July 21, 2013 by Pete_XXVII
Ah so you thought you’d learnt all you needed to know about quantum mechanics from BioShock Infinite did you? Not a chance.
Virtue’s Last Reward has a plot that has so many twists and turns that by the end of it you’ll have trouble remembering where it all went wrong. It all starts in a lift. You play as Sigma, a PhD student who finds himself kidnapped on Christmas Eve. With no idea who has taken him, or why, he must team up with the 8 other people that are all stuck in some kind of warehouse with him. First off though you meet Phi, a young woman who seems to know more than she’s letting on…
Within the first few minutes you discover the crux of the game, namely to escape from rooms that you find yourself trapped in, all the while trying to figure out who your mysterious captor(s) could be. The puzzles themselves are satisfyingly difficult, especially if you’re not used to puzzle games. While some of the solutions may be simple to work out, others require a lot more lateral thinking. Fortunately if you become completely stuck you can turn the difficulty of the puzzles to easy.
The real star of the game thought is the plot. Delightfully complex and wonderfully twisty it all revolves around the Nonary Game: Ambidex Edition. Along with Phi and Sigma there is Luna, Alice, Clover, Dio, K, Tenmyouji, and Quark. Each of the characters has a unique style and you genuinely warm to them as you progress through the game. How far you can trust them is a different matter though. The further you go the more blurred the lines become between truth and lies. How many of them know each other? What’s the connection between them all?
This question of trust becomes crucial. After escpaing from each of the rooms you have to then play another minigame, this time based on the Prisoner’s Dilemma. In this case you have two teams playing against each other. If both teams decide to ally with each other then both benefit. If one allies and the other betrays, then the one who betrays benefits even more, and the one who allies loses. If both betray then neither team gains, nor loses. Still with me? Good because now we get onto the complicated part.
Each person is equipped with a bracelet that defines the teams and holds a number on it. If that number gets to nine they can escape. If it gets to zero then they die. How do they gain points? By playing the Ambidex game; allying or betraying. With each round tensions appear amongst the team, meaning that you’re never sure who will ally and who won’t. Oh, and the game’s run by an AI rabbit who like making puns – it’s as odd as it sounds.
The choice of ally or betray is where start moving into the realms of quantum physics. No choice is set in stone, each branching off into a different realm. The question of how, or even if, these realms interact with each other is something that isn’t fully explained until the end of the game, and even then it’s somewhat obscure. With 24 endings in total, there are so many choices of how you approach the whole game.
Wonderfully the game fully utilizes the Vita’s touch controls. By swiping on the touch pad you change the view of the room and by touching on the objects you get to choose what you focus on. It’s only small touches like this that make it feel that it’s using the Vita in a smart way, there’s very little to be seen as gimmickry. The puzzles may be difficult but they are never too long, certainly a good fit for the portable gaming experience.
Overall Virtue’s Last Reward must be seen as a success for the Vita. With smart use of the controls it makes it feel like it was designed for the console. More importantly it treat’s the gamer as an intelligent part of the, not dumbing down the story and not holding back on the difficult part of physics, but it offers enough of an explanation for the novice to understand. It’s a skill that isn’t matched very often, with a particular dearth amongst western developers. If you have a Vita then it really is an essential buy.