Like many fans of HBO's Westworld, I have resigned myself to the fact that the show won't be back for a new season until next year. On May 19, the night the series finale of Game of Thrones aired, a showing off Aaron Paul's new character and reinforcing the 2020 return date. But thanks to HBO and content studio Survios, you can return to the park much sooner via a new VR game called Westworld Awakening.
The single player game is set during the events of season 2. You play a host named Kate who has attained self awareness and, like Dolores, Maeve and Bernard, is searching to understand what that means. Instead of watching actors play characters wrestling with their identity, memories and trying to reclaim power, you experience it all first hand.
I got to play the first 15 minutes and it honestly shook me. Putting on a VR headset and "waking up" as a host outside a manor in Westworld was such a strong transformation for me. It's a different sensation than what I get from watching the show mainly because everything is happening directly to me. And that's just the beginning.
Gameplay takes you all over the place: through well-known sites in the show as well as the offices and labs of Delos. Kate is stalked by a host named Hank who is also "awakened" and has stalked the grounds for generations as a serial killer. Westworld Awakening takes place over five acts and will run between four and six hours of gameplay.
Essentially, you are playing an entirely new storyline that runs in parallel to the plots of season 2. In fact, Survios and HBO worked on the story and characters in the game with Kilter Films, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy's production company behind the show.
I got to speak with Adam Foshko, Director of Narrative Design at HBO and Michael Clark, a producer at Survios last week in San Francisco about the game. It's worth pointing out the poetic parallel between what Foshko and Clark did for Westworld Awakening and what the character Lee Sizemore does for the park on the show.
"As a game developer Westworld is fantastic because it is a story about game development," said Clark. He goes on to point out, "Some of the iteration on Kate's character that happens in the first chapter of the game actually parallels very much real game development processes."
One of the more unique aspects to the game is the controls for walking. To move forward I moved my hands while holding the controllers in a locomotive motion on either side of my body. For the first few minutes, I felt like I was doing a bad impression of Fred Flinstone's feet under his car. But I quickly adjusted to it. I was told that this movement is called "fluid locomotion" and that it helps compensate for the disconnect between your inner ear and the visuals you see in VR.
I enjoy the puzzling mythology that surrounds the characters and story in the show. Fortunately, the game has that same sense of puzzle solving and discovering clues. The world is covered in details that you can interact with when you want. For example, as I was exploring one location there were two cowboy hats hanging on the wall: one black, one white. You don't have to take one, but I reached out and put one on -- the black one, of course. At one point, you can even grab a QA (Quality Assurance) tablet to manipulate others and communicate with characters like Maeve.
As far as where Westworld Awakening fits in regards to the third season, I was told not to expect Aaron Paul to show up at the end. But I was assured by Foshko that there was a satisfying conclusion to the game's story.
You'll be able to get Westworld Awakening for $30 starting Aug. 20 on Steam, Oculus, and HTC Viveport as well as play it in more than 400 VR arcades worldwide.