Think of War Remains as a companion piece to bombastic Hollywood takes on the First World War more than a truly authentic time machine. Its explosions shake you to the core and its gunshots rattle through your head without care for composure, while Dan Carlin’s gravely-voiced narration steers you through the horror. And yet, within this searing, explosive snapshot of terror is the distinct feeling you’re not getting the complete picture.
War Remains — originally developed by Flight School Studio and published by MWM Immersive — has been swiftly adapted from a location-based experience in which a physical set mirrors the virtual world to a streamlined experience for home VR users. Much has been lost, I suspect, in transforming an on-foot tour of trench warfare into a handful of highlights. But it’s also true that this is one of the best-produced efforts to realize the more hellish realities of 100 years ago you can currently find in VR headsets.
Lasting around 10 minutes, War Remains strips back much of the complexities and intricacies of WW1, producing a punchy and often harrowing experience. As a piece of historical education, it’s unconcerned with capturing the entire story of life in the conflict — one of long stretches of silence punctuated with combat of unprecedented destruction — and jumps straight to some of the expected and effective cliches, shown in VR for the first time.
Its most effective touches are the ones it doesn’t draw your attention to; glancing away from the action for a moment to notice you’ve been standing next to the mangled remains of a soldier for the past minute, or watching a line of hanged rats sway and shake to the erratic rhythm of gunfire. Skywalker Sound delivers overwhelming audio design, including one rare moment of true, unbridled atmosphere in which, hidden underground, you’re subjected to a merciless barrage of artillery fire, every detonation igniting a dreadful pang of desperation. It’s the one moment the experience holistically achieves what it set out to do.
And yet War Remains is too brief a creation, too simplified in its depiction to really let its impact sink in, at least in the home experience. In cutting straight to the action, the piece deprives you of the necessary context to really hit home; the dread that precedes the action, the fever-pitch anxiety and much-clinged-to humanity of the soldiers around you. These are vital elements to communicate the enormity of this conflict and they’re lost here.
Carlin’s narration is almost comical in the intensity of its delivery, as if he were trying to market an apocalyptic blockbuster or even at times sell you on a spooky story around a campfire. Occasionally his dialogue strikes the right kind of accessibility, introducing the machinations of modern warfare as concepts straight out of science fiction. But then, more often, it gets carried away with the idea, lacking the prose to back it up (as one point he informs us that WW1 battlefields resembled “the moon, only weirder”). The wording skews to a younger demographic than the hyper-violent imagery is appropriate for.
Indeed, hardest-hitting lines are direct quotes from those who experienced the real thing, the eloquent structure of which somehow seems to better encompass the scale and persistence of this disaster more so than the experience itself. Personally, I’d love to play through the piece without narration to try and truly lose myself in the creation.
War Remains Review Final Verdict
War Remains delivers perhaps as much you could ask of a historical experience for VR headsets in 2020, then. Without the time nor resources for substance, it instead centers on explosive presentation, offering an assault on the senses not easily replicated outside of VR. But ultimately this only captures the surface of a war with all the violent viscerality you’d expect. Anything deeper remains out of reach for now.
Final Score: 3/5 Stars | Pretty Good
War Remains will be available on the Oculus Store for Rift, Steam VR and Viveport today for $4.99. For more on how we arrived at this score, check out our review guidelines.
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