The Exorcist: Legion VR (Episodes 1 - 3)

The Exorcist: Legion VR (Episodes 1 - 3)

Written by Eric Hauter on 7/20/2018 for PSVR  
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The Exorcist: Legion VR scared me more than any other game I have ever played.

Fear is subjective. While one person might crumple into a heap on the floor when faced with certain imagery, the next might just stare blankly at the offending material and shrug. Some people fear spiders, some people fear heights, some people find slasher movies the most terrifying thing they can imagine. I fear The Exorcist.

Raised against the “Satanists are everywhere” hysteria of the late '70s and early '80s, being “possessed by the devil” seemed like a very real possibility during my childhood. I was once told very matter-of-factly by a babysitter that if I didn’t sit quietly, she would spin a record backwards on the family turntable, and I would have my soul taken by Satan. My church didn’t help matters much, bringing in “recovering Satanists” to lecture the terrified parishioners about the dangers of child sacrifice and tarot cards. I had a friend who was once “exorcised” by his parents at the age of 14 for the sin of playing Dungeons & Dragons. The undertone of Satanic imagery in my youth was insidious.

Lurking in the shadows against the backdrop of this strange cultural obsession was The Exorcist. I never watched the original film as a child, but I heard plenty about it. Kids I knew had seen it on Showtime, and spent hours on the playground solemnly reporting on the events of the film as though there were verified fact. My mom had a paperback copy of the original William Peter Blatty novel in a stack of books in her closet, and I would occasionally sneak a peek at the cover to give myself a dark thrill of terror. The film, and images from it, held a mythic quality in my life.

Even when I engaged with horror films in my teens, becoming a full-fledged horror fan and trying to work my way through every VHS tape at the local Coconuts rental joint, The Exorcist remained a white whale, the one film that I was too afraid to watch. Finally, armed with a few bottles of Mad Dog 20/20 one night, my friends and I settled down to watch the first two films in the series. When I finally gathered my courage to watch it, I was astounded at the quality of the film, and how pro-religion the messages contained within it seemed to be. My entire life, I had thought that the film was a celebration of the devil, and I was relieved to see that—in the end—good triumphed over in the struggle over evil. And of course, the second film was hot garbage, proving that these were, after all, only movies. A year later, I was delighted to go see the third film play in the theaters, and it quickly became one of my favorite horror films of all time.

I’m 45 years old now. I have long left childhood fears behind, and I no longer see the devil staring back at me from the shadows in my bedroom at night. But still…some part of my lizard brain still feels a trickle of fear drip down my spine at the words “The Exorcist.” And the idea of strapping a VR rig to my head and immersing myself in the dark universe of the Exorcist franchise was more than a little daunting. Playing the game seemed like it would make me vulnerable, and I know that there are plenty of people in the world who would consider the very existence of The Exorcist: Legion VR to be blasphemy. So of course I had to do it.

I wasn’t disappointed.

The Exorcist: Legion VR is based on the third film in the Exorcist franchise, and it holds the distinction of being the only game I’ve ever played that displays the “Morgan Creek” logo while it is booting. The game is being released in episodic format, with the first three episodes (out of a total of five) being available now. Each episode is framed as an investigation performed by a police lieutenant at a crime scene, with the episodes being framed by brief periods spent gathering yourself at the Boston police station, an Exor-hub of sorts. As you work through the various cases, a story throughline starts to become apparent. With only the first three episodes to work with, I can’t speak to how well these story threads come together. But I can say that each of these episodes, as standalone vignettes, hit with the power of a sledge hammer.

Each of the episodes has the player exploring an environment where things seem to be…off. The first environment, a church, is a recent crime scene. But the subsequent areas, a hospital and a home, show no initial signs of disturbance. But dig a little deeper, look a little closer, and the darkness that lives in these areas becomes apparent. The episodes become increasingly subtle in their narrative, with the third episode in particular being a primer in quality short-form emergent story-telling.

Each area is exquisitely designed, with a graphical fidelity that matches the highest quality triple-A PS VR games. This is a very nice-looking game, using shadow in a way I haven’t experienced in VR. One sequence in the first episode is particularly effective, and I was whipping my head from side to side, trying to get a grip on the dangerous shapes flickering in and out of view. The game also uses an advanced physics model, which might not have been necessary for a narrative game of this type, but it really helps sell the immersion. I spent some time playing with the physics, and was impressed with what I saw. What happens if I toss this book on that rocking chair? It starts rocking, reacting convincingly to the impact. What happens if I whip this orange up these stairs? It rolls realistically back down, reminding me of The Changeling and scaring me.

None of the episodes in The Exorcist: Legion VR is particularly long, but this game is very much an argument for quality over quantity. Each episode took me a maximum of 45 minutes to complete, and I was taking my sweet time exploring and poking around in all of the dark corners. Subsequent episode playthroughs could be achieved in 10 minutes or so. Each vignette contains a few environmental puzzles, required to move the action along, but nothing too taxing on the brain. To progress, you mostly have to scan the environments and look at stuff in a certain order. Which is fine, because my brain was too busy balking at what I was seeing and hearing to engage with puzzles on a very deep level.

These episodes pack a horrific punch. I silently made my way through the first episode with my cross clutched in front of me like Peter Cushing, almost too scared to move forward. I chattered to myself nervously while playing through the second episode, cracking jokes to keep myself from getting too scared. “Ahh! Where did you come from? I bet you want a little holy water to the face, don’t you? Take it! Take it! The power of Christ compels you!” When I took off the PS VR headgear, I was horrified to see my 17-year-old lounging on the sofa, smirking at me. By the time I played the third episode, I had settled into the experience, totally on board with the fact that I was in the hands of some master storytellers, and they were going to scare the pants off of me. My family gathered in the room around me to watch me creep around and mutter “Oh hell no!” over and over to myself. The TV was turned off, they were there to watch me. Jerks.

I also enjoyed going back through the episodes a second time, revisiting the scenes to clean up trophies and puzzles that I missed the first time through. Once you know what to expect, the game delivers a different kind of pleasure. I got a kick out of examining the lore-building detritus that the developers had strewn about, and enjoyed examining the way that they had meticulously constructed the episodes to trigger thrills to first-time players at particular intervals. Legion VR plays like a finely tuned amusement park ride, but with devil stuff.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I encountered a few gameplay bugs. There was the usual “trouble picking stuff up off the floor”, though a nice duck mechanic helped alleviate that problem a little bit. I also had trouble getting the game to acknowledge that I wanted to restart certain levels, and at one point all of the interactive objects in a level started glowing a glossy reflective silver color, which tends to kill the emersion. A quick reload fixed these issues, but they were there. Overall, though, The Exorcist: Legion VR’s strengths far outweighed the minor technical issues I experienced.

You will notice that I’m specifically avoiding story spoilers, because The Exorcist: Legion VR lives and dies on the fact that players will enter its demonic environments not knowing what to expect. And while the game does use some standard horror-film imagery (Pig heads! Mannequins!), it is the way in which these images are employed that elevates this game above your run-of-the-mill horror title. Legion’s development team were able to tap into the atmosphere of The Exorcist, which is what sells this game so much. It’s not the moments when the bed is floating, or the pea soup is spewing, or the heads are spinning that make The Exorcist so effective. Those are the moments people remember, but what makes The Exorcist work is the quiet sense of foreboding, the grayness of people’s lives, the muted stillness that emerges between the horrors. That quiet, subdued mood that pervades the franchise is what The Exorcist: Legion VR captures in video game form, and that chill in the air is what makes this game a success.

Obviously, this game plays to my particular personal triggers. One moment in the first episode was the single greatest scare I’ve ever experienced while playing a game, and it did not involve anything jumping out at me. That is really saying something. I think that any horror fan would do well to check this game out, both as a unrepentant thrill ride through the filth, but also as a study in how to deliver mood and tension in the VR game space. The three episodes that I played are an amazing start, and I can’t wait to see if the series sticks the landing with a bang-up ending. So far, The Exorcist: Legion VR is an unqualified success.

By alternating between quiet mood-building moments and “Did I just see that?” religious horrors, The Exorcist: Legion VR delivers chills that are every bit up to the standards of the franchise. This is a game that is not afraid to place the player in some horrific settings. Where other games might shrink back a bit to protect players sensibilities, Legion VR—like the franchise that spawned it—only pushes the envelope that much harder. While the game is most effective the first time through, repeated visits to its brief vignettes reveal just how meticulously this spook-house was built. Don't bother with the individual episodes, just go for the whole game. You will immediately want to buy more episodes after playing the first one, so you might as well save some money by buying the package. And don't forget to play with the lights on, for all the good it will do you.

Rating: 9 Excellent

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

Howdy.  My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a 45-year-old dad with four kids, ranging in age from 1 through 17.  During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs).  I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one.  I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.

My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then.  I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep.  Currently, I play on PS4, PSVR, PS Vita, 3DS, Wii U and a janky PC.  While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.

When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect.

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