With any new hardware comes a plethora of different game styles, all trying their hand and providing a new and unique experience on the system. In VR, pretty much every game is feeling out what works and what doesn’t for the gamer, as well as for the developer too. Tethered comes to PSVR with little fanfare from indie studio Secret Sorcery and plonks you in a God-sim, a genre, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t even thinking of when I made a list of the types of games I’d like to see in a virtual world. Maybe I should have because it’s turned out to be an eye opener.
Set in a world populated by floating islands in the sky, you’re the Spirit Guardian, charged with guiding and nurturing your Peeps so they can collect spirit energy for you. It’s a relatively standard strategy game scenario – manage resource and activity against building structures and defending from enemies – but what makes it stand out is the use of VR to really get into the detail of the small worlds you’re developing. Clouds dotted around the edges of the map are viewing points, so rather than one fixed view at one angle, you can hop between locations to get a better understanding of what’s going on. Not only does it give a new angle, you can also physically move yourself around to get closer, or peer around objects that might be in the way. There’s a much more immersive feeling using the VR headset than a typical strategy game offers, and when you’ve got the knack of leaping from cloud to cloud, it feels more responsive as well.
Life for the Peeps starts as an egg descending from the heavens which you can hatch using any available sunlight in in the sky. Weather forms a part of the total gameplay mechanic, and that mechanics is where the game’s name comes from. By tethering the egg to the sun, the focus of the rays shifts and a Peep is born, ready to be told what to do. Simply looking at the Peep highlights them, selecting them then looking at their target and picking that tethers the two together, and the Peep will head to that point to do whatever it happens to be. Once a tether is in place it stays that way until you break it in favour of something else, or the activity runs out. If you’ve set a Peep gathering wood in the forest, and the trees all get cut down, the Peep will wander aimlessly until you give it something more to do… or until you tether a raincloud to the forest and kickstart the growth. After your first Peep’s arrival, you’ll also need to keep a eye out for new eggs, Peeps’ll have to do the hatching for you in lieu of sunlight.
Rain, snow, sun and wind all have a use for managing the environment – from growing crops to freezing rivers; and they also have an effect on the population too, whether that’s providing temporary power-ups or helping them move faster through the land. The precipitation types can be tethered together too, forming new weather like lightning or rainbows, which also have special uses on Peeps, buildings and enemies. Your biggest challenge comes as night falls and nasty looking slug-type creatures appear, all intent on killing off your workers. Fighting the infiltration is fairly simple, with the first Peep to come in contact with an enemy being the one that pulls out a club and starts beating it up. However, normal Peeps are not fighters and can only tackle a few encounters before getting severely injured and dying, which is where different classes start to come up.
As spirit energy is collected, whether it’s naturally occurring in crystals or through killing enemies, more of the land becomes open for habitation, and with it the knowledge to build different structures. Farms, temples and workshops are constructed from your gathered resources and having them in the world lets you assign a class to a Peep to make it more effective. Setting one as a farmer means more food is produced and your guys are less likely to starve, but you’ll have to get into micromanagement then to make sure they are always tethered to the right resource. All Peeps can do all activities still, it’s just more effective to have a specialist in the role. There’s a limit to the number of skilled jobs you can have, which isn’t necessarily an issue for woodsman and miners, but warriors are scarce and far outnumbered by the nighttime invaders, so careful placement of them is key to keeping your camp alive. Just be aware that leaving them too long will result in them becoming aimless, then they’re likely to find the nearest cliff top to hurl themselves off… a sight just a little depressing, and one that I couldn’t prevent despite the ample warning you get.
Tethered is a cute game that fits perfectly with PSVR. With little or no expectation of what to expect, getting thrown into a nicely detailed world to manage the lives of digital creatures is very refreshing, and it’s easy to lose quite a bit of time trying to collect enough spirit energy to complete the level. The tutorial covers enough of the basics to get you going, and text help during play gets you the rest of the way, but with pretty much everything available from the start once you’ve collected enough resources, the only thing that seems to change from level to level is simply the layout of the environment. Your initial tactics end up being enough to see you through quite a lot of the levels. Likewise with the weather, it’s a great touch and interesting to have, but there are only certain types that are useful all the time and they all come with time limits before disappearing. Because it’s a lottery in terms of what’s going to show up, sometimes I just forgot to check until I needed a particular type, though it’s possible to store them if you’ve built the right structure.
It’s quite a relaxing experience manipulating little creatures and building small communities, it can get quite intense when you’re trying to stop them all from dying overnight, and there’s no doubt I’ve enjoyed being a benevolent overlord – only crisping them with lightning once or twice (mostly accidental when the targeted enemy had moved). There sadly isn’t a huge amount of depth in the levels themselves, even though there is in the development of your Peeps and buildings where several layers of upgrades are available. It doesn’t stop Tethered from being a fun experience though, and the choice of the game style coupled with VR is brilliantly executed. I’d recommend having a go if you’ve got the hardware, it’s definitely unique.
A PS4 review copy of Tethered was provided by the Secret Sorcery PR team, and the game is available now for PSVR.