Westworld Awakening review: A gripping survival puzzle worth every penny

This is not the adventure I signed up for. It's way, way better.

I have been asking for a VR game set in the Westworld universe basically since I saw the first episode of the show. A massive western frontier with a gritty secret paramilitary underbelly and seemingly random chances for the NPCs to snap and start murdering folk because of their previous lives? That is an experience far too rich to explore on a 2D screen from my couch. When I heard Survios and HBO were releasing a Westworld VR experience for arcades, I got way too excited about that dream coming true.

The bad news is my dream did not come to exist in this game. The best news, however, is knowing now that Survios delivered something well beyond my imagination and made it available to everyone with a Steam account.

Westworld Awakening: The Good

Instead of playing a guest in the incredible Wild West-esque park, your trip into Westworld is through the eyes of one of the characters, specifically a woman named Kate. The game starts with you in the park, reliving variants of the same nightmarish story as a classic cinema-style slasher stalks you through a giant house. Each time you die, you wake up in the Delos Narrative Design lab and hear the staff discuss ways to tweak the scene to improve the experience for the guests.

For anyone who enjoys the show, this is both familiar and deeply creepy. It doesn't really matter what you do, or how you try to get around it. You're going to get murdered, and the scene will start again with a slightly different twist. It's a great way to experience the world. Plus, if you take the time to explore the environment each time, you're rewarded with hidden figurines from the show which unlock achievements.

The real challenge is not being distracted when you see something you recognize from the show as the guy with the meat cleaver stalks you down a darkened hallway scattered with bodies.

You eventually progress far enough in the story where things take a very Season Two turn, and you're suddenly in the Delos labs surrounded by bodies. The disorientation of your character is made both better and worse when another character is introduced. You can hear her through an earpiece claiming to be able to help you if you can get to her. She instructs you to pick up one of the Delos tablets from the show, and use it to navigate the world safely. This is where you find most of the actual gameplay, as you use the tablet to solve puzzles and manipulate other hosts from Sweetwater. There is no combat though, so when something violent comes your way, your only course of action is to hide.

Like most Survios games, movement happens by combining button grips and swaying your hands by your sides. The motion controllers give a fairly natural movement experience which is uniquely Survios at this point, but this game has an added mechanic. If you place your hand on a surface and move up or down in the real world, you can crouch and hide under tables with ease. This quickly becomes important, as everything from crazed villains and Delos special operatives stalk you through the world.

The puzzles in Westworld Awakening ramp up in difficulty as you travel through the world, and rely deeply on your ability to react quickly when instructed to do so. At its core, this game was built for VR arcade, so the rapid increase in difficulty makes some sense. But at the end of the day, the real challenge is keeping from being distracted when you see something you recognize from the show as the guy with the meat cleaver stalks you down a darkened hallway scattered with bodies.

Westworld Awakening: The Bad

One of the really great things about many Survios VR titles is the way they are designed to be consumed in smaller bites. It makes these titles perfect for quickly sharing with friends at a party or selling 20-minute experiences through one of the many VR arcades Survios works with. But Westworld Awakening is so good it begs for a longer story.

There's no nice way to say this, $30 is a big ask for less than three hours of actual gameplay in a home gaming environment.

You won't find one here, unfortunately. My first trip through the game was completed in under two and a half hours. I didn't do nearly as much exploring as I should have in the early parts. However, my second playthrough is already likely to be considerably longer as a result. If you want to consume this story in a single pass, you easily could. It's unlikely to matter much to the VR Arcade folks, who are going to be way more focused on how cool it is to be in this world. For me, at home, it was kind of a bummer.

I'm also not super happy with some of the narrative interactions in the game. At one point Kate is being instructed to hide from one of the killers, and after a moment or two, the character stops chasing your footsteps and starts looking for you on the other side of the room. But on more than one occasion during this section of the game, Kate would utter, "I think he's gone now" when the character in question was not only still in clear view, but still actively looking for me on the other side of the room. I don't feel like this impacted gameplay a ton, but it made me second guess most of the other reaction-based decisions you're asked to make later in the game.

I should also note Westworld Awakening starts by asking you to choose between one of three difficulty levels. The easiest and most difficult tiers explicitly claim to make the villains in the game more or less observant and violent. I have been playing in the middle difficulty so far, but even here it's clear; the villain needs to get a full-body look at you before deciding to engage you. This makes peeking around corners more fun, but it's not immediately clear what impact may have been had on the narrative triggers.

Should you buy Westworld Awakening?

There's no nice way to say this, $30 is a big ask for less than three hours of actual gameplay in a home gaming environment. Aside from that, Westworld Awakening is one of the most emotionally engaging VR games I've ever played. Experiencing Westworld through the eyes of a host is terrifying, and at several points, I could feel my heart race as I hid under virtual tables while someone passed me by. The combination of Survios' unique VR movement mechanic and a wrecked Delos lab full of bodies makes you genuinely feel like you're running for your life for a couple of moments, which is genuinely thrilling.

If you're a fan of Westworld and you enjoy the scarier things in life, buy this game. You won't regret a moment of it.

Russell Holly

Russell is a tech nerd who chases the best of everything, from phones to game consoles to laptops and everything glowing or beeping. He's the Managing Editor of gaming content for Mobile Nations and can be found contributing to all of the Mobile Nations sites. Reach out on Twitter!