Untethered is a new VR serial drama created by Numinous games (creators of the much-lauded That Dragon, Cancer). Exclusively available on Google’s Daydream VR platform, it invites players to step into the shoes of Taylor, a DJ manning the evening shift at a sleepy Pacific Northwest radio station. The series’ first episode plays out over the course of about a half-hour of airtime wherein a parade of eccentric locals call in and your melancholic producer baring his soul are supplanted by a pair of mysteries; a reoccurring atmospheric anomaly is spooking townsfolk and a strange man is leaving you increasingly disturbing voice messages. That’s about as much as should be said about the narrative without venturing into spoiler territory – mind you, the plot is intriguing – but where Untethered is probably most interesting is its interface, which cleverly capitalizes on Google Assistant’s voice recognition and requires you to record ‘spots’ and take calls from listeners and chat with them on air.
The game’s narrative is confined to a single room, a bare-bones recording studio with reel-to-reels, a turntable, an old computer, a phone and answering machine, and a few playback devices for queuing news and commercials. Your unseen producer is on the other side of the opaque glass adjacent to your workspace and you are required to follow his prompts, and hopefully not bungle your broadcast. Between his sardonic coaching and an oversized reference book with most of your ‘lines,’ your DJ duties are not that taxing and that leaves you with a lot of time to kill between songs and segments. While the Daydream’s Bluetooth controller lets you snoop through the contents of the office with ease, the revelations that comes through that rifling are not nearly as engaging as those moments you are ‘live’ with callers and recording spots. Make no mistake, its downright strange barking into your phone’s microphone while wearing a headset and the narrative paths presented by these interactions are really limited, but there is a palatable creepiness to some of the encounters.
Untethered definitely succumbs to the janky interaction paradigms of nascent (mobile) VR and it also inherits many of the pacing issues that have plagued interactive fiction (and games) since the era of CD-ROMS, but it still feels fresh and novel. Part 1940s radio drama and part X-Files the series deserves a glance – and a few words.