In psychoanalysis, the word transference refers to shifting one’s emotions from one person to another, particularly in dealing with childhood events. Regardless of whether one views the psychoanalytic paradigm as a viable theory on how family relationships effect individual development or consider it nothing but antiquated Freudian quackery it seems like an intriguing premise for a video game. Horror would be the first guess, since few things are scarier than actually taking a thorough examination of ones inner workings and putting them in a familial context but that seems like an over simplification of Transference is trying to achieve through the video game medium.
The premise of Transference does center around someone that could be considered a mad scientist of sorts. Raymond Hayes is a brilliant scientist though his ambition indicates that he straddles the line between genius and insanity. Hayes created one of the most horrifying simulations imaginable, a virtual recreation of his family that was born of their harvested brain data. If Dr. Frankenstein has taught us anything it is that bringing life to a new collective born from stitched together dead remnants of the past is a bad idea, and he experienced disaster when working with simple dead body parts. Needless to say, Hayes experiment doesn’t quite go according to plan and we’re left with trying to unravel a mystery in a corrupted simulation.
As the player, we step into the psychological terror of this experiment and shift between three different family members’ perspectives. A live action sequence explains that Hayes wants to attain immortality by converting his consciousness into digital format and also includes his family members. As we learn throughout the game the family life he is trying to preserve indefinitely was not one that was in a constant state of bliss in real life, which his working on this project did nothing to improve.
Transference is reminiscent of Sega CD games that incorporated live action video to blur the lines between movie and video, or at least a contemporary version of the concept. Transference can be played as a standard first person game, but PC and PlayStation 4 users have the option of playing in VR, provided of course they have the necessary hardware. The VR experience is recommended for the greater level of immersion and with the game clocking in around two hours it is a decent length for a VR title. The atmosphere and story provide are unnerving enough without the added benefits of VR, so players who wish to play this in standard format will still get an experience that does the concept justice.
The setting of Transference is a virtual simulation of Hayes’s home. The environment is technically the same for each of the three difference family members. The environments change to represent the different perspectives, for example one of the family members views the home as being analogous to prison. The space feels limiting at times where certain areas are out of reach that appear as if they should accessible, but executing a seemingly minor action as another character can open up part of the house to someone else, such as activating a light switch, tuning a radio or unlocking a door. This puzzle solving device also works as a narrative device illustrating how while each person in the family is living in their unique world they are all connected to each other.
Progression through Transference is done with puzzle solving, none of which is too incredibly difficult. The game is fairly quick, completing the story and enjoying some of the extras can be accomplished in one to two hours. The objects scattered about the Hayes family dwelling can be interacted with. Some items can provide some insight into the individuals present in the home and a few are used for advancing through the game, though the objects in the latter category tend to be quite obvious. The intent of Tranference is not to create a challenging or difficult puzzle but more to create an experience to tell a story. The interactive elements are meant to be simple to overcome to keep things advancing at an interesting pace.
The environment and tone of Transference succeed at creating an unsettling environment for the most part. There is one enemy creature who doesn’t pose a real threat and its only apparent purpose is to provide jump scares. As such, the initial appearance can be startling but loses its impact with repeated sightings. It doesn’t ruin the experience entirely but does break the level of immersion and seems out of place in context with everything else.
Transference is a novel concept with with adequate execution. It’s intended to be played in VR for the greatest impact, so those with multiple platform options should factor that into the decision process of choosing which one to go with. The story is fascinating and fans of horror will most likely find an enjoying and disturbing experience. The short length is a double-edged sword, though, as it can be comfortably played in VR in one sitting but is ultimately a very short game. Being story driven, the simplistic gameplay is just interactive enough to keep the player engaged, making Transference a worthwhile descent into madness to take once but offers little reason to come back for more.