Developer: Flight School Studio
Publisher: Flight School Studio
Release Date: 12/09/2017
Format(s): Playstation VR (Reviewed), HTC Vive, Oculus Rift
It’s a little tricky to talk about Manifest 99, the twenty-minute virtual reality narrative experience from the team at Flight School Studios. It’s not that there’s nothing to talk about, because believe me, despite the short length there’s a whole lot going on. It’s more of a case of not actually wanting to spoil it for anyone – Manifest 99 really is the kind of thing you need to experience for yourself in order to fully appreciate it.
Manifest 99 puts you on a mysterious train journey that travels through a multitude of lands. You navigate across the train by taking over the bodies of its crow inhabitants, with you entering their consciousness by simply staring them directly in their eyes. As you work across the train you’ll uncover four other passengers, each of whom have their own unique tale to tell that explains why they’re on the train in the first place.
That’s all I really want to say about the story, and believe me, I actually feel bad saying that much. Whilst Manifest 99 simply starts out as a mysterious tale, it slowly develops into a touching and emotional journey that’ll have you completely engrossed. So much manages to get crammed into this relatively short train journey that you won’t be able to help but to feel *something* by the end of it. What exactly that something is will be down to the player…
Given that Manifest 99 is more of an experience rather than an actual video game, there isn’t a whole lot of gameplay to indulge yourself in. You don’t even need a controller; everything in the game is simply controlled with the Playstation VR headset. The only real form of gameplay typically comes down to trying to find out which crow you need to possess in order to progress the story, though in honesty that simply requires you to look around and not actually think all that much. There are some optional hidden items in the environment to find, but those don’t really do much other than give a slight nod to each passenger’s story. The lack of gameplay isn’t a bad thing though – it’s the way the game has been designed, with Manifest 99’s meat and bones being found within its narrative.
Of course, given that it’s a virtual reality experience, you don’t really notice that you aren’t doing all that much from a gameplay perspective. There’s always plenty to see around you, whilst the train itself is always changing in some shape or form. You’re simply never left with nothing impressive to see, with the land around you always full of sights like the war-torn trenches, a luscious locale full of greenery, or even a bluey ocean full of fish – there’s plenty of room for oddities in Manifest 99’s beautiful world.
With Manifest 99’s short length and lack of gameplay, it might not really be suited for all players. It’s something I appreciated though; it almost felt like I was a living presence in a Disney Pixar short movie, albeit with my role being a bit-part and the cast around me the main stars. Still, there’s no denying that some gamers will want to play something that they can actually… well… play. At such a low price point though ($5.99) it’d be criminal to give it a miss – even if you’re not too big a fan of these interactive narrative experiences. It’s a very fair price for what’s on offer, especially since Manifest 99’s touching story is so beautifully presented.
Whilst there have been plenty of these interactive narrative titles released on VR platforms, none have captured my attention or have felt as thought-provoking Manifest 99 – the fact that I still think about it days after completing it shows how much of a one of a kind experience it really is.
Admittedly, there’s not a whole lot there to bring you back for repeated playthroughs, but seeing everything play out just the once will be enough to leave its mark on you. Add to that the fact that it’s available for such a low price point and it’s easy to recommend Manifest 99’s emotional journey to just about anyone.