I would not say it's the best virtual reality content I've played, but surely what I remember most is a scene from the 'The London Heist' of PlayStation World where you are forced to sit in a pub while an East End Mafia boss just talks to you for ages. I love it because as he talks about someone called French Tony, the game simply stops paying attention to what you are doing. You're at this desk with a lighter, a cigar, a phone and more, and no one says you can not just throw them at that guy. So you do. I've spent more time than I'd like to admit laughing when I take the phone off his forehead, or pretend to set fire to his groin. It is a pure and inconsequential act of playing. I love it.
I'm glad someone realized that this could be a game in itself. Where other developers try (and almost always fail) to create totally immersive simulations, to perfect some trick of technological magic where you are suddenly somewhere and another person, Zoink Games (Fe, Flipping Death) is satisfied in giving you two great hands, the power of invisibility, and a miniature world to repair or spoil its convenience. Welcome to Ghost Giant.
It is a simple but heady premise. You are the eponymous ghost, towering above a series of quiet pastoral scenes. Zoink drew the angled angles and hand-drawn style of his previous games, but placed them on a new pastel-colored border. Each scene is a dense set of dollhouse-sized elements, filled with anthropomorphized animals that take care of their business. It's fascinating to just watch the world around you and you'll quickly become sort of a G-rated voyeur, able to peek at the windows of houses to see what their inhabitants are doing, or peek around the corners to see if there's anything hidden you find. The sound design is a big part of it: staying at full height, gigantic and the world shaking takes over you, but lean close to the tiny inhabitants of these cities and you can discern individual conversations, even on foot (or helmet) phases.
As a game, it is released as something like a point and a click adventure, although the Zoink developers prefer to call it "poke" and "grab." Anything colored with brass is a key interaction in the world, ranging from bin lids to lugs that open the entire facades of houses. This also extends to thick levers (which are unbelievably good at moving because of mandatory motion controls) that can increase, lower, rotate or generally mess up larger structures. But you can interact with much more than that. Hats can be pinched on top of pedestrians' heads or, if you are particularly cruel, you can empty the dumpsters and see how the street cleaner needs fixing. I'm so cruel Repeatedly.
Although there is no stated goal for this, there are some collectibles along the way – including the very addition of hidden pinwheels that you have to pick up and blow up to activate on Nintendo – y (did you know that the PSVR had a built – in microphone? I did not do). Virtually everything seems tactile and that's why it's mainly – Zoink wants you to chop and get everything you can.
But with an estimated duration of 4 to 6 hours, even complicating things can get a bit obsolete, so tying it all together is the story of Louis. The last time I played the game, our lovely child protagonist (and the only person who can see the huge ghost who suddenly started breaking things for fun) was just that: lovely, a child and not much else. Since then, Zoink has brought young adult fiction writer Sara Elfgren aboard, and Louis's story is decidedly more shocking than before. The slapstick foolishness of his part in the story remains, but his reasons for doing so seem grounded, even important.
Louis lives on an idyllic little farm with his mother, but something is wrong. We do not see her, and no matter how many adults ask Louis where she is, he dodges the question. He is determined to keep up with the day-to-day tasks of farming – so determined that we can say that something is not right. Why should a child act like this? adult? And so, of course, you want to help him.
This help goes from practice (fix Louis's treehouse) to the obtuse (help him disguise himself as an adult so he will not be stopped when he borrows his mother's car to drive to town), handshake secret together). The puzzles seem to be a "simple but satisfying" mantra – a perfect example is when you are asked to make it rain. Look up, grab a marshmallow cloud on your left and another on your right, then scrub them to start a storm. And if you get tired of Louis's chores, you can always stop to freak out a talking otter with an invisible and quick nudge.
This cadence of nonsense and seriousness is enough to intrigue me, but it comes with a concern: laughing at my own idiocy already makes me sweat while inside a virtual reality headset, so I am honestly a little worried about what will happen to the hardware when Ghost Giant inevitably makes me cry too.
Ghost Giant comes exclusively to PSVR on April 16 (digital) and April 19 (physical).
Joe Skrebels is the deputy editor of IGN in the UK, and he will fight physically or virtually against anyone who tries to hurt poor Louis. Follow him on Twitter.