Westworld Awakening was just announced and released suddenly for PC VR headsets. Lucky for you we’ve already played it — here is our full review!
Westworld is an HBO show that asks a lot of philosophical questions. Examples include: What is life? What makes us human? And, of course, is it right to play God? They’re classic questions when you look back through the entire history of literature, and for good reason.
Questioning what makes us, well, us, is an intrinsically human thing, it’s a question that will be raised far more as time advances, with technologies like cloning, AI, and perhaps even digital copies of our own minds slowly changing what it means to be a person.
It makes sense then that a game set in the Westworld universe would ask similar questions. The game takes place during the early events of Season 2 and you play as a Host named Kate, who is the unfortunate – and unwilling – protagonist in a series of horror experiences, where she is continuously hunted by another Host named Hank. The game opens up with a warning about mature themes and violence; this is not a warning to be ignored. The first-person viewpoint is one thing, but playing through some of the scenes in this game in VR can be genuinely harrowing.
Westworld: Awakening starts you off within one of the false worlds, but things quickly go awry. Things unfold over a series of five chapters, with the first one taking place within the lie that you’ve been programmed into. These opening moments are perhaps the most disturbing of all, outside of the violence, there is the unshakable feeling that you are disposable, a toy to be messed with or ignored. Perhaps worse is the leering old man who eyes you up and down slowly as he talks to you, he just wants to be your hero, and you’re his prize. My skin nearly crawled off of my body, and the emotions forced upon you by Westworld: Awakening continue like this throughout the experience. The whole thing only took me about three hours, but the developers told us more like four to six hours for most playthroughs — meaning there are likely secrets to find.
The second chapter opens with you waking up in the Delos facility itself. You’re incredibly confused, unsurprising given the sudden leap forward in time, at least, that’s how it appears to you. This is where the game begins in earnest. At this point, you’ll find yourself sneaking around the offices and labs, hiding from one enemy or another, as you try and solve puzzles or follow instructions.
Hiding is simple enough, crouching down behind cubicle walls with a button prompt, hiding under tables, and climbing through vents are all viable ways of evading your pursuers. Fortunately, the AI struggles to check under objects. So you can avoid detection by ducking out of sight, at least if you aren’t playing on the highest difficulty.
The puzzles in Westworld: Awakening follow a fairly simple formula too. You scan something, track wherever it leads, find a key, do the thing. Each of these is made extremely unnerving though because you have to do all of this while avoiding a serial killer, or a team of people with guns. This is especially true when you know that unlocking a door, or flipping a switch, will end up drawing attention to where you are, meaning your timing has to be perfect in order to survive. These sections feel a bit like Alien Isolation, but in VR, and with the killer mocking you as you crawl around trying to remain unseen. It’s terrifying, my cat brushed up against my leg during one of these sections, and I can safely say that it aged me at least twenty years.
There are some great puzzles involving controlling the AI of other hosts, which is all the more affecting since you are one yourself as well. That’s where things become philosophical, and it’s used in key moments to help the story, rather than to be a tricky puzzle to be solved. It’s great, and while I understand why it isn’t in more of the game, it also would have been an excellent mechanic to dive into properly.
The gameplay in Westworld: Awakening is pretty good, even if it does feel a little shallow, but the short run-time of the game means you don’t feel the repetition as much. The main attraction here is the story. Needless to say, it’s hard to say much at all due to spoilers, but the story is as well told as you’d expect and is very compelling. Each twist and turn asks you some kind of philosophical question, but it has no interest in answering those, instead only answering the plot points that the game raises. This means you’ll finish the game questioning so much about real life but knowing full well what happened in-game. It’s the ideal really.
On top of this, both the visuals and sound design are stunning. The animations for each character are brilliant, and the voice acting is second-to-none. Every character feels almost too realistic, and it means you’ll be fearing for your life more than you’d like. You can also track your hunters by listening carefully to the spatial audio, which brings that fear factor up even higher when you can almost hear them breathing down your neck.
Westworld Awakening VR Final Thoughts
The whole experience is both haunting and fascinating, and a very worthwhile one as well. Also, you’ve got to love a short game when there are so many vying for entire months of our lives. Westworld: Awakening is an excellent story wrapped in a solid VR experience that is a good reminder of just what can be done with the amazing immersion that the tech offers us. It’s a very good game, and a must-play for fans of the show. Hell, even if you don’t know the show, it’s a worthwhile thriller that shouldn’t be ignored.
Westworld: Awakening releases today, August 19th, at a price of $29.99 on Steam, Oculus Home, and Viveport. It’s also coming to the Survios arcade platform with over 400 arcade locations. For more on how we arrived at this score, read our review guidelines.