nearer my face, I could use the lighter in my other hand to literally shine some light on the label to make it easier to read. The lighting in Paranormal Activity VR is incredibly realistic, and looking at the bottle this way casts a reflective shadow of it on the wall. Speaking of light, the only room in the demo that was well-lit was the first living room. This was where batteries for my flashlight were discovered, and I was able to test out the Vive’s controllers a little more. If you found out you could throw a CD like a frisbee while simultaneously being prepared to piss your pants at any moment, you’d do it too!

Even within the demo for Paranormal Activity VR, there were hidden secrets to unlock for the completionists out there. Finding a key in the bathroom lets you unlock a closet, which contains a book with a bit of cryptic information. Walking down the hallway, you might look back for a moment to find that the room has changed drastically. If you just press on, things might scare you in different ways. There were even multiple endings to the demo, which was illustrated for me after I finished my playthrough. With such attention to detail being given to a simple demo, it’s safe to say that it’s worth looking forward to the full release.

As far as I could garner from my time with Paranormal Activity VR, the game is going to be very much about exploration. Discovering secrets and the story in this eerily haunted house will be the main focus. Demonic activity will be happening of course, so somehow combating this force and protecting yourself will be another large part. The time you spend in the house will be intense, you will get scared, and you’ll slowly uncover a story worthy of the Paranormal Activity franchise.

Before I continue, take a few moments to watch my reaction video below for a small sampling of the gameplay, as well as my response to a couple jump scares.

Paranormal Activity VR doesn’t follow the events of any of the currently existing movies in the franchise. Instead, it utilizes the “mythology” of the Paranormal Activity universe. You’re in a house, creepy shit is happening, and the only way to find out why/how is to explore and investigate. Not much was explained to me by way of plot for sake of keeping the experience genuine for players, and I didn’t discern much from the demo. However, I was completely okay with this. With games like this that rely entirely on suspense and surprise, knowing even small parts of the plot would potentially ruin everything for me.

There’s no solid release date yet for Paranormal Activity VR, but take comfort in knowing that this time is being well spent by the developers to make it great. It was extremely clear to see from my communication with them that Paranormal Activity VR is a labor of love. A lot of attention to detail is going into this game, and from what I experienced, it’s paid off.

Keep an eye out here at Dread Central for more news on the game. But for now, let us know how you liked our reaction video in the comments below!

Paranormal Activity VR



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