When it comes to Greek myths and legends, few are as well known or romanticised as that of Theseus and the Minotaur. In one version of the tale, the vengeful King Minos of Crete demands that seven Athenian boys and girls are sent to an labyrinth never to be seen again. Theseus, the young champion of Athens, looks to break this cycle once and for all, setting sail for the island and its fantastical guardian.
You wouldn’t know any of this from playing Theseus, however. Developed by Italian studio, Forge Reply, it drops you right into the thick of it with no preamble or lead-in. In those opening moments we see the Greek hero walking through an abstract hellscape as ancient stonework floats over a river of blood. Bar the occasional grunt he doesn’t say much, led through this winding maze by the ethereal voice of Ariadne.
Looking for games to compare it to, Theseus is best described as a mix between ICO and God of War. It’s a relatively short adventure game spanning three to fours hours and there aren’t a lot of advanced systems at play. It’s centred around exploring the labyrinth and attempting to vanquish the nightmarish creatures that lurk within.
The Minotaur is quick to make his presence known – a shaggy behemoth riddled with spikes and horns quite unlike the mythological creature we’ve come to expect. Instead of battling him head-on, you’ll be attempting to sneak around, solving puzzles and learning more about the labyrinth itself. Along the way you’ll pick up a torch and sword – both of which come in handy for felling the grim spiders that occasionally leap from the shadows.
Everything here is in third person, which begs the question – why VR? Whacking on a virtual reality headset does little to elevate the game beside adding to its atmosphere. That’s not to say VR support has been crowbarred in just for the sake of it. By using fixed camera angles like ICO and the original God of War, Theseus creates this cool effect where each set piece can be looked upon as some kind of digital diorama. Still, compared to most games we’ve seen sporting VR tech, this one isn’t so much of a boundary pusher.
Propped up by Unreal Engine 4, Theseus is a good looking game even when peering down the lenses of Sony’s headset. There’s a surreal beauty in the way Forge Reply have imagined the labyrinth with plenty of open, well-lit areas. Usually, with virtual reality, there comes a trade-off in my experience, with games which attempt to create photorealistic visuals often being uncomfortable. That wasn’t the case here, however, mainly thanks to the distance and positioning of camera angles.
Short and succinct, there’s nothing about Theseus I strongly disliked. That said, beyond the occasional picturesque moment, there isn’t a lot here worth shouting about either. It succeeds in bringing a brutal slice of mythology to life, but lacks the depth or impact of similar action adventure games, putting too much emphasis on style and presentation.
Version tested: PlayStation 4 Pro