Shooters are a dime a dozen in VR. That’s why I am pleased to see developers try and bring something new to the table. Even a simple twist on a tried and true game mechanic can turn a straightforward game, into something exciting and fresh. VR definitely lends itself to the idea of trying new concepts, and NeverBound definitely cashes in on that.
This is an early access game. However, it has a pretty impressive amount of polish to it from the start. You get a solid mix of door puzzles, with the constant threat of enemy attack. So, what makes this stand out from the rest? Let’s take a look.
Dancing on the Ceiling
In NeverBound, mankind has figured out how to manipulate gravity. Think of it this way. Instead of having a walls, floors, and ceilings, every surface is potentially a floor. Talk about making the most of your space. It takes a little bit to get used to all that reorientation, but somehow, I never found myself feeling put off by the sensation. That is to say, I didn’t feel like I was going to lose my lunch.
The concept behind NeverBound is that it takes the traditional first-person shooter game and adds in a gravity-shifting mechanic. While the concept might not be totally new, the experience in VR is. Best of all, this concept of being able to manipulate arbitrary directions of gravity really makes for some fun puzzle solving. You get a real Portal vibe, but with a persistent threat that keeps forcing you to react.
Puzzles and Combat
The game comes with two game modes. A tutorial that teaches you all your basic controls, and a Blitz mode. The tutorial will introduce you to the gravity changing points, weapons, enemies, and the puzzle aspect of the game. As of now, that puzzle aspect is centered around navigating through the different level orientations while looking for switches that will unlock the door to the next area.
Of course, the whole time you’re doing this, enemy guards and drones are attacking you, so you get a nice lesson in combat as well. You get access to a few different weapons, ranging from a stun baton to a really cool gun that seems to use gravity wells to crush bad guys. The AI will make full use of the different orientations of the rooms, so you will need to keep an eye on all angles.
The Blitz mode involves you making full use of everything you have learned as you transport a hacking terminal through the complex. The terminal requires batteries that you need to recharge along the way. You will need to be in proximity to the terminal in order for it to move as well. You will be under constant attack while you do this and it makes solving the most basic of puzzles more of a challenge.
Controlling Your Surroundings
The controls are fairly simple and work well. You have your basic grip and fire inputs. But, you also get some more interesting controls to toy around with. Most of the room flipping occurs when you walk into a walkway found in the corners of rooms, but some are found on pads that you will need to teleport to.
For the most part, you will be using free locomotion, but you always have the ability to teleport. They call it “dashing” and it actually comes in real handy during combat. Dashing to one of the orientation pads will orientate you accordingly. It’s a good way to make the dashing relevant while adding another layer to the puzzle mechanics.
The grenades also have some interesting controls attached to them. You can toggle a sphere around the grenades and move your hand around in the 3D space. When you do, a color-coded arrow will show up and the lights within the bomb will change to match. When you throw the grenade, depending on how you manipulated its gravity, it will fly off in the orientation you set. It’s a nice little touch that changes up a simple tool.
Sights and Sounds
Graphically, NeverBound is pretty. You can tune the graphics setting to your system, but all that I tested out looked fantastic. Everything is set inside what looks like a futuristic corporate building. Everything looks clean and crisp, right down to the enemies.
The cues for the puzzles often come by way of lighted power cables that stand out nicely. My only real gripe here, is that you only get partial arms. You get beautifully skinned arms from the elbow to hands, but it feels really odd when you extend out and see nothing above that point.
The sound design is okay. Nothing mind blowing, but also nothing that deters from the fun. The soundtrack is spacy and not distracting, which I enjoyed, but is very downtempo. I would like to see more dialog from the enemies though. It’s a great opportunity for some funny one liners. What you do get from them usually comes in the form of death grunts. I am not knocking the sound, it works, but it does feel a little tame at times.
The Gravity of the Situation
NeverBound does have a few issues that I found worth mentioning. The first being, it’s difficult to tell how many hits you can take. You seem to have a shield that depletes when hit and then recharges, but the only display you have to go off of are the rings on your arms. They change color, but it is difficult to notice while in combat. The other issue is more about the price for what you get.
Currently you only get the two game modes. While the game is stupidly fun, asking $19.99 is a bit of a stretch. I would have loved to have seen this released as a demo and then moved into an early access arena. Put this in the hand of players and they will support it once the demo period ends. I can say that because it is a fun and innovative game. That is exactly what VR need right now.
Unfortunately, selling that $20 price tag for very limited gameplay is going to be difficult. I highly recommend this game, but only if you are committed to helping the developer along their early access journey. If you are just looking for a game to play, hold off until this one gets a little more meat to it. Once it does, watch out, it’s going to be a killer game.