Tethered ‘untethered’ review (PS4/PSVR)

A title we sadly didn’t test when it first came out on Playstation VR, Tethered is now also available to players who don’t own (or enjoy playing with) a virtual reality headset. We played the ‘untethered’ edition of the game with and without our headset.

It’s a good time to be testing Tethered anyway, since a lot of upgrades and new features have been added to the game since its original launch about six months ago. Originally part of the launch window of the Playstation VR headset, Tethered has since then seen the release of the Playstation 4 Pro console and its developers have made good use of the extra horsepower available to them.

For Tethered, this has resulted in better visuals for the game when playing with a Playstation 4 Pro, and now that VR has become optional this boost has been extended to 4K visuals at 60 frames per second – though that is obviously only available when playing without a headset. The recent updates for the game don’t just cater to the non-VR crowd though, as support for Move controllers make the game even more enjoyable than it was before.

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The base gameplay hasn’t changed though, and Tethered is still a god game somewhat reminiscent of classic titles like Populous and The Settlers and has hints of classic real time strategy as well. Resource gathering, base building/upgrading and allocating tasks are essential for your survival, because when night falls the game turns into a hybrid of a god game and a tower defense title.

Dark worm-like beings attack your people (called ‘peeps’) and it’s up to you to defend them and their precious resources – or rather it’s up to you to make sure that you’re spending some of those resources on defensive capabilities. This cycle continues in each one of the game’s 13 levels until you have acquired enough spirit energy to fully charge your totem (when I said tower defense, I really meant totem defense). Eventually your village becomes strong enough to repel the nightly raids easily, which in turn allows you to more efficiently build up spirit energy. It’s the kind of stuff that’s no doubt familiar if you’re played anything like Populous in the past 30 years – and Tethered doesn’t stray too far from that concept.

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Although now available for those without VR, Tethered is still best enjoyed in virtual reality. Its relatively simple concept might not be enough to dazzle you on a regular television, but it’s a magical experience in VR. Part of that is definitely the recent inclusion of Move support, for its motion controls are superior to the original game’s ‘look and click’ control scheme in terms of immersion. It definitely also helps that developer Secret Sorcery was inspired by the classic Studio Ghibli animation style with their world, and the end result is a series of fairytale-like islands inhabited by wonderfully animated ‘peeps’.

Being more closely connected to your peeps in VR also creates an emotional bond of sorts – you can either manage your little people from above or change your perspective to be right alongside them as well. The latter makes it easy to appreciate how lovingly Tethered was crafted and the amount of detail that went into its worlds and inhabitants. It’s almost a shame that Tethered has a fairly minimalist approach to the god game/real time strategy genre, without much in the way of an overarching story or campaign.

Tethered’s been out for about six months now, and it’s still one of the best games you can pick up for your Playstation VR headset. The dedication that Secret Sorcery has shown through their updates is also commendable and an example that more developers should follow. They keep adding value to an already excellent game, at the same time that it’s been on sale. There really is less and less reason to pick this up as soon as possible. Solid without VR, but a must-have with a headset.

Score: 8.5/10

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