The World of Darkness has always been a bit mistreated in the gaming world. Apart from the excellent Vampire: the Masquerade - Bloodlines, there’s always been something off with its video game adaptations. Just look at the recent Werewolf: The Apocalypse - Earthblood to understand where they go wrong. They’re often clunky, misguided, or just plain bad. In the handful of hours I’ve had with Wraith: The Oblivion - Afterlife, it’s done just enough to make me feel rather hopeful even if it hasn’t won me over just yet.
In Wraith: The Oblivion - Afterlife, you play as the recently deceased Ed Miller, exploring the Barclay Mansion. You exist in the world between the living and the dead and must overcome challenges throughout the mansion to get to the bottom of your own death. Think somewhere between Murdered: Soul Suspect and Blair Witch to get a rough idea of what I mean. Compare it to the Oculus Quest Blair Witch and you should be even closer.
What astounds me about playing Wraith is its ability to scare. On the comparatively underpowered Oculus Quest, you really need to do a lot to boost that sense of immersion. Wraith: The Oblivion - Afterlife manages to get rid of a lot of the chaotic violent horror with small jumps and tense music to great effect. The labyrinthian Barclay Mansion has you consistently guessing where to go next and barging through new areas. While it loops around itself cleverly, you rarely get the chance to fully catch your breath. Even when visiting areas you’ve been to, you’ll hear tinges of the music in the background, alerting you to the fact you aren’t truly safe.
It doesn’t always hit this feeling. Sometimes, the amount of backtracking can get a little tiring, especially in the rather physical medium of VR. sometimes, the puzzles aren’t all that challenging, either, feeling more like an arbitrary stop than an intentional pause. The flow wasn’t always there in my time with it but the story did shine. The way it tells this story is even better. You are often guided by other wraiths, with their own purposes and meanings. You can attempt to look into their actions but the way you read that is entirely on you. The thing that makes you special is your occupation before death. You were a photographer — someones who captures moments in time, without context or explanation. You pull together brief moments for those in the know to understand. You’re only occasionally lucky enough to be the one in the know.
Your camera gives you an interesting ability to show you moments in time. As you spot a freezer, you notice small polaroids floating in midair. With a point and a click, you can experience that conversation, that movement, or that fight. It’s surprisingly lonely for a game that regularly employs jumpscares. I suppose this duality expresses that wonderfully eerie place between life and death, close enough to see human figures but far enough away to get to the uncanny valley. This is one of the more interesting parts of Wraith — Piecing together moments like a detective. With me in charge, Ed Miller is a bad one.
Not all of these mechanics worked in my time with it. There’s a mechanic at the start where you place your hand up in order to hear a heartbeat. This was fairly inconsistent and didn’t do much that couldn’t have been achieved by just pacing around. You can make the veins in your arm very visible but outside of that, it had little purpose. What it does interestingly is its grab mechanics. It has a system similar to Half-Life: Alyx’s gravity gloves that have you swing an item towards you with a firm pull. This helps solidify a little bit of that ethereal nature of being undead. You can mess with your environments in new and strange ways.
This isn’t all it attempts. As you get further, you unlock powers granted to you as a wraith. Your flashlight has the ability to move pieces otherwise thought unmovable but it also clues you into the fact that you might be fumbling around in the dark. In my time with this preview, it got this horror pacing surprisingly well. The initial area is spooky and weird but becomes more and more natural as you get to Barclay Mansion’s more frightening parts. Where you start is dark but it’s a sunny day in contrast to what’s out there. As you explore the pasts of other wraiths and deal with spooky monsters, you realize things could get much, much worse.
I hope that this is something Wraith: The Oblivion - Afterlife hits on later this year. It’s eerie and spooky and has some really interesting ideas but the story pacing is a little timid and occasionally, needless backtracking can leave the experience feeling a slight bit hollow. Where other games in the World of Darkness have felt like a ghost, this feels more alive and more intentional despite its drawbacks. If it continues down this path, I have no doubt I’ll be terrified on its release in April.
TechRaptor previewed Wraith: The Oblivion - Afterlife on Oculus Quest with a copy provided by the publisher. It will release later this year on April 22nd