Developer: Secret Sorcery
Release Date: Out Now
Controllers: DS4 Only
PS4 Pro Enhanced
There have been dozens of, ‘grin so hard your face hurts,’ moments for me since first trying PSVR and the charming RTS God-sim Tethered is no exception.
One of the first things you notice upon starting the tutorial is just how darn good everything looks. From the island floating in front of you, full of rocks, trees and delicious looking flowing water, to the squawking flock of seagulls flying off to the side; it all looks absolutely gorgeous, at least as far as current PSVR games go. And it plays like a cross between the decades old games Populous and The Settlers. It’s not the kind of game I ever imagined playing in VR and in a way that makes it all the more impressive.
You view the game through a first-person perspective and you navigate around the world in a simple enough manner. By looking in the direction of one of the permanently stationed clouds and pressing X, you’ll instantly move around the island. The instantaneous movement helps halt any nausea but also works with the theme of the game – you’d expect Gods to be able to teleport. Hovering over your minions, watching them toil away day and night certainly made me feel God-like.
Not long after a level begins a solitary egg appears in the sky and descends to the desolate and lifeless island before you. Once you hatch the egg you’re greeted by your first ‘peep’, the cute inhabitants of Tethered’s worlds that look uncannily like the Norns from the almost-forgotten artificial life-sim ‘Creatures’ from the 1990’s. Then begins the perilous task of building a civilisation and hoping to God (yourself, I suppose) that you don’t starve or in any other way upset your peeps – if you do they’ll become clinically depressed and you may never forgive yourself for what comes next.
You instruct your peeps much the same way you manoeuvere around the island. By glancing at your peeps, pressing X to select them and then pressing X again on a particular task, such as mining, farming or battling, will instruct them to do said task. They will be ‘tethered’ to that particular job until they either run out of resources, get attacked, or are given another task. It’s a straightforward system that works to the games benefit, especially in later levels when your role as God becomes much trickier.
Your ultimate goal in each level is to collect as much ‘spirit energy’ as possible; blue orbs which sometimes seem to appear at random, other times when your peeps have mined the blue and red crystals hidden throughout the islands and finally from killing the creatures of the night. In order to aid your collection of spirit energy you have your inhabitants construct buildings: a barracks for soldiers, a tavern to heal peeps, an alter to speed up energy collection and several more. All buildings can receive different upgrades which can make replaying the same level quite a different experience.
The peeps themselves are animated perfectly, they ooze personality and are as adorable as anything even Nintendo could create. Their voices are perfectly nonsensical and the sound design as a whole is spot on. There was never a time I thought a sound was out of place, however there are sound cues to indicate certain island happenings which did take time to learn. There were certainly a few, “what does that sound mean?” moments early on.
Being a God isn’t just about forcing your underlings to submit to your will; the weather is also at your command. Different cloud types can be combined to varying degrees of usefulness. Want to demolish an upgrade? There’s a cloud for that. Want to regrow some crops? There’s a cloud for that!
The game benefits greatly from its day/night cycle. During the day you feel pretty safe to collect resources, figure out where to place new buildings and which ones to upgrade. The fear of the night and what it brings starts to sink in as dusk falls. The world starts to darken, the peeps continue to work but you know they are coming. The slug-like monsters crawl from the depths below the islands and have only one motive: the eat your peeps. You have several ways of defending your islanders but even with the best defences it’s still a frightening and stressful experience. You’ll never have been so glad to see the sunrise than you will in Tethered. Though the nights never cease to illicit mild anxiety attacks, they never feel truly unfair. If you’re new to the genre you may not fair well the first few nights, but you’ll get the hang of it.
There are areas of the game that can be confusing, even after hours of play. You can, for example, specialise each of the peeps to one of several professions such as lumberjack, prospector, miner, etc, and this will make them collect the relevant resources in greater numbers. But the uniforms can be hard to distinguish, especially when you’re on the other side of the island. Even if you make sure to assign the right peep to the right job, come nightfall they will defend themselves and in the chaos you can forget which peep was meant to be doing which job. However, this is is a minor issue and I’m sure with time I could discern the different uniforms much more easily.
The length of the game could vary somewhat from player to player. On average levels take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, depending how good you are – and that’s if you finish the level first time. The game could take about eight-ten hours to complete but there’s a lot of re-playability. There are online leaderboards and each levels are graded, achieving four A’s on a single level is a feat I’ve yet to manage.
PSVR garnered a lot of criticism before release for not having enough (or any) AAA titles, or killer apps. Well you’ve got your first one right here. There’s enough to sink your teeth into, and enough to keep you coming back for a dabble here and there many years down the line. If you enjoy the RTS genre then this is a definite purchase. If you’re unsure as to whether RTS is for you then I would still suggest taking the plunge. If any game is going to change your opinion on the genre, it’s this one.
Verdict: 9/10 – Must-buy.