There is a lot to like about Tethered. I have played a handful of strategy games in virtual reality now, and most have multiple hits and misses. Tethered is almost all hit, with fun gameplay and an adorable visual aesthetic. Best of all? It is a full and proper game and not a lightweight proof of concept like so many other VR titles.
A God-sim strategy game, where you are literally looking down from the clouds, Tethered primarily succeeds because it is a game first and an experience second. You plan the role of Spirit Guardian, and rather than directly gathering the energy you need, you put to use some adorable minions named Peeps to do your bidding.
It seems appropriate that they come in eggs that need sunlight to be hatched, with Easter right around the corner. And there is a sticky, gooey sweetness to these adorable little buggers. In truth the visuals are probably the standout aspect of this game. It is a first-person title, but instead of focusing on creating a sense of immersion, Secret Sorcery Limited built Tethered with the game in mind. The gameplay is far better for it, as moving around and controlling the game is surprisingly intuitive, and the virtual reality is just the cherry on top of the beautiful world you visit.
With thirteen levels that clock in about half an hour to an hour each, the gameplay progresses in similar fashion each time, but with challenges unique to each stage. Your initial Peep will need your attention in hatching, and then goes about finding the totem that serves as your base of operations. From here your Peeps will collect a variety of resources that allow them to construct different buildings. These in turn unlock new classes for your peeps. One example might be the fighter Peeps that are created from having barracks. This serves to create a typical strategy feedback loop of making Peeps, gathering what is needed, then making new upgraded Peeps that possess unique skills to tackle the island's challenges.
This cycle persists casually enough during the day, but as you might have guessed - Peeps that can fight are likely going to need something to fight, right? Well, come nightfall some enemies come out to play - and by 'play' I mean 'devour your resources'. This of course cannot be allowed to happen, as your primary goal is to gather enough energy to move onto the next stage. It is a pleasant cycle that unfortunately does not develop a great deal more depth as you go. Most of the progression depth and challenge comes from the new stages, not increased skills or new game mechanics introduced at regular intervals.
There are two other very small complaints that I have, but they are worth noting. If there is a save feature mid-stage, I have yet to find it. Asking someone to sit for up to an hour at a time without a save option these days is difficult to justify. Also, the Peeps are reliant on you - which I get. This is a god-like simulation similar to Black and White. However, when they have to do something like fight off a slug, the Peeps do not always do a good job of getting back to their prior job. If they get depressed and start to drag tail as well, it can require a lot of manual manipulation to get them up and doing what you want again. I do wish they had better 'memories' to cut down on some of the manual direction.
That said, the controls work very well. You basically look at a target and press the appropriate buttons to interface with them. That does help to take some of the sting out of their neediness, and it really helps to make Tethered an accessible title to newcomers of the genre as well.
Tethered has a great deal going for it, including one of the cutest visual designs I have ever seen. You get a solid amount of content with solid controls and entertaining gameplay here. There are a few quibbles that hold this strategy game back from greatness, but for virtual reality fans, the good news is: this is an honest to goodness game, and it is a lot of fun as well.
PC - Oculus Rift
Secret Sorcery Limited
Secret Sorcery Limited
PlayStation 4 VR
Provided by Publisher
Article by Nick