It’s been just over half a year since the first commercially viable virtual reality headset became available to the purchase. PlayStation VR has had a decent start thus far, and while the promotional material was scaled back since its launch, in part due to the lack of availability of the platform, the virtual reality hardware has still sold over a million units. PlayStation is looking to rejuvenate its advertising of the product now that units are more widely available (and with another wave of games being released before the year’s end, starting with recent first-person shooter Farpoint, and also including an impressive VR port of Skyrim and stylish shooter SUPERHOT).
That’s not to say, however, there’s any sort of poverty of choice for good, available games on Sony’s virtual reality platform. Here’s a few great examples so far:
Until Dawn: Rush of Blood
Perhaps the best title to supplement the initial purchase of a PSVR system, Rush of Blood is an arcade-shooter spin-off to 2015’s quick-time-event/choice-based horror title, Until Dawn. While Rush of Blood does not have the character-driven narrative depth of its parent title, it still packs in the scares expected of the new franchise, combined with the satisfying light gun-style gameplay of a literal on-rails shooter. Short, sweet, and cheap, much like this recommendation: an essential purchase.
Sometimes, simple is best. EVE: Valkyrie offers gamers a fantasy long dreamed about; an immersive spaceship dog-fighter. A competitive multiplayer title with a lot of depth and choice, this game makes you feel truly immersed into the role of a star warrior fighting a mercenary war. Though this game can be nauseating, it is fantastic for those who are resistant to VR’s motion sickness issues, as you hurtle through dark space, and between asteroid belts and derelict mining stations.
The only thing that lets Valkyrie down is the lack of substantial single-player modes; there’s a couple of ‘story’ missions (if you can really call them that), training missions to learn how to use each different core type of ship, and a wave-based survival mode. Anyone looking for a fully-fleshed out single-player campaign will be disappointed.
Ultimately, though, Valkyrie is a blast, and will tide VR adopters over until a true Star Wars starfighter game appears on a VR system.
I know what some of you are thinking; another re-release of Rez? Really? A game that came out in 2001, on Dreamcast and PlayStation 2?
Rez Infinite is the definitive way to experience the cyberpunk rhythm shooter, where a thumping electronic backdrop fuses effortlessly with the action-packed gameplay. It is, perhaps, the most stylish experience on PSVR to date (and its lo-fi vector visuals work well within PSVR’s capabilities). I look forward to the game capable of trumping Rez in terms of pure psychedelic bliss.
Beyond telling you about the stellar soundtrack and fantastic visual aesthetic of the game, there’s not much I can say to persuade you. If you’re a fan of Rez and own a PSVR, you owe it to yourself to check it out on this platform. If you own a PSVR and have never played Rez, buy this game, thank me later. If you don’t own a PSVR, maybe buy one to try out Rez, thank me later.
Tethered is a god-style strategy game (similar to Lionhead’s Black & White series), and a surprisingly fun and challenging entry into the genre despite being console-based. I was unsure of how you’d adapt a traditional strategy-style game into a virtual reality environment; it turns out that, using the two Move controllers as godly hands is surprisingly immersive. You ‘tether’ your tiny blue village folk (called Peeps) to various resources (trees, stone, metal ore) and to various buildings which gives them societal roles, such as armored warriors, to build up the village’s defenses against night-time monsters.
The gameplay loop is simple and the cartoon aesthetic may be off-putting to some, but the game works well enough to immerse you in the role of the Peeps’ guardian spirit.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
This shouldn’t really be a surprise, considering Resident Evil 7 is one of the best entries in the series since Resident Evil 4 (and definitely the most terrifying), but Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is a fantastic game to experience in VR. The oppressive atmosphere and tense sound design are amplified tenfold when immersed in virtual reality.
As you crawl around a bleak, photo-realistic Louisiana estate (which comes across like a fusion of The Evil Dead and The Blair Witch Project), you feel the nerves ratchet up in your belly with every corner you turn, terror building in your stomach at the prospect of facing a member of the Baker estate. Aside from the harrowing atmosphere, VII features satisfying gunplay (in VR, the aim is controlled by where you’re looking, meaning you must directly face monsters to defeat them) and simple-yet-classic progression in the form of puzzles and keys to access new areas.
The only issues with the game’s VR mode are that some of the pre-rendered cut scenes play out on a jarring 2D display (like movies in cinematic mode) that can pull you out of the otherwise full-bodied immersion, as well as your character’s hands and wrists floating unattached to where your body should be. Overall, though, Resident Evil VII is one of the best experiences on offer to date on the VR hardware, even without accentuating the experience with scented candles.
Whenever a new genre of entertainment is born, often the simplest entries in that genre are the most iconic. We still celebrate, from the early days of cinema, A Trip To The Moon, Battleship Potemkin and La Chien Andalou, and from video-games classics like Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros. and Space Invaders. Thumper, I think, is going to be one of these entries for the VR era. Thumper is a rhythm game with a vengeance; the game’s developers describe it as a “rhythm violence” game, and that couldn’t be more apt. You play as a mechanical beetle hurtling along a highway to oblivion in a trippy neon purgatory. You must do certain button presses at specific times, or your little shuttle will explode at a sharp corner or smash into a pit of spikes.
The game is thrilling and entrancing despite its simplicity with the difficulty of the rhythm increasing every level. The soundtrack and visual design are both fantastic and synergize perfectly. Thumper is certainly one of the strongest experiences you can get in VR today.
Due to the quality of software and level of interest in VR as a medium, I hope that Sony’s headset continues to be supported by game developers (and doesn’t go the way of the PlayStation Vita, rest in peace, you sweet angel). With more VR titles on the horizon, from large publishers and indie developers alike, the future looks promising.
I hope to create another list of recommended software in the future, so comment below or send me a message on Twitter (linked in my biography, below) with any PSVR recommendations! I’m heading back into Star Trek: Bridge Crew, so you might not hear from me for a few days…
‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off
The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.
Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.
Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.
The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.
To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.
In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.
On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.
By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.
Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.
Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.
‘Yaga’ Review: A Bittersweet Fairy Tale
Some games feel perfectly suited to their genres, as if they fulfill every ambition that their genre could promise. On paper, Yaga from the developer Breadcrumbs Interactive, should be one of those games. This roguelike RPG is meant to bring traditional Slavic folktales to life, and its procedurally generated structure allows the game to change in every playthrough, just like how the ancient fairy tales it’s based on can change in every telling. Yaga immediately shines on a conceptual level, but as a game, the most important question remains: will this fairy tale be enjoyable to play?
From start to finish, Yaga uses the rich source material of Eastern European history and folklore to create a vibrant, fantastical world. The entire game is framed as three elderly women telling the story of Ivan, a heroic blacksmith who has been stricken with the curse of bad luck. These women spin a fanciful yarn, one in which Ivan is constantly plagued by horrors from traditional fairy tales such as the hideous One-Eyed Likho, along with more realistic foes, such as a corrupt, overbearing Tsar. The game thrives on this balance between history and fantasy. Its world is filled with peasants who face daily, universal struggles with war and agriculture, while massive ogres and goblin-like Vodyanoys haunt the surrounding wilderness. This mixture creates a strong setting that finally gives Slavic history and mythology its long-overdue representation in games.
“Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.”
The frame story always remains the same: Ivan will always have to serve his Tsar while avoiding bad luck in every playthrough. However, beyond these core details, the old women are extremely flexible storytellers, often switching events around or changing story beats entirely. In some playthroughs, you may discover a woman raising an enormous chicken; in others, you may instead encounter a band of thieves waiting to rob you. You will frequently face important decisions to make that will dramatically impact the outcome of your quest. yes, you can always break into monster hideouts with hammers blazing to slay every creature before you; but more often than not, you are also given the opportunity to peacefully talk your way out of these toxic situations. Even more dramatically, oftentimes the game will zoom out to the old women storytellers and allow you to choose how they tell the rest of Ivan’s story. Yaga is at its best when it doubles down on this player freedom. It makes every moment engaging and allows its stories to truly come alive.
Yaga’s writing and presentation only serve to make this world even more striking. It features a distinctly dark sense of humor – for instance, a man may ask you to push a boulder into a well behind his house, but he will neglect to tell you that he has also thrown his wife into the bottom of that well ahead of time. Much of this dialogue is even written in rhyme, enhancing the otherworldly, fairy tale atmosphere. On top of that, nearly all dialogue is fully voice acted, with most voice actors delivering some eccentrically charming performances that make the game feel as if it’s a playable Disney film. The visuals look like they’re taken straight out of a Russian children’s book of fairy tales, while the music incorporates traditional instruments and language into an electronic, hip-hop fusion soundtrack that captures the cultural heritage that Yaga focuses on while connecting it to modern culture. Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.
However, this leads to the gameplay. Quests may be randomized each time you play, but nearly every one of them takes the same general format. One character will request help, and then Ivan will have to venture out into the world to fight some demons or recover an item. Worse yet, the levels are just as randomized in their procedurally generated design, and not in a particularly clever way, either: most of them likewise follow the same formula, being little more than arenas full of enemies connected by copy-and-paste environments. Many paths in each environment lead to nothing more than pointless dead ends. The combat has a satisfyingly simple basis, with basic moves like long- and close-range attacks, roll dodging, items to use, and a variety of different weapons to equip, although his trusty old hammer is generally the best choice. However, while this simplicity makes the combat enjoyable on its own, there is very little depth to it, and the inherently repetitive design of the mission only serves to highlight how paper-thin combat can be. Most battles involve little more than hacking away at enemies until they die, which becomes increasingly repetitive by the end of the roughly ten-hour campaign.
At the very least, the robust customization system helps add a little intrigue to the combat. As a blacksmith, Ivan is naturally gifted with the ability to craft weapons for himself to use. By scavenging parts and items from fallen enemies and treasure chests around the world, Ivan is able to create the most powerful weapons. Crafting is simple to use yet extremely ripe for experimentation, requiring only one base item and a handful of accessories to create unique new items. With dozens of components to discover and use in your forging, there are plentiful opportunities to create the best possible weapons.
“All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.”
The crafting system would be the standout aspect of the moment-to-moment gameplay if it weren’t foiled by another one of the game’s systems: Bad Luck. Ivan has been cursed with perpetual Bad Luck, which grows constantly throughout the game – whenever something good happens, Bad Luck is sure to increase. Whenever the Bad Luck meter fills all the way, Likho will appear and strike Ivan, generally breaking one of his weapons or stealing his money.
On paper, this mechanic makes sense, since it prohibits the player from becoming too overpowered and also fits into the folklore style off the story. In practice, however, it is an infuriating limitation on player progression and invention. It effectively punishes players for putting thought and care into their weapon crafting and character-building – at any moment it can all be washed away in bad luck, so what’s the point? Considering how enjoyable the crafting and combat systems are, it’s a shame that Bad Luck seems to exist solely to diminish the very best parts of the gameplay, leaving the game feeling like it cripples itself.
Your enjoyment of Yaga depends heavily on what experience you want out of it. If you’re looking for a deep and satisfying RPG, then it likely won’t deliver. Although it features satisfying combat and customization systems, the frustrating randomization of its level design and Bad Luck system only serve to foil these good qualities. If you are instead looking for a faithful, fleshed-out image of Slavic cultural heritage, portraying both the harsh realities of peasant life along with its fanciful folklore, then Yaga is a clear triumph thanks to its emphasis on player choice, its excellent writing, and its beautiful hand-drawn visuals and inventive soundtrack. All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.
‘Resident Evil 3: Nemesis’ — A New Height to Survival-Horror
If we can forget that Nemesis was a poorly designed rubber goof in the Resident Evil: Apocalypse movie, we can easily state that he is the apex predator of the series. The follow-up to Resident Evil 2 had quite a few expectations to fill and, for the most part, Resident Evil 3 delivered. While not so much a fan-favorite as RE2, there was a lot to like about RE3. The return of RE‘s Jill Valentine, some new intuitive controls, and, of course, theNemesis.
RE3 marks the first time in the series where you are limited to one character – Jill. Through this, the story is slightly more focused and straightforward – despite the plot being all about Jill trying to leave Raccoon City. RE3 director Kazuhiro Aoyama cleverly sets in pieces of RE2 to make this work as both a prequel and a sequel. If you’ve never played RE2 – shame on you – you would not be able to scout notable tie-ins such as the police station. With a large majority of the building still locked up, Marvin Branagh, the wounded police officer who helps you in the second game, is still unconscious and has yet to give anyone the keycard which unlocks the emergency security system.
Where RE3 really shines is in its latest entry of Umbrella Corps. bio-engineered tyrants called Nemesis. The hulking tank brought a new dimension to the series, invoking more cringe-inducing terror and stress than ever. As if zombies and critters jumping through windows weren’t bad enough, now you have to worry about an RPG-wielding maniac busting through a wall and chasing you around the entirety of the immediate environment – and chase is certainly brought to a whole new level indeed. It became a running joke when you would encounter a handful of zombies, but could escape unscathed by simply running into another room. Nemesis, on the other hand, will continue his pursuit no matter what room you run into. At the time, this brought a whole new level of detail in the genre. Knowing that at any given moment he will just appear and will certainly derail whatever key or plot item you’re quested to look for made Nemesis a very intense experience.
Resident Evil 3 is the pinnacle of the series and the last of old-school survival-horror.
The gameplay also takes a few different approaches in this game. There will be moments when you encounter Nemesis, or certain plot occasions where you will be prompted to make a decision. It was a great alteration to the series, as it added new layers and weight for the player. Another addition to the gameplay came in the form of control although as minute as it sounds, is having the ability to turn a full 180 degrees – yes you read that correctly. Resident Evil quintessentially coined the term survival-horror, and survival certainly predicates the genre. There will be times – if not numerous times, you will run out of ammo. When those moments used to occur, you would have to make your character turn in the slowest fashion imaginable to make a run for the door and to safety. It was those moments back then that would pull the player away from the action. With the addition of the quick-turn ability- which was actually first introduced in Capcom’ Dino Crisis game – it gave the player the chance to just cap a few zombies and dash creating more seamless and dynamic gameplay.
The level design of Resident Evil 3 is grand, if not grander than RE2. A lot of the setting and scenery take place in the open air of the city and a few other places around the vicinity. RE and RE2 mostly took place indoors, and those settings helped create unique moods especially when it is all about tight corridors adding a more claustrophobic feel. Aoyama definitely went with a bigger setting and atmosphere in the follow-up. The game takes you through a police station, a hospital, a local newspaper office, a clock tower and a factory. More often than not, though, people tend to forget the scope and grandeur of RE3. Not to mention you can only… spoiler… kill Nemesis with a Rail-Gun at the end.
Resident Evil 3 is the pinnacle of the series and the last of old-school survival-horror. It took everything that it did so well in the previous titles and made it bigger and better. Nemesis encapsulated fear and dread in ways rarely experienced at the time. The scene where he popped through a window and chased players through the police station has always remained a nostalgic moment, much like anything that comes through a window in the RE series. In fact, a bit of advice for anyone playing the first-gen of RE titles: beware of windows.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on May 16, 2016.
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