Many genres have benefited by taking advantage of VR, and narrative games have been one of the bigger ones. Sometimes discarded as walking simulators, VR has allowed the genre to spread its wings some and try new ideas. Manifest 99 is one of those games. Diving into the memories of four people during their final moments, does Manifest 99 manage to tell an interesting story to go with the imagery, or should you find a different train to board?
Manifest 99 takes place in a world full of animal people and follows the lives of four of them who were caught and killed in a train accident. You'll be learning about a bear soldier returning from a war to his wife, a doe photographer taking her dream vacation, an owl nurse hoping to buy flowers for an ailing patient, and a crow pickpocket trying to take advantage of the others on the train. You'll see the history of these four characters and why each of them got on this train in the first place, learning about the events leading up to the eventual crash in the process.
None of the characters really have a complete story, but that's sort of the point. This isn't the full story of four people, this is four stories that got cut off before they could really begin. The further in I went, the more tragic it really felt. I began to connect to these characters, feel bad about how their life was ended early, and hope that the end of the game would provide me with some way to save them. Despite the lack of any dialogue, the game manages to get its story across really well. The only real hitch in this is that Manifest 99 clocks in at maybe 30 minutes, and that's including if you take your time by looking around. I feel like the game could have been a little longer to spend a little more time with each character without hurting the pacing at all.
The basic gameplay involves looking into the eyes of crows to teleport around the train. As you look around you'll see that there are crows placed all around the train. Stare into the eyes of one for a second or two and you'll take its place. This is how you'll be advancing through the game, and there's no use of the controller in anyway way. Everything is done by staring at objects in the game. Your goal is to get to the end of each section of the train so you can stare into the eyes of the person who occupies that car and learn their story.
There's just not much gameplay involved in this. You'll just be warping from one crow to the next, moving down the train cars until you find your passenger. There's very little requirement for the player to do much, with only a single puzzle being in the game, maybe. It depends if you want to count having to trick the Owl into trying to shoo one crow so you can jump to the other a puzzle. If you're looking for a game for reasons other than the story then you're not going to find anything very interesting with Manifest 99.
The only other real divergence from teleporting through crows is finding the game's collectibles. Each of the passengers carry three personal belongings with them on the train, and you can find and collect them by staring at them. There's little purpose for them other than to flesh out the characters a little more. For example, you can find a helmet during the soldier's segment that you discover actually was his best friend's helmet. It adds an extra bit of layer to each character's story, which I appreciated.
The game's art style paints one interesting picture. Each of the character's carts is unique to them, and gazing out the window can get you lost in beautiful landscapes relevant to each character. During the soldier's segments, you'll see forests of barbed wire and rifles, while the photographer's section looks like it's underwater, full of fish and underwater plant life. The game also has a beautiful soundtrack that fits the in-game moments wonderfully. It helps really sell the drama, adding that little extra something to the scenes that play out.
Manifest 99 is not going to be the VR game for the person looking for a gameplay heavy experience. It will appeal to those looking instead for an interesting story to carry them through. Smart and well made, there's one hell of an emotional tale here that's backed up by great art and music. I just wish it was a little longer.
Manifest 99's story and visuals carries it quite far, even if the short running time and lack of gameplay put a bit of a brake on things.
- Interesting Story with Great Characters
- Smart Movement Mechanic
- Lovely Visuals and Soundtrack
- Lacks Much Gameplay