Today I’ve tried Archangel VR, one popular VR game by Skydance Interactive. I absolutely wanted to try it because my friend Max loves mech and this game is all about mechs!
The plot of the game is very simple:
You are the tip of the spear in the United States Free Forces’ war against the overwhelming mechanized forces of HUMNX, a tyrannical corporation that rules a post-apocalyptic America.
But the authors at Skydance decided to bet a bit more on storytelling. (Warning: spoilers are coming!) When you launch the game, you actually don’t play for at least a quarter hour. You start that you are in something like a metro wagon with your son. The TV reports the situation of the United States Free Forces that are fighting against HUMNX. Your child talks a lot with you and at a certain point, you also play together an AR game (it’s holographic… it’s not ARKit). You’re a soldier and you’re taking your child with you at work, to make him see your wonderful mech. When you arrive at destination, you start seeing the awesomeness of the robot you’ll be on. It is enormous, it is made of steel. It is the dream of everyone. Your son is super excited and you, as a player, are too. Seeing a gigantic robot in front of you in virtual reality is really an incredible sensation… no other technology can give you that.
Then you go on the mech: the animation that takes you over there is awesome and lets you appreciate every detail of this enormous machine. Graphics of the robot are amazing and so this part is really fantastic. You enter the head of the robot, so take control of it.
Then another CGI animation starts where there is a speech from your commander.
Then, finally, a bit of action starts: the tutorial. Because yes, until this moment, you’ve spent a lot of time in a long intro to develop an emotional bond with your son, without the ability to control anything. The tutorial happens with a mental trip that takes you to a virtual tutorial location. You understand there the basic movements of your robot. You can punch objects with the big hands of the mech, you can use your right hand to fire with a giant machine gun and the left hand to fire rockets (to fire, you have to press the index trigger). You have infinite ammo, but you have to consider reload times of your weapons. There are also shields on the left and right arm and to activate them you have to use the A-B, X-Y keys on your Touch Controllers.
Some friend ships can also send you nanobots to repair your vehicle: you can grab them with your hand and then squeeze them with the middle trigger to see your health bar increasing. After the tutorial, you return with your mind to the base station and you see that something is going bad. An evil robot enters the base and explodes. Long story short, your son dies in a tragical way. So, you spent a bazillion minutes for an endless intro just to develop a relationship with him… just to see him die and be sad.
After this endless storytelling moment, finally the game begins. You’re out there, in this desertic planet, and you have to kill all the evil guys that are killing the good innocent guys. At the beginning you don’t have weapons, just shields. After that, you start having your machine gun again. Killing tanks and humans gives some satisfaction. But when you have also your rocket launcher, things become even better: a good barbecue is what can really make you happy. With you there are your fellow soldiers, every one on his spaceship with which helps you in your missions.
The more you go further in the game, the more the enemies become difficult to kill: you start seeing hovercrafts, shielded thanks, missile turrets, mines, etc… But of course you become more powerful, too. First of all, after each mission, you can upgrade your mech, giving it longer lasting shields (shields have a battery and have to recharge), more health points, etc… Then, once in a while, your AI assistant will give you some new weapons. For instance, at a certain point, your left weapon can not only fire heavy missiles, but also a set of little guided missiles that are very useful to fight against a little swarm of enemy spaceships. Using your left thumbstick you can choose which weapon is more useful for each situation: for fighting against tanks, the heavy missiles are best suited, while to fight against multiple little enemies, the targeting missiles are fantastic.
So, the more you go on, the more the game becomes complicated, because you need to face smarter enemies. What happens if you die? Well, you have to begin the game from the latest checkpoint. This is terribly boring, since there are situations inside each level that are very difficult to win… and every time, repeating all the level since the last checkpoint, seeing again all the cutscenes is really a nuisance. If you win, instead, you see some stats of the level and then you can upgrade your mech using your XP points.
I died a lot of time, because the game is far from simple in my opinion. Furthermore, I think that they designed a bad controlling scheme. In this game, you have to shoot enemies with both left and right hand and in the meantime activating shields with both hands. Remembering all the buttons during the action is not easy and very often I pressed the wrong button or trigger. Furthermore, the brain can’t understand automatically the position of robot hands just knowing the pose of the real hands… this means that to aim and shoot, you have continuously to look at your two crosshairs, that are not always noticeable (I missed them various times in complicated battle scenarios). According to Guiard principles, the independent use of both hands in an interface is very bad: the brain is not able to command the left and right hands independently… it is like if you attach two mouses to the same PC and try to command them with your two hands simultaneously. You just become mad. And this is exactly what happens in this game: when you try to shoot using weapons from both hands, you just get crazy. The game requires a very challenging coordination of both arms.
You’ve surely noticed that I’ve not talked about the locomotion method of this game, yet. Well, the reason is that… there is not. This is one of the biggest turn-down of this game. Archangel VR is a game that happens “on a binary”: the robots moves by itself, along a predefined path and then it stands still when you have to kill enemies. After you’ve destroyed the current enemy wave, the mech moves again… and the game continues this way. Enemies appear always in the same manner, so when you die you know exactly what to expect when you repeat the level. Movement on a binary is bad: first of all it gives you a bit of motion sickness; then it also gives you less the sensation of being on an enormous robot and walking with its enormous feet… it is less natural.
As I’ve said, the game bets a lot on storytelling: apart from the initial super-long intro, during the battle sometimes your mates will send you video messages… and not only your mates, but also your enemy. The enemy commander will ask you to surrender and will also remember you about your dead son. Then sometimes your brain gets crazy and you start remembering some moments of your life: the game stops and you see these weird digital CGI sequences for some seconds. You can also talk with your mates after each mission and the anger of your character for the death of the son is something that binds you to him. The idea of pointing on storytelling is nice, it encreases your bond to the game, even if the story is not so complicated that you get fascinated by it. I mean, this is not Starcraft.
About the graphics: the intro and the UI of the game are reaaaaaaally well made, kudos to them. This is not a simple indie game… it is a game with a bigger budget. I also loved a lot the in-game graphics, but Max pointed out that it is absolutely good, but not fantastic (but I’ve replied him that this is a VR game that has to keep 90Hz on both eyes, so can’t have the graphical quality of a standard 3D game on a PC)
So, as a summary. Good sides of the games:
- Cool graphics;
- Cool UI;
- Mech: you are on a damn mech! You’re enormous and made of steel!
- You shoot a lot of enemies;
- Enemies and weapons evolve over time;
- Game is challenging and far from easy;
- The game has a story:
- The game evolves on a binary and that kills the mech awesomeness;
- Restarting the game from a checkpoint when you die is a nuisance;
- Game controlling scheme has some issues;
- I found some bugs (the game froze at a certain moment!);
- The intro is too long and boring.
In the end, I can say it is a good game. Robo Recall has excited me a lot more (but that one is an AAA game), but I can say that I had moments of fun while playing this as well. I especially found myself challenged by the game, by its difficulty… and wanted to win it to demonstrate that I’m the best 😀
Max, instead, has defined it frustrating and said that “it is not a true mech game”. Reason is, as a great mech fan, he wanted to really have the sensation of being inside a giant robot, but he didn’t feel this way.
So, if you like shooting and mechs, you can buy Archangel VR on Steam for €27.99 or $29.99.
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