Preview | Reaching for Petals

Blue Entropy Studios have been busy this year, with three separate virtual reality titles released on Steam, but they’re not stopping there. Due for release some time this summer, Reaching for Petals is a narrative-led, non-VR adventure with a penchant for the poetic. If the demo is anything to go by, it could be one to watch out for.

The first thing you’ll notice when you begin Reaching for Petals is the scenery. Created using Unreal Engine 4, it’s safe to say the landscape looks unreal — the way light contrasts with shadow is far more vivid than in most of reality, lending an extra level of vibrancy to visuals that were beautiful to begin with. It has the added effect of atmospheric contrast as well, highlighting thematic differences between areas of light and dark. Indeed, it is light that delivers the most visually in this game, as it dapples through a canopy of leaves or streams beyond a cave wall. This can leave some areas looking over-exposed, but the effect is intentional and not at all out of place.

An example of light and texture on the forest floor.
An example of light and texture on the forest floor.

When you stop and peer closer at the trees and rocks around you, you’ll notice a great amount of detail in their textures. Even the leaves which fall from the canopy catch your eye as they drift down to Earth. It’s a shame you can’t crouch, otherwise a lot of time would be spent peering closer at saplings and moss, but gazing upon it from a wistful distance is acceptable.

The only thing that could be considered detrimental to realism is the representation of water (to be fair, it’s a notoriously difficult thing to pull off well). While not bad at all, puddles don’t seem to reflect the player character or objects around them, which is a little disconcerting. Even a shadow of the player might work instead of nothing. Rivers are also a little odd: they look fine when you’re right above them, looking down through clear waters, but when you look along them at an angle something seems off. It may be a side-effect of the lighting, but it seems too flat and opaque, with not enough reflection.

The water can seem a little odd from a distance.
The water can seem a little odd from a distance.

As would be expected for a game of its type, Reaching for Petals keeps the controls simple. The only inputs are directional keys, a jogging toggle, an interact button and standard mouse controls, so nothing hard to remember or use and you can use a controller if you wish. It feels like the jogging speed could be a little faster because the difference between it and walking is almost imperceptible. This shouldn’t be a problem due to the relaxed nature of travel though, and is only an issue in the demo due to an issue described below.

The path you have to follow is made obvious by the lie of the land, often indicated by a rough path or other feature. In some places, you must jump or push an object (by walking into it) to progress further. Even though this isn’t explained, the placement of moveable items makes them stand out just enough to make them clear to move. You can, for example, knock over a rock to bridge a gap. In the demo at least, it’s possible to get lost by not knowing the path ahead, as the correct path has a brief set of slippery terrain to get past. With any hope, pathing issues like this will be set right come the final release.

Your virtual eyes adjust as you walk through patches of light and dark.
Your virtual eyes adjust as you walk through patches of light and dark.

Accompanying you on this journey is the voice of Dave Pettitt, who calmly narrates the story of the world around you and draws subtle parallels to the story hidden underneath. In fact, he hits every thematic note with such precision and composure that the narration wouldn’t seem entirely out of place in a guided therapy track. Meanings are implied rather than shown, with plenty of room for interpretation, likely to resonate with everyone in a different manner. It’s a struggle to catch some words in the narration, but there are subtitles to help with this.

Music operates in tandem with the environment, changing depending on the area you’re in and rising and falling with the narration. Not only pleasant, it succeeds at instilling emotion as you walk along. The only improvement that could be wished for come release is the addition of music and narration volume sliders to ensure that music doesn’t overpower voice.

The story is interwoven with analogies about the environment you encounter.
The story is interwoven with analogies about the environment you encounter.

Perhaps the most interesting thing concerning the promise of the full version is the inclusion of story choices. While it’s not clear from the demo whether they affect more than the immediate consequences (the next page of text), it opens the door for exciting possibilities.

From this brief look at Reaching for Petals, it’s clear that it has potential. Considering the company’s stated focus on VR games, it’s a surprise that it doesn’t seem to support VR devices, as it would be wonderful to experience on a headset. Whether or not it ever is released for VR though, it’s something to look out for when it hits the Steam marketplace this Summer complete with trading cards and achievements.

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