In the year 2040, Virtual Reality is a normal part of everyday life. And now, it’s even a part of murder. When Blake Creighton (Michael Therriault), the CEO of VR company Halcyon, is found dead, Detective Jules Dover (Lisa Marcos) and Artificial Intelligence assistant Asha (Harveen Sandhu) enter the virtual world to solve the case. Sci-Fi Bulletin was invited to a preview of the first two broadcast episodes and the first VR episode.
Blending TV drama and virtual reality? If nothing else, you have to give SyFy credit for originality with their new show Halcyon. Following each mini-episode broadcast on the channel and online, viewers with a Galaxy Gear or Oculus Rift can enter the virtual crime scene and search for clues in a special VR minisode. As the mystery gets deeper, more information is unveiled in the crime scene.
The episodes themselves feel of decent quality. The production levels aren’t bad at all and the acting is pretty strong, especially considering the actors have a short amount of time to make an impact in each episode. The basic setup is intriguing and there are hints of larger world-building by episode 2 that suggest that the show could go in interesting directions.
The virtual episodes appear to take place in the same crime scene each time, which is a little disappointing, but it’s definitely immersive once you’re in it. Moving around takes a little bit of getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty straightforward. The visuals are good and it’ll leave a lasting impact (especially if it’s your first experience of virtual reality in this kind of environment).
It’s a strong idea to take something we’re all as familiar with as the police procedural as a framework for an experiment like this. It grounds the viewer with touchpoints that we all understand, meaning that there’s never a threat of Halcyon getting too complicated for its own good.
It’s not completely successful, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time. It seems like a product of compromise, trying to blend together two different media in a way that was always going to cause problems for the company. It’s a show that has to work and make sense for people who don’t have the VR headsets, meaning that the VR minisodes are basically bridges between episodes, the revelations from which are immediately explained early on in the following episodes.
This causes storytelling issues. Because they’re not necessary by design, the VR episodes don’t feel vital. And because the broadcast episodes are so short and keep leading back to the same virtual crime scene, they can feel a little awkwardly like cut scenes in a video game. While they’re certainly game for trying, they feel a little rushed.
However, it feels like every decision has been made in the interest of making a new idea workable. As with any new venture, we have to accept some compromise, and as an experiment, it’s interesting and fun and carried off with some style. Considering they’re trying to feel their way through something new without a guidebook, they’ve done well.
The main thing that SyFy have done well here is to show that this is possible. It does feel like a gimmick at the moment, but it also feels like the first tentative steps towards something that may well become ubiquitous. It has limitations and shortcomings, but any first attempt at something like this was going to have them.
Verdict: The rating isn’t that high, comparing it as a TV series to other shows, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth your time. If you have a Galaxy Gear or Oculus Rift, it’s pretty essential viewing – this could be the first virtual step into a new kind of storytelling. 6/10