Greco-Roman mythology has the best stories of the Western world, with tonnes of stories which inspired many of the tales being told today. The twelve labours of Heracles,* Icarus flying too close to the sun, Zeus courting every living being which moved – all these stories have inspired stories by taking core themes, overarching stories or straight up retelling them. But the mark of any timeless story is the ability to reinterpret it in a new light; using the same building blocks to make the frame of a narrative, then decorating it in a new way with new tables or wallpaper. Theseus does this, and provides a flawed but engaging experience which was fascinating to follow until 1:25am.
Like the original tale, there is a man called Theseus, and a Minotaur stalking a Labyrinth hunting the main character. Only this time, it is a dream-like world where everything is not as it seems, and the Minotaur is… absolutely terrifying. Typically the Minotaur is depicted as a massive man with rippling muscles, a beast’s head, and a craving for fourteen humans every once in a while. This one is more beast than man with a gaping maw where the heart should be, the height of a building, and a mess of horns which jag outwards. In virtual reality. It’s terrifying.
The game reminds me of Prince of Persia: Warrior Within. Like that game you are stuck in a complex of buildings roaming around the land, sometimes with set camera angles, and a being hunting you down. Unlike Prince of Persia, you are less mobile; climbing buildings and moving was frustratingly slow, and at times it was unclear whether I should have climbed up or down. As someone who was used to the smooth climbing of the Assassins Creed games, the small sections of climbing were pauses of frustration.
The camera has two angles. The first is over the shoulder as Theseus wanders through the dark corridors, and this was the best angle to play with. In dark and cramp tunnels, I confess that I turned down the volume as it was incredibly creepy to wander through them with just a torch. This provides the most immersive experience, and I am thankful the character walks slowly when this happens – any faster and I would have felt motion sickness.
The second is a set angle in the corner of the room, surveying a particular area or corner. This worked well in the sense that if a character moved left to right, the player can naturally follow the player around the corner with their head. This also means players can look around the room to find hidden goodies. The camera was never obstructive, though at times it did mean it was not one hundred percent clear where to go as the path was partially hidden. At one point I was also unsure how to progress for a solid ten minutes, though I attribute this to me being unable to solve a particular puzzle than the developers themselves.
The story is very cryptic and non-descriptive, along the same vein of Journey. Theseus is guided by Ariadne through the Labyrinth while trying to avoid the Minotaur and its spawn; and from there you have to derive some elements for yourself, through environmental storytelling and small prompts, particularly the ending. The story was designed to not tell the player much, and the player has to find the ending by reaching the light at the end of the metaphorical tunnel. This won’t be for everyone – especially those who want a full overall narrative – but it serves its purpose for making people reach the end. I personally stayed up until very late in the morning because I just really, really wanted to see what happened next.
My personal favourite parts of the game was when Theseus was at his most vulnerable; crawling through a shadowy passageway, waving a torch against unseen horrors to keep them away. This uses the technology at nits best, and I kept looking back to see if anyone was behind me, in case there was a stalker from behind. It was really fun, in a not so fun way. Anytime the Minotaur appears on screen is amazing as well, particularly when its body leans over the player, sniffs the air, inspects the area. Having such a beast in VR was a really cool experience, and it made me feel nostalgic as I remember the Dhaka hunting me some years ago.
So I battled some scuttling creatures, creeped through the Labyrinth, and reached the end of the game – where I was slightly disappointed. Without going into too much detail, I expected a resolution which was never fully absolved, which left the short experience with a hint of ‘is there more?’ It turns out, there is more. There were certain criteria which I needed to complete before the final part of the story – which I will not dare spoil here, though the players should have a broad idea of what they should be. I would have advised a small tip at the end of the game, potentially during the credits, that there was another way – it was unclear the me in my first play-through.
Theseus provides a compelling reinvention of the Minotaur myth and breathes new life into the story with the help of the PSVR. At times I felt the headset was not necessary to tell its story; at other times it brought up a level of tension which wouldn’t have been provided otherwise. I completed the game in one sitting – partly because it was short, partly because it hooked me in and I wanted to see how it ended. Theseus provided a delicious bite of action, and one which I recommend for any lover of myth and mystery.
Theseus is available to buy in the PlayStation Store now.
*Not Hercules, Disney fans.