Chances are, that if you’re a VR gamer, you have come across at least two archery games by now. While the gameplay might differ from one to the next, it’s pretty easy to tell the good experiences from the bad rather quickly. Something about the bow just feels right in the good, or a little sloppy in the bad. Today, we are going to venture into purgatory and see how Sólfar Studio‘s latest game, In Death, stacks up against the competition.
Death’s dream kingdom, it doesn’t get any more ominous than that folks. Forsaken souls, angels and demons, all left unchecked. But, an adventurer has got to adventure, and with our trusty bow, you better believe we will dive right into that horror show. Let’s get it on!
Into the Afterlife
In Death is a roguelike archery game that thrusts you into a medieval looking purgatory filled with all manner of bad. The levels are randomly generated at the start of each playthrough and the overall challenge scales as you progress through the games achievement list. In short, the better you are, the more difficult the game becomes.
The concept is nothing new, however the way that In Death has tied in the achievement system to the procedurally generated world, kicks ass. Completing an achievement can result in adding new game elements into your next run. This style of progression left me in a constant state of being challenged by the game as my own skill increased. When I hit the limits of my skill, the game gave me a path towards new tools that would help me push forward. At the same time, it made sure that the level of difficulty kept creeping up on me. That level of balancing is nothing to scoff at in a twenty-dollar early access game.
So, the system works, but only so long as achievements are available to be unlocked. Given that this is early access, we have no way of knowing the level of content updates In Death will be seeing in the future. Eventually, you will hit a wall with this type of progression unless it grows as time goes on. Still, for the price, you’re getting solid value out of the starting gate.
Life in Purgatory
While the concept is sound, In Death does come up light in the story department. In Fact, all of that “Death’s dream kingdom” stuff is lifted from the games webpage. Nothing is actually given ingame and that feels like a missed opportunity. I am not saying the game needs full voice acting. I would like to see some sort of story elements, delivered in the game, that explain more about what I am doing. More importantly, why am I doing it?
Monks, knights, demons, all shall fall under my bow. The bad guys in In Death are pretty solid. I came across three types in total, each with two variations, and a boss. I should add that these variations appear to be unlocked through the progression system and more could yet to be unlocked. The important thing here is that the variations work to give the encounters more flavor. Whereas I once had to prioritize a knight with a mace charging me, over a monk with a bow, I now have to prioritize the knight with the shield. The variations might seem a little small at first, but they do a good job at forcing you to strategize.
To aid you in your strategic killing spree, we get items. During your crawls, you will unlock a various arrows and other items through the achievement system. The variety of arrow types that you unlock definitely impact how you play the game, in a good way. You can control the fights through aoe effects, lay traps, block doors with frozen enemies, or just nail the jerks with three arrows at once. The point is, you have choice, and that makes an otherwise basic weapon, feel dynamic in your hands.
All About that Bow Life
Speaking of your hands, let’s talk controls. As In Death is for all the major PC VR platforms, I won’t get into specific mapping, but the game does provide a tutorial for each format. Overall, everything feels natural. Your bow acts just how you would expect in a well-made archery game. No sloppy feel or odd aiming behavior here. I should mention that your bow does also turn into a shield that you can use to bash away enemies. It also has a nifty built in bullet time effect that you can activate.
Movement in In Death is somewhat of a love hate thing to me. On one hand, the teleportation system is fantastic. You use a button to toggle a glowing effect that turns your arrow into your teleport system. Shoot the arrow where you want to go and bam! Simple and feels natural to the game. You also have shards you can use, through the same button mapping when an arrow isn’t knocked, that you can toss for quick movement. Both work great, so why the hate?
The game offers an experimental trackpad/joystick locomotion option. While I am truly thankful for the option, your movement speed feels unnaturally slow. You also can’t attack while in motion and that also feels unnatural. On the plus side, both types of locomotion work together and feel natural together. I would like to have just a little more speed in the trackpad locomotion, and perhaps a reduced movement speed while working my bow. That would make the movement system feel like perfection in this game.
Death’s Dream Kingdom
Graphically, In Death is great. The medieval theme looks good and is consistent throughout the game. The randomly generated terrain has just enough variation to keep things interesting. The bad guys fight the part and the variations on each type is distinguishable enough for the player. One of the things that I enjoy most, visually at least, is the various effects of the arrows. Nothing beats a creepy green death-fog from a poison arrow!
The game could stand to use some environmental effects throughout the game. That bright blue sky feels a little too chipper at times, though it does grow dark at one point in the game. When you reach that point, the quality of the environment skyrockets. Going down into that cathedral, or whatever it is, was very visually satisfying. Bringing even just a little of those effects to the rest of the game would only increase its visual appeal.
The sound in In Death is good but could use a little work. While I enjoy the spooky monk chanting music, when it dies out, the world is just too silent. The bad guys don’t really make any sound unless you shoot them and I never really encountered any world ambiance. A little would go a long way in making the world feel more alive, or dead, or whatever you are in purgatory.
A Solid Entry
So, after spending way too much time playing this game over the past few days, what are my final thoughts? I will just be as blunt as possible. It’s worth the asking price if you’re into roguelike games. It has all the classic dungeon crawl elements and more importantly, it challenges its players to do better. It still has room to grow. Add some story elements, some environmental effects, and a dash of ambient sound. Perhaps a tweak or two to the experimental locomotion.
In Death is a solid early access game and any growth during its early access is going to be built upon a very solid foundation. So, check it out if it looks like something you would enjoy. It’s available on the Vive, Rift, and WMR. You can pick it up on the Oculus store or Steam for $19.99. Be sure to let us know what you think in the comments below, and happy hunting VR gamers!