VRLA 2018: New avenues for horror

VRLA was a horror show.

One of the most consistent themes at VRLA 2018 were games and experiences designed to freak you out. It makes sense; fear is probably the easiest emotion to elicit in virtual reality, and even a subpar VR horror experience is still pretty scary. The immersion is a perfect fit for horror, and the combination of free exploration and a lack of environmental control can make for an extremely tense experience.

So tense that there are some concerns it might actually kill people.

The Exorcist: Legion VR

But nobody died at VRLA 2018 as far as I know, despite the variety of engaging horror experiences. One of the most effective was The Exorcist: Legion VR, an episodic horror title that pairs investigative exploration with some pretty terrifying demon interactions. The title stands out not only because it’s scary as hell, but also the business model developers Fun Train are utilizing to stand out in the increasingly crowded market. There are four chapters available so far, and though you have to have the first chapter as a base installation, you can purchase the other three chapters, in any order, for $4.99.

This is remarkably cheap for such a fleshed out VR experience, and though I wasn’t able to try all of the chapters, what I did see was absolutely worth five dollars. Making small purchases, DLC style, makes sense in VR due to the high cost of development. Not every developer has the capabilities of Bethesda to put out titles with hundred of hours of gameplay, and this could free up developers to experiment with smaller scale, more highly targeted content.

This is good for the consumer, in that it could indicate a lowering of notoriously high VR software prices. Though it makes sense for developers to charge more than those developing for other mediums considering the smaller consumer base, this can be frustrating for players due to the high cost of both the software, and the upfront cost of the tech required to enjoy it.

I expect to see more of these alternative pricing models coming to market in the next few years as VR becomes more mainstream and less expensive. You can pick up The Exorcist: Legion VR here for Vive, Oculus, and PSVR. It’s absolutely worth checking out, though it’s not for the faint of heart. Don’t be that first VR horror death.

Speak of the Devil: Interactive movies

Not every horror experience at the show was a traditional game. If you’re an avid VR user, you’ve probably encountered interactive movies that play out almost as live action point and click adventures.

A great example of this movie/game hybrid is Speak of the Devil, a live-action interactive VR horror film available on Google Daydream, Samsung GearVR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. It’s a relatively simple premise; a camping trip turns into a nightmarish Satanic adventure, but one that shows a great deal of promise.

The scenes were shot with a 360 degree camera, and are stitched together to create a simple but effective experience that involves jumping from live action to live action scene in any order you choose in an effort to survive. In a horror movie what you see is confined to the screen. In VR horror you never know what is happening behind you, and that adds a whole new layer of anxiety that is used to great effect here.

The quality of the experience is somewhat affected by the production values of the crew, and you can tell they were working with a tight budget, but that’s true for any horror experience. When it works, it works really well, with a particularly memorable sequence involving a horned demon rising out of the dark coming to mind.

The advantage of this style of experience is that it’s easier to create. It doesn’t involve nearly as much expertise in actual game development, so the barrier to entry is lower. You just need some actors, a set, and a 360 camera to put together an immersive (and in this case terrifying) experience.

The other advantage is the lower hardware requirements required to experience the piece. Because it is essentially a series of video clips stitched together, even the simplest VR headset like the Daydream or GearVR will work just fine. This should help to increase audience size.

Speak of the Devil is a reminder that VR can be used for more than just tech demos and games, but can generate legitimately compelling narrative experiences in the horror space. It’s an exciting taste of a bloody future that’s right around the corner.

The state of VR horror

It might be easy to scare people in VR, but as that market becomes more and more populated, content creators are going to have to take steps to stand out. Just being scary isn’t enough anymore, but these alternative mediums and changing pricing models might be just what horror needs to continue being at the cutting edge of the VR experience.

For more VR news and hardware, visit Newegg VR Central. ​