This audio clip was recorded as part of the Girls on Games Podcast, episode 178: Transference Review and Goodbye Telltale Games. Click here to listen to the full episode. Below is a transcription of the conversation.
Leah: Let’s get into what everybody’s been playing this week. Right off the docket, I want to jump to Ali because she’s been playing a game that has piqued a lot of people’s interest. Straight from the folks at Ubisoft and a few famous folks: Transference. Ali, what’s Transference all about? Am I pronouncing this correctly?
Leah: It’s Transference.
Alicia: You guys might be wondering why we’re not doing this review as the whole show like we’ve done in the past with State of Decay 2 and stuff like that. That would be because there’s literally not enough to talk about.
I was really excited for Transference. You guys know me. I like those sorts of experiences. It looked creepy. It looked sci-fi-y. I was like “I’m kind of feeling this vibe.”
Turns out that it missed the mark. If anyone has ever played Layers of Fear, Transference … You’re making me say it like that now.
Leah: Sorry. Transference.
Alicia: Transference really feels like a re-skinned version of that game. It took me about two and a half hours to play. I was playing on Xbox, of course. That two hours resulted in me getting everything but two achievements.
The two achievements were for collecting all of the audio logs in the game and all the video logs in the game. As far as I know there’s only one ending and it wasn’t that good.
Leah: It’s Elijah Wood that’s tied to this, right?
Alicia: Yeah. I believe he directed the game. I’m not really quite sure exactly how involved he was throughout the entire process. I haven’t really watched anything other than the E3 promotional trailer that they released for it.
I’m going to throw this out there: maybe the game is an entirely different experience in VR.
Catherine: It could be.
Alicia: At the same time I still feel like anybody who has played Layers of Fear will feel the same way as I do: that it felt like kind of a rip.
Leah: What’s the story behind it?
Alicia: The story is basically that of a family falling apart, which seems to be pretty common in video games nowadays. You got the father who is far too devoted to his job as a scientist. He’s trying to figure out a way of making human subconscious live on digitally.
You’ve got the son who feels neglected. You have the wife who was once a very talented musician, who has basically put her career on hold because her family is falling apart. She feels trapped in her marriage to someone who’s no longer interested.
Which is really funny because that’s also kind of the story of Layers of Fear. Both parents are artists but it is a family falling apart. The child feels neglected. The child ends up caught up in this fight.
Things in Transference are not super clear. You have to dive into the story and put pieces together to figure out what exactly happened. At the end of the day there was some illegal human testing going on.
I feel like more and more nowadays, when games try to tackle these types of stories and try to make the player harken back to their second grade book report selves, where you’re trying to dig deeper into the story and figure out exactly what it’s trying to tell you, I really feel like you need to bring something special to the table or else it feels really forced.
That’s what Transference felt like to me. It felt like it was trying so hard to be “What happened? Something sinister.” I wasn’t quite sure if it was trying to be a horror game either. You guys know I spook easily but it was not scary.
The mechanics were super simple. You’re simply walking around. You’re picking things up. You’re looking at items. You’re finding audio and video logs. You’re solving simple puzzles. The puzzles were pretty well done in the game but, like I said, it only took two and a half hours. That’s not a long time. That’s not a long time.
The puzzle that gave us the hardest time … I’m not going to give too many details because I don’t want to spoil it for anybody. I’d say we were probably stuck on it for about 15 minutes.
Leah: That’s not a super hard puzzle.
Alicia: That’s not a long time.
So you’re walking around. You’re interacting with the environment. You’re trying to piece together the story from environmental storytelling, which is awesome. I love that.
You do have the ability to go between the “normal world” and what we were calling “the upside down” because you flip switch and it feels like you’re in Stranger Things upside down.
People have been asking me about it. They obviously saw that I unlocked the achievements. They were like “How did you like it?”
I’m like “I got to be honest with you guys. I think you need to wait for a sale.”
Leah: How much is this game going for?
Alicia: I have to look.
Leah: I’m curious. At that speed, with no replayability, two and a half hours … I’m curious to know: is that a norm for VR games? I think this game was pushed in the forefront to be experienced through virtual reality.
Obviously, not everybody has that. They wanted to open it up to other folks through the way you played it on Xbox.
The Batman experience that I played on PSVR, when that released, that wasn’t very long either. But it wasn’t marketed as a “game” game, to my knowledge. Everybody talked about it almost like a really long demo.
Catherine: Anyway, the Batman thing that we played, I think it was more to show the capabilities of the VR headset.
Leah: I think you’re right.
Alicia: Transference is listed at 24.99 USD.
Catherine: It’s about 30 bucks Canadian.
Alicia: Yeah. It’s not a full priced game, thank goodness. I would take really big issue with it if it was a full price game. Even at $30, I feel like it’s too much.
Leah: Sometimes when I look at the cost versus the amount of gameplay, and I use this analogy in my head sometimes, I think about how much would it cost me to go see a two hour movie? For a ticket it’s around 20 bucks or so. It’s almost like one seat at a movie theater plus popcorn. Do you know what I mean?
Leah: If you have a VR headset and that’s the way it’s supposed to be played, maybe it’s a perfect experience for that. With that being said, if you’re not going to be playing it in VR and you’re going to be doing it like this, is it worth it?
Alicia: Exactly. Even though I think that’s worth looking into, Leah, what you say, “Is this a better experience in VR?” why should we be settling for two hour experiences in VR if we’re supposed to take VR seriously? You know what I mean?
Leah: Very true.
Alicia: I use a system very similar to you. I’ve mentioned it before on the podcast. Depending on the type of game, I equate an hour for each dollar spent on the game. This obviously missed the mark quite spectacularly.
Catherine: To compare with Anamorphine, which is a VR game that I recently reviewed, and that one was about an hour of gameplay, but there are two endings so I’m guessing about two hours, for $30 Canadian you get the game and the soundtrack.
Alicia: Also, Anamorphine seems to have made an emotional impact on you.
Catherine: Yeah. It’s not a scary game. It doesn’t have puzzles. It’s literally just experiencing a story. They didn’t market it as something that was really going to be a game. They did marketing as a storytelling experience.
Alicia: I think Transference tried to do a little bit too much. It ended up coming across as bland. That’s really the only way I can explain it. It was bland.
I keep coming back to this because I don’t know exactly how inspired they were by Layers of Fear but God is it similar!
Leah: When did Layers of Fear come out?
Alicia: Oh my gosh. Several years ago.
Leah: I’m curious to know when development for this started. But that happens sometimes: common ideas pop up out of the blue.
Alicia: But there was one particular scene where the son in Transference … He has a dog. Surprise, the girl in Layers of Fear also has a dog. The dog becomes-
Leah: Possessed or something?
Alicia: A victim. There’s a particular jump scare in Layers of Fear where you turn around and down the hallway is coming this ghost of the dog that jumps at you aggressively. Exact same thing in Transference.
It was little things. I kept turning around and I was like “I’ve seen that before. I’ve seen that before. I’ve seen that before. I’ve seen that before.”
One thing I did like about Transference, it was a very pretty game. The graphics were relatively simple but there was a lot of detail in each space that you explored.
I did like the fact too that we played through the perspective of the three characters. The environment shifted three times to reflect what those characters were feeling. I do think that could have done more with that. It was pretty simplistic at times. The little boy is feeling neglected so he’s drawn all over the walls. We’ve seen that trope before. You know?
The bottom line, if you’re looking for an emotionally charged game that relies on environmental storytelling, Transference probably isn’t for you. I would hold out until it’s on sale for 10 or 15 bucks.
In the meantime, Layers of Fear and Observer is actually on sale together as a bundle for $40. I do think that your money would be better spent on those two games.
Leah: Layers of Fear came out February 16th of 2016. It doesn’t have any info of when they talked about development starting. I don’t know about Transference: when their development started.
Alicia: It was teased at … Was it at E3 this year or last year?
Leah: This year.
Alicia: It was this year. Okay.
Catherine: No. It was the year before: where they had the trailer with Elijah Woods. I think it was 2017.
Leah: They’re all melding together.
Alicia: Yeah. I can’t even remember which one I went to, or which ones I went to.
Catherine: I’m pretty sure the first Transference reveal was for 2017: the year that people said that Ubisoft won the conference. I think it was in there.
Leah: Yeah. This doesn’t have much detail on it. I’m checking Wikipedia as well. Just the release date being this year: September 18th. That’s it.
I guess it’s a pass until there’s a discount?
Alicia: Yeah. Definitely.
Catherine: If you played it in VR, let us know if it felt different for you.
Alicia: If you played it in VR and you played Layers of Fear … I feel like that’s important. I know I keep coming back to it. I really feel like that’s important. Oh God! It was exactly the same!
DISCLAIMER: Transference review code was provided by Ubisoft Canada. The opinions expressed in the article above have not be affected by, dictated or edited in any way by the provider. For more information please see Girls on Games’ Code of Journalistic Ethics.