When you think about the potential VR has for video games, several genres like space simulators and first-person shooters seem obvious. Yet, Ubisoft are intent on proving with their latest release, Werewolves Within (and the upcoming Star Trek: Bridge Crew) that perhaps the future lies in a online social experiences. After spending a few nights with Werewolves Within on PlayStation VR, I have to admit it’s an exciting prospect.
Werewolves Within is based on a board game that’s been around for the last 20 years or so, usually known as ‘Werewolf’. A circle of eight players sit around a campfire (or in this case, a mysterious glowing orb), ostensibly all human villagers in a town beset by monsters. However, in each round one or more of the villagers are randomly chosen to be werewolves, and must keep their secret identity a secret. The villagers must communicate, argue and come to a consensus over who the werewolves are, and at the end of the round vote on the most likely candidate. If the villagers choose correctly, they win, but if the werewolves have successfully tricked the party, then they win. It’s a fun game of deception and lies, depending on your ability to rally a crowd or manipulate people’s thinking, which is not something you often see in a video game.
Werewolves Within has its own spins on this basic formula, which are introduced in the form of a rulebook every player is able to bring up. This is useful, especially for beginners as there’s quite a lot to take in and keep track of. There are several sub-roles among the group, such as Astrologists or Watchers, who have special abilities who can help narrow down the correct culprits. You might also be chosen as a Deviant, who isn’t a werewolf or a villager, but their own wild-card who can win but only if they’re voted out. Your rulebook explains what each role is capable of, how many may be in play, and gives guidelines that you should follow in order to enjoy the game best. However, the game doesn’t really take off until you’ve managed to internalise some of these rules and you’re able to do some logical leg work, in order to avoid being swayed by other players, which takes a fair bit of dedication (and slightly more than I can muster).
As a VR experience, Werewolves Within is really its own thing. You see each of the other players before you represented by avatars which match their head movements pretty fluidly, as well as being able to hear them over voice chat. The developers have integrated a few cute concepts into the technology to impact the gameplay – for instance, you can lean to one side and whisper to adjacent players to speak to them privately, or you can stand to address the floor and mute other players. Both are tactics that can be used strategically and for the most part, the tracking works really well. Props as well for making each player’s lip flaps activate while they’re speaking, making it actually look like they’re speaking (even though arm movements aren’t tracked).
While this all works well, it’s still not a game I’d necessarily say is vital for VR. The concept is simple enough that it’s been a staple party game for decades now, and this version doesn’t add a lot besides (admittedly technologically great) window dressing. There are a couple of little additions that work in harmony with the hardware – like having to look up or down for a period of time to activate a power, which would seem to give you away to keen observers – but most of the time you’ll have your nose buried in the rulebook, trying to narrow down suspects based on the clues you have. There’s also not a massive community as of writing – I’ve only ever seen a couple of games on at a time on American servers, although it’s easy to get a seat at the table, and the regular players are dedicated and welcoming.
That all said, Werewolves Within is a fun way to spend an evening, and it’s currently the most social experience you can have with the PlayStation VR online. There’s definitely potential here for other board games, perhaps built from the ground up for the tech, to take off and find communities in VR. Learning all the roles and rules of Werewolves Within may be a little impenetrable for those not used to similar party games, and it’s a little pricey for what it is at AU $44.95 on the PlayStation Store, but if you’re searching for something different for your PS VR, it’s definitely worth checking out.