The VR space is an interesting one. We live in a time now where video games are more social than ever, bringing people together from all over the globe thanks to the magical wonder of the internet. Yet VR feels like it’s going in the opposite direction in a lot of ways. It’s intentionally isolating - providing a personal immersion through a secluding visor that shuts you off from people, even those sitting in the same room as you.
Interestingly, this has brought a whole new world of social VR games to light, and Ubisoft’s Werewolves Within is a very promising step in this direction. The game is essentially a remake of an old party game called Mafia, which revolves around the idea of trying to identify who’s a good guy, or a villain within a group of friends through banter, or full on interrogation.
Werewolves Within requires six to eight players (all with VR units), and unless you have a bunch of friends waiting online, you’ll be put into a group of complete strangers. The game is online only (the chances of having five friends who can all drag their VR sets around are pretty slim to start with) but the game mechanics actually only work when all the players are away from the others.
Sitting around a campfire, each player is assigned a role from a random selection of eleven types, each with their own abilities. Your job is to sniff out and correctly guess who among the group is the werewolf, provided that you’re not the werewolf to begin with. You can interact and ask questions within the group, but not everyone can be trusted and you’ll need to wheedle out the lies and inconsistencies.
At the end of a round (which takes roughly seven minutes), everyone votes for the person that they think is the shapeshifting furball - at which point the werewolf is revealed and people are awarded points for correctly guessing. To add to the experience, the aforementioned roles assigned to players change how each game is played. For example, you might be a Tracker, and if so you’ll be able to physically lean with your VR helmet on to sense whether a werewolf is near you.
Other roles include Turn-cloaks, who are trying to help the werewolves win the match by hiding their identity or throwing others off the scent. Meanwhile Saints can learn the identity of the werewolves, but must be careful in their actions because the werewolves will win if they can correctly identify who the Saints are in the group. One of the most common roles is just being a Villager, and these people spend the game trying to root out who they believe the werewolves are. While they do not need to lie, the role requires players to keenly identify and point out the flaws or mistakes of their fellow players. Is someone speaking too much? Maybe they're a werewolf?
For example, in one round I was assigned as a Turn-cloak - so I wanted to help my werewolf buddies. I falsely claimed I was a Tracker, and by leaning around convincingly, I stated that there was a werewolf to my right - even though I knew he was actually on my left. After a bit of banter, the rest of the group started to all agree and when they guessed incorrectly, our team won.
Another interesting gameplay mechanic is the ability to whisper to the person sitting next to you on either side, so that no-one else can hear. It’s because of this reason that Werewolves Within can really only be played online, as otherwise players would be able to hear everyone in the room. And finally, players can also stand up to hold the floor, which mutes all the other player’s microphones and allows the standing player to talk un-interrupted to the group.
After a couple of rounds everything falls into place, and it won’t be long until you’re bluffing and convincing fellow players with confidence. The anxiety of engaging with complete strangers also starts to subside as you feel more comfortable with your cartoonish avatars, who move their mouths and gesture according to your voice and actions. Despite the fairy tale book settings, it’s disturbing just how real some of the interactions in Werewolves Within feel at times.
Of course Werewolves Within is a very mixed experience, which changes drastically from round to round. Because of the social interactions, every round is completely dependant on who you are playing with. If you’re in a group filled with players who are committed to the cause, who try to trick and deceive others, games can be intense and rewarding as you try to predict who is who. Vice versa, the game isn’t very forgiving to newcomers, as other players will often get frustrated by ‘the new guy’ who doesn’t know what they’re doing - and will certainly voice their opinion which leads to a lot of intimidation.
The game is solid in concept, but sadly lacks a lot of polish and care toward accessibility to recommend to all VR owners. The main problem is, despite a tutorial, Werewolves Within takes some practice to fully grasp the finer mechanics of the game. Learning is made all the more difficult when faced with online harassment that you might encounter while trying to find your feet. Players will have a handy rule book on screen whenever they want, and there is a novel interface to allow you to flick through pages and bookmark key sections, but ultimately Werewolves Within expects a lot from you immediately.
The selection of avatars is also very limited and it doesn’t take long before you’re looking at the same cartoony, distorted mugs over and over. You can’t choose your avatar either, which doesn’t really change the gameplay, but it would be a nice touch if players could customise their look – after all ‘becoming’ your character is an integral part of the game.
However the biggest shortfall of Werewolves Within is the fact that you can’t use the Move Controllers, or the Oculus Touch controllers as the game is also available for PC. Instead gesturing is controlled by automatic emotes that you signal by pushing a button on your controller. For example pressing right on the D-pad to ‘clap your hands’. It’s a real shame that the developers didn’t allow for the freedom of gesturing considering the technology allows it. It’s a feature that would’ve changed the gameplay significantly, rewarding more animated, or convincing behaviour from players. It would also just feel more natural and immersive.
Werewolves Within isn’t a game for everyone, but if you’re a fan of Cluedo, or Mafia of which the game is derived – or just looking for something different for your VR kit – it could be worth trying out. The game has its flaws and is definitely not for the shy or introverted, but it has me excited about future social party games in a VR space.
Angus received a digital copy of Werewolves Within from Ubisoft for review.