You can call me a stick in the mud, but I've never been a real let's-get-the-gang-together-and-party kind of guy. I have, however, long been a hearty supporter of game night. Getting a gaggle o' gamers together for that kind of social interaction is something special in my book. And the new game Werewolves Within pulls out all the stops to bring that "gather 'round the game table" fun to the digital world of virtual reality gaming.
But is this kind of online play a little too, uh, hairy for you and yours? Let's sniff a little closer and find out, shall we?
Solo Werewolf Sleuthing? Nope.
One of the first things you need to make note of is that this title is designed to be crossplayed with the PlayStation VR system, the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive. In other words, it requires a VR headset. But if you've got one you can strap on, then you can probably join in through your console or computer.
The second thing that must be said is related to that: This is a multiplayer game only. You can't log on and play with a bunch of computer-controlled opponents; you must join five other real people online or you'll be all alone baying at the digital moon for something to do.
OK, so now that those requisite bits are out of the way, what is this game actually all about? Well, in a word, deception.
At the Edge of a Dark Wood
After donning VR gear, players slip into an animated little village called Gallowston that's struggling with a big problem: It's got a werewolf infestation. Now, you might think that would be easy enough to deal with. A silver stake or two and a fistful of wolfsbane, and, voila! No werewolves, right? But in this case it's a bit tougher, because, well, the werewolves in question are actually pretty shy about being seen in their furry forms.
You see, there's actually no battling these lycanthropic beasties in their wolfish forms here. Instead, players have to outwit them. The werewolves have taken on human likenesses and are determined to keep their presence at any human gathering a deep, dark secret.
In order to identify the titular Werewolves Within, six players sit around a VR table or campfire and must determine who's who. It's sort of like the classic board game Clue, only without any ballrooms or candlesticks or the like. Instead, there's just a timed period of discussion. If the werewolf (or wolves) can convince the average villagers to vote to eliminate one of their own, the werewolves win. If the villagers pinpoint a masquerading furball in their midst, they win.
But the wild card is that there is generally a "deviant" in the mix, too, a human guy or gal who wants the group to pick them—even though they're not werewolves. And if you do, they win.
Did He Just Sniff Me?
As the game commences, each player is given a book to help keep track of what to do. But the most important thing that the guide reveals is your given "role" for this round. If you're a werewolf, for instance, you not only can spot the other werewolves in the group but also "sniff" out the identities of those people on either side of you if you simply lean in for a brief whisper.
And what interesting identities might the non-werewolves have? Well, human roles that can be assigned to players involve special skills to be used within the group.
A gossip, for instance, will get an indication of two other random roles around the circle: one is real and the other may or may not be. A tracker can "listen" to one side of the group and try and detect a growl coming from one of their number. A saint can look down and pray for the identification of one random player. An astrologist gets the same insight by looking to the stars above. And a drifter gains the knowledge of two roles that are definitely not in the group. Meanwhile, some folks may end up playing an average villager, someone who gets no special skills to rely upon other than his own deductive wits.
The goal, then, is to talk with your fellow players, listen to their responses, watch their movements, and make the most of whatever abilities you may have. Your VR avatar takes on a life of its own with lips moving, hands waving and eyes locking onto one conversant or another. And that round-the-circle discussion becomes an exercise in imagination and improvisation, careful attention and dramatic deception.
Can you make someone else believe your fib? Can you decipher someone's subtle tell, a reveal no one else may have even noticed? Can you lay out a trap and subtly lure someone in? Can you convince several other players to follow your lead? It's all a part of the game. At the end of the timed session, you place your secret vote and see whom the group eliminates.
Howls in the Online Night
Of course, even though this game looks very colorful and cartoony, with a title like Werewolves Within, some parents are bound to wonder if there are things worth being concerned about here. As I mentioned, there are no bared fangs or savage flesh-rending beasts to worry about in this E-rated game. Characters sit around and chew nothing more than the proverbial fat. This is a game of detective-like wits.
That said, the contest's context obviously involves monsters and magicky things in the environs. A gypsy fortune-teller and a pointy-hat-wearing witch-like character might show up around the campfire. Hidden werewolves morph into their fur-covered shapes at the end of the round. And the person chosen to be eliminated by the group poofs into a transparent ghostlike form, clearly revealing if he or she was human or beast. Those supernatural narrative elements might just be a silver bullet to the heart of this game for many parents of young gamers.
Still, it's the content besides that generated by the game itself that's potentially the biggest concern here. In order for the game to work, players connected online have to speak to one another. And that can open the door to some coarse language. You can opt to kick a disruptive person from play, but it takes a unanimous vote by you and everyone else in the group to make that happen, obviously disrupting gameplay pretty seriously in the process.
Personally, I only encountered one group that was rather raucous. But there are a number of gameplay vids online where the crass humor flies, sucking the old-fashioned whodunit-style fun out of this new-school VR sleuthing competition. Unfortunately, there's just no way around that possibility with Werewolves Within's requisite online conversations.
And that's an echoed howl of warning worth listening to.