I think the promise of virtual reality games hasn’t quite panned out, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some gems worth playing through. Personally, I love escape room style games in virtual reality, with one of my favorites being The Room: A Dark Matter. These games use virtual reality in some of the best ways—tactile puzzle solving–while letting someone with motion sickness (like me) enjoy themselves without feeling sick afterwards. Wanderer has easily become one of my favorite escape room style virtual reality games, and in a lot of ways raised the bar for what I expect from the genre.
Wanderer is a virtual reality puzzle game. In it, you play a person who is stuck in a dark, alternate future. Your goal is to set the timeline right, and to do this, you’ll need the help of a talking watch that also lets you travel through time using specific objects. While it’s a puzzle game that acts a lot like an escape room of sorts, its puzzles sometimes require you to bring an object from another time period/puzzle to solve your current puzzle. In some ways it reminds me of an old school point and click adventure game that way—except you don’t have an inventory that allows you to carry every little thing you find, which is a bummer. To solve these puzzles and escape each time period, you’ll need to solve a variety of interesting puzzles—and you’ll need to travel back and forth through to do it.
Your watch is one of the most important pieces of gear you’ll have. It not only allows you to travel through time, but the watch itself is a character and constant companion, throwing story tidbits and hints your way. It also acts as an inventory system. You can carry an object in both hands, but you can also throw up to four into your watch for storage. Frustratingly, this storage space is only unlocked after collecting a number of hidden crystals scattered throughout each area. This is one of my biggest gripes about the game. While I enjoy looking for these crystals to upgrade my watch, I would have preferred many more inventory slots. As it is currently, I had to haul items frequently between time periods which got a little annoying, despite how cool it is to travel through time.
I never knew I wanted a game like Wanderer—I mean, one where you can instantly travel between time periods. Not only is it cool conceptually, but gameplay-wise it never got old to slap a time attuned object into my watch and (nearly) instantly travel to that period in a flash of white light. It also helps that the puzzles are not only cleverly designed, but also thematically appropriate. In one time period you might be redirecting the flow of water through a hydroelectric plant, while in another time frame you might need to find your way into a Mayan temple. The puzzles in Wanderer are well made and tough, and rarely frustrating. If you get stuck, you can push a button and your watch will literally fly into action and give you hints to succeed. And while I like the concept of your watch friend, I have mixed feelings about it.
While I enjoy having a companion, I think the watch’s personality is a miss for a few reasons. For one, I hate its accent. I don’t want Foghorn Leghorn attached to my wrist giving me folksy advice. I know this is a completely personal preference, but there are some objective gripes I have with your companion too. One of my biggest gripes is how the hint system sometimes collides with upgrading your watch. In order to change your watch’s appearance, or spend crystals for inventory upgrades, you have to click the button for your watch to fly off of its face—which is the same button you press to get a hint. While I appreciate the fact that you can get hints, there were times when I got them when I was just trying to upgrade my watch. It’s not fun to get hints when you don’t want them, though I wouldn’t say it ruined my experience.
Wanderer requires you to grab a lot of items, and thankfully, it doesn’t require you to exert much more effort than you want. While it doesn’t have the gravity gloves like in Half- Life: Alyx, you can grab items and manipulate objects from quite a ways away. For someone with a back that likes to throw itself out, I was grateful for not having to bend over to pick up objects or open low drawers. This created its own problems, however. Sometimes I would grip the Index controller a little too much, and manage to grab an item across the room I wasn’t trying to.
While Wanderer isn’t a perfect game, it’s definitely one of my favorite VR games—and easily my favorite so far this year. It has a few small issues that prevent it from being perfect, but if you have any interest in virtual reality puzzle games, Wanderer has plenty to love.
A Steam key was provided to us for this review.