The last time video games tackled the subject of Greek myth, the entire pantheon of Ancient Greek gods was systematically slaughtered by an angry, pale Spartan who spared no expense in his mighty fury. Since then, there haven’t been many stories (if at all) that drew from the rich tapestry of every middle schooler’s favorite history subject. Theseus, a PlayStation VR exclusive, is the closest thing we have to a game dipping back into the well myth and legend. It’s too bad that its potential is wasted on such a ho-hum adventure.
In short, the legend of the Minotaur’s maze tells the story of Theseus, a young hero who travels to a labyrinth designed by King Minos as a grandstanding punishment against Athens for the assassination of his son. Once there, Theseus (aided by King Minos’ daughter Ariadne) spares the Athenians by slaughtering the beast that lay inside and frees its prisoners. Theseus, the video game, takes certain elements of the myth to create its own story about a silent protagonist stuck inside the remains of a once prosperous underground city that fell to ruin and tainted by corruption. The city is patrolled by a giant grimdark Minotaur that grows in power each time it slaughters a human. Doomed to spend eternity in the city, Theseus works alongside the spirit of Ariadne to reach the city center and break the unending cycle of death and misery.
The direct problem with Theseus is how completely boring the adventure is. Looking past that the game replaces the maze with a city, the adventure is terribly linear and marked by small pockets of action oriented gameplay. The environment is moody and atmospheric, which is nice, but you spend practically the entire game walking from one room to another stopping only to climb walls, jump over and crawl through obstacles. Maneuvering through these actions largely feels like busy work designed to break up the monotony of pushing the analog stick forward. It would have been nice to explore the city a bit more and perhaps find journals or books that tell the story of the city before and during its fall. But with Ariadne constantly beckoning you forward, there’s no time allowed to stop and smell the roses (were there roses to begin with).
Breaking up the walking simulator vibe are battles involving monsters and evading the Minotaur. You’ll only have to fight spiders a few times and none of these instances provide any meaningful fun. Again, it all feels like it is in service to make the adventure more exciting and take a break from walking. The monsters are easy enough to kill by setting them alight and hacking them to bits as they lie squirm around defenseless. These encounters are functional and easy enough to get through, which is totally different from the face to face meetings you’ll have with the Minotaur. I got the distinct impression that stealth is the name of the game when dealing with the monster, who cannot see but can hear player if he triggers a switch, lights a torch, or sprints. That doesn’t seem to stop him from killing you in one hit whenever he sees you. The most frustrating part of the game involves bypassing two sets of doors controlled by a pressure switch. The idea is to wait for the beast to pass and then trigger the plate, which will actually summon the beast to your location anyway. Ideally, you’ll stand on the plate long enough for the door to lock open allowing you to run through safely by the skin of your teeth. The problem I kept dealing with was the short window of time you have to escape before the Minotaur sweeps the room with his arm for a one hit kill. I think it took me about six times before I was able to get through.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was during a direct confrontation with the Minotaur near the end of the game. After flipping a switch to stun the beast, Ariadne tells you to escape the area but provides no instruction or clues on how to do so. The area is surrounded by rubble with no accessible doors. I suppose there was a trick to advance, but the opportunity never presented itself. After restarting this sequence for the fifth time, I ran into a surprise. As I guided Theseus, bruised, battered, and bloodied through a stone doorway that led to this confrontation with the monster, the room trembled and Ariadne cried out in terror as the Minotaur appeared. But there was no Minotaur. I was by myself in a large room that shook and reverberated around me. Per Ariadne’s command, I used the sword I found to trigger a switch that shot out a blast of energy designed to stun the beast. Except, again, there was no monster. Standing alone with nowhere to go and no one to interact with, I quit the game and restarted from the checkpoint only for the Minotaur to not load. My only visible recourse was to start the game over and there was no way I was going to do that. Up to this point, I looked for an excuse, a blessing to stop playing the game and I got it. The gods work in mysterious ways.
I honestly believe a video game where you play as the eagle that eats Prometheus’ liver would be more exciting than Theseus. Everything about Forge Reply’s game is superficial. It’s pretty to look at, but the gameplay is terribly hollow and lacks variety. Adding to that, it fails to do anything meaningful with VR, using it only to create tension through a series of fixed camera angles whose transition are jarring and disorienting. It pains me to say that this is one game that should have been sacrificed to Hades.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.