Fated: The Silent Oath - Brutal Backlog
Brutal Backlog is a semi-regular feature where the JDR team play through some of the unplayed games on their shelves (both digital and physical), disregarding their age or the technical limitations of their era. Only the very best titles will stand up to scrutiny today.
On the search for VR titles in a similar vein to the award winning Crow: The Legend, I came across Fated: The Silent Oath. Describing itself as a “movie-length narrative-adventure” which “focuses on emotion over gameplay”, I was sure this would be one to scratch that itch, or close enough — part film, part VR game experience.
Ten Minutes In
You start in the afterlife, floating amongst a vast galaxy of stars, until a passing goddess very kindly offers to return you to your body. You’re only there for a matter of minutes before waking up back on Earth, but that cosmic expanse was an ethereally beautiful start to the game. You come to in the back of a bumpy wagon cart a la Skyrim, with your wife (switching from grief to joy at your awakening) and father-in-law (humorously indifferent) as the two other passengers. Fated: The Silent Oath feels like an interactive film so far, as you sit back and watch the countryside go by while your wife fills you in on the events of the day and a bit of Norse mythology worldbuilding. Now voiceless — the cost of a second chance at life, and the reason for the game’s subtitle — you can nod or shake your head in response to questions asked of you at points. The Playstation VR headset tracks your head movements very well, which isn’t just felt from NPC reactions to your gestures: choosing to lean backwards and forwards to work out the limits of my stationary placement, I saw my wife’s eyes following mine as I did so. Fated: The Silent Oath isn’t built on a particularly powerful engine, but these little details subtly bumped up the immersion level for me.
Twenty Minutes In
Hopping off the wagon back at your village, you can now walk around freely. I say ‘freely’, but the reality is a bit less liberating. I’m not getting motion sickness from moving with the left analogue stick, but prodding at the right analogue stick to turn is horrible. Instead of a smooth rotation, you’ll instantaneously snap to a new direction in increments. The jarring experience of this meant that after a couple of minutes uncomfortably trying to adjust to it, I’ve called upon the spirit of the noble crab to guide me — and am strafing my way along as much as possible. Right and left triggers will raise your arms independently, but there isn’t a use for this yet other than fantasising about throttling the slow walking NPCs showing you around.
There are a number of VR ‘comfort settings’ which I’ve had a play around with now. You can increase or decrease the angle of rotation when you turn, and you can overlay an unobtrusive wireframe over the screen to give a clear sense of visual depth and to highlight the origin point of dialogue and sounds. More to their credit, these controls aren’t hidden away in a pause menu, but mapped to the D-pad so you can switch things up on the hoof. As I couldn’t reduce the movement setting down to a small enough angle to make turning a smooth experience, I was a little disappointed. Despite this, their inclusion shows that the developers are thinking about this kind of thing, and I’m sure is a great help to those more affected by virtual reality nausea.
Thirty Minutes In
I’m walking through a Scandinavian forest with a flame-haired youth. He’s got a dodgy haircut. I’ve got a beard. We’re hunting deer.
At this point I had to stop and see exactly when this was released. Two full years before God Of War’s PS4 revamp, as it turns out. On paper, it’s pretty much the same sequence as the intro to that game, and this peculiarly specific prescience is disconcerting. Sure, there’s a lot of redhead Vikings in history and perhaps not a great deal to do apart from hunt when you’re not having adventures. But the boy’s dodgy haircut? You can’t explain that away easily.
Headset back on, having muttered a few forlorn “BOY”s under my breath, let’s return to the trail. It’s not much fun though. Walking at a snail’s pace, you’ll eventually get to point and click some arrows at a motionless deer to complete the task, and then drag the carcass back to the village. That seems to underpin the experience so far — going through the motions. I’ve listened to people talk, been sent on a wee errand, and then returned to the village for more conversation, and all of it feels like box ticking.
A bigger picture narrative isn’t unfolding, but there’s enough incidental dialogue and sweet familial conversations to emphasise the smaller, quieter moments of an ordinary life (other than the back-from-the-dead thing, I guess).
Forty Minutes In
The village has decided to up sticks, and we’re crossing a mountain range on our wagons. You’re at the reins this time, and the controls are well implemented — again, right and left shoulder buttons to move your arms and guide the horses — if stiff. Just sitting alongside your daughter asking questions about giants and life is pleasant, and you don’t need to steer enough to prevent you from turning your head and drinking it all in. Birds fly overhead and the sun and rocky skyline look alright. Up close, this world can look very blocky, with pieces not fitting together (stylistically and actually), but from this high vantage point it’s a lot easier to appreciate.
After about ten minutes of this peaceful pace, giants appear and decimate your convoy, turning the chapter into a chase sequence. The sense of scale from the giants is great as they loom over you to gobble up your travel buddies, and the level of tension remains as you gallop your family along past dead horses and crashed wagons, waiting for the next giant to emerge from the mountain-top mist. This is my favourite part of Fated: The Silent Oath so far, with the faster pace of gameplay preceded by the more meditative journey sequence. It definitely helped that I didn’t have to walk or do any manual turning, Meili be praised.
One Hour In
Lots of walking. Lots of manual turning, as strafing just isn’t cutting it in the winding network of tunnels I’ve retreated into with my family and another survivor. I have been given a flaming torch, but no matter how I brandish it, the body of it obscures more of the screen than it illuminates, which is nuts. It is a laborious slog to get through these caves, with just a handful of simple rune-matching puzzles to keep you interested along the way.
The end credits rolled suddenly at around eighty minutes, off the back of an abrupt story development. It’s an ending out of nowhere, delivered bluntly and designed to cause heartache. I felt momentarily bad for not being more invested in these characters, but after the last twenty minutes traipsing through the gloom, my main emotional response was one of bemusement instead. Fated: The Silent Oath was intended to be the first installment of an ongoing story, and I’m sure this ending would have been a good cliffhanger if part two was already on the way. However, the series is dead in the water, so there’s no way to spitshine this ‘drama for the sake of drama’ ending.
Games or ‘virtual experiences’ don’t always have to feel complete to be worth investing your time into. As a case in point, The Order: 1886 felt like a concept demo for a full length game which never came. It was short, uneven, and haphazardly threw a new gameplay style at you in each chapter. Despite this, I stand by that game and enjoyed it immensely for what it was. Sadly, Fated: The Silent Oath had the opposite effect on me with the hollow controllable sections and rushed story arc. The best aspects of my playthrough were the generic ones that can be captured in almost any VR game — the scale of the world, and your own presence within it. In 2016, the initial release may have been exciting, but today, just a few years later, you can find a more fulfilling and inventive experience in a multitude of titles.
Having finished, I’m not entirely sure where I would place this title — it’s on the gaming side of an interactive movie in terms of controller input, but on the interactive movie side of a game for the lack of challenge or thought required to play. Although Fated: The Silent Oath holds a certain position as a launch title for multiple VR platforms, even with the short runtime I think this one would be better appreciated as a reminder of those first wobbly baby-steps a relatively new medium will experiment with.
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