When you first start playing, or should I say "watching", The Invisible Hours by Tequila Works, a message comes on screen letting you know that this is something unique and different.
"This is not a game. This is not a movie. This is a piece of immersive theatre with many tangled threads. But remember: truth is a matter of perspective."
I agree with Tequila Works that The Invisible Hours is not a game. I'm not so sure about the movie part. I honestly think one of the primary reasons that Tequila Works and Game Trust aren't advertising this as the world's first legitimate VR movie, is because they probably don't think they would be able to get $30 out of your pocket for an animated VR movie. It's a shame really, because I honestly think they should be shouting from the rooftops, that they've delivered one of the first cinematic experiences that truly takes advantage of this new medium. It's quite an accomplishment when you really think about it. Of course, when it comes to marketing something and selling it, it's all about perception. We'll easily pay $30 for an exciting new game, but a VR movie? It's not live action. It's not full motion video. It's not starring Chris Pratt or Jennifer Lawrence.
The Invisible Hours is an animated feature that tells the tale of a murder and the seven suspects under suspicion. You play the role of an invisible ghost, that can view the proceedings from virtually any angle or perspective. You can rewind and fast forward time. You can pause time. You can move about the various rooms of Nikola Tesla's island estate, or travel outside the mansion to explore the surrounding grounds. Of course, while you're busy in one room or location, things are happening in others. You can't be everywhere at once. That's where the beauty of this experience lies. You see, this is an event that is unfolding before you, and like a ghost, you can travel to any location and witness what's taking place, but you're still just one ghost, with one pair of eyes. You have to decide where you think the most interesting exchanges are taking place. Maybe you'll visit the library where Thomas Edison and Victor Mundy are having a heated argument. Maybe you'll visit the entryway where Tesla's blind butler Oliver Swan is having a passionate discussion with actress and celebrity Sarah Bernhardt. The problem is, you can't be in both places at the same time, so you have to choose wisely.
The more I experience this unique game/movie, the more I'm reminded of two Sega CD games from late 1992. Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective and Night Trap. You see, way back in 1992, the idea of games on CD was a brand new thing. It was all about "multimedia". Two of the first experiences to come along were Sherlock Holmes and Night Trap. Both games wowed players in different ways. Sherlock Holmes was all about being a detective, and trying to figure out who was lying and who was telling the truth. Night Trap very much played on the idea that you could only be in one place at one time, while a mystery was unfolding in multiple rooms simultaneously. The similarities are striking, especially when you consider the new medium of Virtual Reality, is not that far removed from the arrival of CD based multimedia experiences. We're always advancing forward. Sherlock Holmes and Night Trap may have been well ahead of their time, in the same way that The Invisible Hours is a breakthrough achievement in storytelling.
These characters might be animated cartoons when you get down to the brass tacks, but their performances are so real and profound. Being able to examine them from any possible angle, like a ghost would be able to examine any one of us going through our daily lives is exhilarating and unique. In fact, I'm reminded of Patrick Swayze from the 1990 movie Ghost with Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg. Swayze's character Sam Wheat was murdered early on in that story, and he had to finish out the story in ghostly form. I remember how shocked he was when the living participants would walk right through him as if he didn't exist. Experiencing The Invisible Hours is very similar to this. You can choose to follow individual characters with an automatic camera, but I think it's much more enjoyable to teleport to specific spots and simply watch things unfold from all kinds of perspectives and angles.
I'm still quite early on in my play-through of this exciting experiment, but I can already tell you that I've been delighted with what I've experienced so far. I'm not sure how this whole thing is going to conclude, but it's been an enjoyable ride to say the least. VR Game Rankings will hopefully have a review of this clever production in the very near future.