The soundtrack is one of the most enjoyable components of Transference, helping to solidify the game’s psychological thriller credentials.
Having the same apartment to explore across alternate realities really helps to offer a unique twist, each world possessing something interesting to explore despite the fact that you’re effectively exploring the same apartment over and over again.
Although the controls are straightforward, they take some time to get used to, which really says a lot when at face value, they’re such simplistic controls.
An interesting game to play through once, but it’s certainly not something that you’ll find yourself returning to anytime soon. During that first run, I felt like I’d achieved everything I needed to.
The achievements aren’t anything special, you’ll unlock the majority by just playing through the story while two are rewarded for collecting all the collectibles and one is for finding a unique item. Bleh.
September 19, 2018
Let's rewind the clocks back to E3 2017 for a moment. It’s the Ubisoft Press Conference and randomly in the middle of it Elijah Wood appears on-screen promoting a game called Transference, which at the time, nobody had any clue what it was or indeed what it was about. Fast forward to 2018, the game is released for Xbox One and PS4 and, truth be told, I’ve still got no clue what it’s about. Transference, whilst having an amazing soundscape and an interesting environment to explore, just doesn’t quite land in being something special.
Transference is a psychological thriller in which you explore the fractured mind of a man who tried to upload his and his family's consciousness into a virtual world. It’s something akin to a walking sim, which is pretty self-explanatory. You walk how you would in any other game and when you want to interact with an item you look directly at it and hit the A button.
It all sounds straightforward but in Transference, somehow even the simplest of actions has been made more than a little annoying. Movement feels rather stodgy and is a little too slow, especially when there are moments where you know exactly where you want to go but the glacial pace makes it quite the chore. As for interacting with items, it’s a little finicky at first, but once you get a sense of the radius you need to be in to interact with something, it becomes quite as easy as it should be. You can also pick up items and have a closer look at them by hitting one of the triggers to freely examine it.
Thankfully, with the mechanics being simplistic for the most part, there’s no need for a tutorial, so you get thrown straight into the world of Transference and the story surrounding what happened to Dr. Raymond Hayes’ family. You start the game looking at an apartment building exterior in which you spend the majority of the story. But this one building has multiple alternate realities within it that players can switch between by turning the lights on and off. It’s a unique way to change between each reality and adds a new layer of puzzle solving for players to explore.
As for puzzles, Transference is chock full of them for players to solve in order to progress through the story. These puzzles range from playing notes to unlock a door to tuning clocks and radios to the right frequency. All of these puzzles prove an enjoyable and welcome part of the game and, just as with puzzles generally, it was pretty satisfying solving each one to unlock another fractured layer of the virtual world that we’re hurled into. A few of the puzzles are fairly uninspired, demanding you merely locate a certain item to place in a certain area, but they’re rendered more interesting thanks to the ability to swap between alternate realities. Consequently, Transference’s puzzles never feel too repetitive.
What really makes the game immersive as a psychological thriller is the soundscape that developer SpectreVision has put together. There isn’t a single moment during which the sound seems like it’s on a loop, every item you interact with and every step you take evolving the SFX around you to ratchet up the tension further and further within the eerie apartment you’re exploring.
It doesn’t follow the classic codes and conventions of a horror where sound gradually reaches a crescendo signalling a shocking moment happening on-screen. Instead, it layers sound on top of sound at the same level, that when combined creates a truly uncomfortable atmosphere as elements of the soundtrack are intentionally designed not to mesh. Of course, it still follows some of the classic horror tropes, such as hearing the occasional whisper happen around you, but if anything, it contributes to rendering the soundtrack even more effective.
Sadly, however, the game does fall flat when it comes to the narrative. When exploring Transference’s environments, you learn new things as you progress, but it’s so unclear as to what in the world is happening or what has happened to bring you into this world. You get an inkling of the basics but to be blunt, the end is pretty unsatisfactory.
Despite being an interesting world to explore, there’s nothing really achieved through the story. Players can unlock live-action video logs throughout the game that help to add a little more backstory to the game’s barely-formed tale, but the game is a little too over-reliant on these, and if you end up missing one, you’ll sadly have to start the game over in order to try and find them, which is less than ideal.
While the journey in Transference is an interesting and unique one - largely in part due to the fascinating soundscape - the narrative side of things is all too bland. Ultimately, that doesn’t taint the enjoyable aspects of the game, such as solving puzzles to progress the story and switching between different alternate realities. Transference is a short game that might be worth a single playthrough, but doesn’t really offer a narrative that players will want to come back to.