Feature Article

Ratchet and Clank Dev's New Game Set in Chicago's Occult Underground

A midnight duel.

During a recent media event Insomniac Games revealed two new titles, adding to its already packed release schedule in 2016. Like the fast-approaching Edge of Nowhere, both titles are Oculus exclusives. Feral Rites, a Zelda/God of War amalgam, wasn't playable, but I did get the chance to play The Unspoken, a multiplayer project set in the occult underground of a fantastical Chicago.

The Unspoken focuses on player vs. player combat with magical spells. It uses the upcoming Oculus Touch controllers to demand a wide range of movement from the player: waving, throwing, hammering, drawing--the list goes on. From an onlooker's perspective, the two duelists before me appeared to be engaged in an interpretive dance.

But once I donned the Oculus headset, their movements made sense. I stood on a platform above a backlot in a darkened cityscape. Across the way, facing me from its own platform, was a hooded figure brimming with red energy. After a quick tutorial, the combat started.

Insomniac is famous for its creative, offbeat weapons, like those it displayed in Ratchet and Clank, Resistance, and Sunset Overdrive. Despite the absence of handheld weapons, The Unspoken still displays that same creativity. Some of the spells stick to the norm: a fireball in my right hand, a deflective shield in my left. But others deviate.

The Unspoken's dual-wielding allows for a spell in each hand.
The Unspoken's dual-wielding allows for a spell in each hand.

Of the five more powerful spells available to me, my favorite was a spectral javelin. By extending my left hand outward, palm toward the ceiling, I opened my spellbook. Selecting the javelin with my right hand, I conjured a hammer and anvil. After striking the anvil three times, the javelin was ready, and I soon hurled it, much like I might a real spear, toward my opponent on the other side. It was as simple as releasing a trigger at the right moment as I opened my fist toward the arena's opposite end.

Soon after, flaming crows descended on me; I threw a paper airplane that morphed into a B-57 bomber; I traced the outline of a square in front of me, summoning a larger, more powerful shield against my enemy's power spells. Despite the mature undertones of the demo's surrounding world and lack of the studio's traditional whimsy, Insomniac's creative touch was on display here as well.

As the duel lengthened, my opponent and I warped between multiple platforms, using the Touch's analog stick to select our intended destination, collecting energy shards to fuel our attacks. This also proved handy for dodging incoming crows, planes, and javelins.

Combat is focused on player vs. player encounters.
Combat is focused on player vs. player encounters.

As of now, I haven't seen much of The Unspoken. The demo centered on the intro tutorial and one PvP arena. It's unclear how much the studio plans to delve into the dark underbelly of Chicago's mystical world, and how much narrative will surround the multiplayer combat.

But at the moment, the project feels good from a control perspective. VR is still in its infancy, so much of Insomniac's time has been devoted to ensuring a seamless experience between the player's hands and the hands they see in the Rift.

Insomniac Games is branching into several new territories this year: Edge of Nowhere is a psychological horror game set in a snowy tundra. Feral Rites, also announced today, is taking the studio's creativity into the action-adventure realm. Song of the Deep centers on a more intimate story, contextualized within a Metroidvania game of exploration and two-dimensional oceanscapes. With The Unspoken, the studio is trying to diversify even more. I can't predict whether this will all be for the better, but right now, I'm intrigued.

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Mike Mahardy

Writer and Host. New Yorker. Enthusiast of gin, cilantro, and rock and roll.

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nbf4548

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I'm another person that really doesn't like this exclusive talk. I thought Oculus said that they weren't going to play the "console-exclusive" card for the benefit of the emerging platform? Wouldn't it be better for everyone involved to promote VR in general, even if a person buys a VIVE? If Oculus is the publisher, they still make a sale.

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Shadowchronicle

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@nbf4548: To some extent, that isn't Oculus's choice unless they want to take out entire games from the market.

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KungfuKitten

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@nbf4548: Indeed. They said so, and now they do this... Are they trying to take us for fools? I will side with a VR device that is the most open platform.

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Shewgenja

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I forgot that Insomniac were working on VR games. Man, I can't wait to upgrade to a Pascal card to run Oculus Rift games better on my rig! VR is definitely where it's at!

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Pyrosa

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Edited By Pyrosa

Remember the first time you played a Wii game? They sold a boatload of those, and then the fad wore off once the novelty was gone...

Remember the first time you played a Kinect game? They sold a boatload of those, and then the fad wore off once the novelty was gone...

I have boxes of all that crap in my basement.

So now we have THREE repeating trends that guarantee failure:

1. Fad-based novel gameplay control/immersion mechanics (like those above).

2. BetaMax-vs-VHS-like proprietary competing standards/audience segmentation.

3. *EXPENSIVE* barrier to mass consumption in the CE space.

Won't be seeing much of these in 2017...

But hey Insomniac: If you want to launch a Shadowrun-like dueling urban cyberpunk wizards game on regular consoles I AM IN. I'm amazed it hasn't been done recently (well, not QUITE like that).

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ryosashi

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Big ol' NO to anything that is exclusive.

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RicanV

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Good to get the VR rolling but exclusive to one VR headset this early isn't a smart move.

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nikon133

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@RicanV: Targeting such a small (initial) user base, it looks like devs don't have big ambitions for this game. I might be completely wrong, but right now I'm getting more of a tech demo vibe, than fully fleshed game...

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Barighm

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Sorry, no. VR is tough enough to get into with all the hardware that is required, but exclusive to specific headsets? No way. Not gonna support that shit.

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Ixilion

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I'm not really interested in VR at the moment, so I wish Insomniac luck with their new venture and hope that they don't forget about making quality non VR games.

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snugglebear

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Ugh, more VR. Bye bye.

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Pyrosa

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Sounds fun -- except for the VR aspect.

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dxBIGBOSSxb

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AGAIN another good looking game ruined by the fact it's exclusive to Occulus. I really hope these games do well. Insomniac is far too important a company for me to watch it die.

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