The 7th Guest VR is an ingenious reimagining of a PC classic [wafact]

We’re currently living in a golden age of video game remakes. Just this year, we’ve gotten industry-defining modern revisits of classics like Dead Space and Resident Evil 4. Though even more exciting is a much quieter wave of retro reimaginings that are polishing up foundational classics that newer audiences might not know. We got a new take on Colossal Cave in January and a solid System Shock remake in March, but the most fascinating project is still to come: The 7th Guest VR.

If you’re a younger player who’s never heard of The 7th Guest, I can’t say I blame you. At the time of its release, the 1993 PC title was a groundbreaking puzzle adventure game. The atmospheric haunted house story was every bit as important as Myst, pushing the limits of 3D graphics at the time while delivering a more “adult” tone. Despite its historical importance, it’s not exactly a household name with younger players. A VR-exclusive remake isn’t likely to change that, but it does give developer Vertigo Games a chance to draw a line connecting the technical innovations of yesteryear with those of today.

I got to see that in action during a 30-minute demo of The 7th Guest VR on the Meta Quest 2. It’s a radical reinvention of the original — so much that it’s hard to call it a remake — and it’s already fascinating me as a historical project. An old-school adventure game becomes an escape room puzzler in VR, a surprising change that connects the dots between the evolution of video game genres.

Escape mansion

Upon starting The 7th Guest VR, it was immediately clear that I wasn’t in for a faithful 1:1 remake. I begin the demo on a shoddy boat, as I grab a paddle and push myself to a dock. There, I pick up a lantern, which I can shine on broken structures to fix them or reveal secrets. I use that to get into the original game’s haunted mansion, shining my light to repair a broken statue, snagging a gem out of its eye, and placing it in another statue to unlock a gate key. If you’re familiar with the 1993 game, all of that probably sounds alien.

Once I’m in the mansion, I can fully walk around in 3D. Quickly after entering the foyer, I get to see one of its biggest remake reinventions in action. The original 7th Guest was notable for its use of live-action footage, placing real actors in environments using a ghostly graphical trick. That’s revisited here in an impressive modern fashion, as real actors appear before me using volumetric tech that allows me to see them from every angle. It’s the first moment where it becomes clear what the VR project is setting out to accomplish. It’s not so much remaking the original as it is preserving how impressive it felt in the moment.

A mansion appears on a hill in The 7th Guest VR.
Vertigo Games

In that sense, the use of VR is ingenious here. Despite adoption struggles, the tech still often feels like a futuristic magic trick compared to traditional gaming experiences. By recontextualizing The 7th Guest in that way, I’m more easily able to put myself in a 1993 headspace than I would be if I were playing a simple rerelease (which you can play on PC, Nintendo Switch, and mobile devices).

That switch to VR does call for some radical reimagining, though. The original game’s puzzles are very much built with a flat screen in mind; it wouldn’t be all that exciting to flip cards or complete line puzzles in virtual reality. Instead, Vertigo Games has turned the mansion into a series of tactile escape rooms that are far more involved than anything in the original. I’d get to play one of those in my demo, which centered around a magician visiting the house.

There’s some clever puzzling in that change. An early puzzle has me trying to grab two keys from a cabinet — a task easier said than done as a pair of pressure plates hide them whenever I get close. As I search the room for a solution, I find two magic hats. When I stick my hand in one, it pops out of the other. I place one hat next to a cabinet and back off the pressure plate to unveil the key. With a bit of magic, I stick my hand in one hat and it comes out the other, letting me snag the key without getting near it. Voila!

Other puzzles have me using my lantern to reveal hidden clues. To open a chest, I need to shine a light to find symbols indicating how I should align two sliding blocks. Not every puzzle I played during the sequence was a revelatory use of the tech, but each has that same tactile satisfaction that makes VR standouts like The Room VR: A Dark Matter so memorable.

A player interacts with a round puzzle device in The 7th Guest VR.
Vertigo Games

Hidden influence

What I’m especially interested in, though, is that escape room framing. I’d never given it much thought before, but The 7th Guest VR makes the case that early PC puzzle adventure games were prototypical escape rooms. In titles like The 7th Guest, you’d need to solve a series of puzzles that gradually opened the mansion up. The VR version takes that idea to its next logical step, making for a more interconnected sequence of puzzles that more closely resemble modern escape room design. Doing that shines a lantern on the original game, revealing its hidden influence.

The 7th Guest VR seems like a radical approach to a video game remake so far. I’m already finding some surprising value in Vertigo Games’ unorthodox project, though. It’s a true reimagining that takes its source material and asks players to reflect on the scope of its impact. If the nuances of that are lost on players, at least they’re getting a spooky little puzzler that’ll give them a good reason to dust off their VR headsets.

The 7th Guest VR launches on October 19 for VR headsets, including Meta Quest 2 and PlayStation VR2.

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