Preview: Crystal Rift on Gear VR

Crystal Rift works. VRFocus already came to that conclusion when sampling developer Psytec Games’ virtual reality (VR) dungeon crawler for the first time on the Oculus Rift head-mounted display (HMD). But does Crystal Rift work on Gear VR? There are plenty of experiences already available for Samsung and Oculus VR’s smartphone-based HMD that prove the kit can deliver perfectly entertaining VR, but Crystal Rift is one of the first ports of a PC title to the mobile platform.

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Just the thought of this sparks immediate concerns; can a title that was originally intended to fit comfortably on PC hardware really be squeezed and compressed into a compelling mobile experience?

As it turns out, yes, Crystal Rift still works. In fact, not only has the first-person experience translated to Gear VR with seeming ease, but the deliberately-paced gameplay serves to complement its newfound home. This has always been an uncluttered VR experience, with sparse environments and puzzles that don’t require immediate reaction giving the player space to breathe and acclimatise to a new medium. With this in mind, Crystal Rift is one of the first Gear VR experiences which feels like it is truly benefitting from the advantages the platform holds over its wired PC parent.

Exploring Crystal Rift’s dank, often unsettling dungeon without a wire occasionally tugging at the player to remind them where they are is a welcome change. Again, it’s not a benefit that’s unique to this one Gear VR title, but Crystal Rift’s wise choice not to overwhelm players with visuals, mechanics and information means that it can be better appreciated. The same goes for that Super AMOLED display used in Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 smartphone, which presents a crisper, clearer image than what can be found on the Oculus Rift’s second development kit (DK2).

Elsewhere, this remains the same promising VR experience for early adopters. As a standard 2D title Crystal Rift might prove to be a simplistic but enjoyable distraction. To use a term that will almost certainly become cliché in the coming months and years; the title practically comes to life in VR, dragging players into its gloomy world. Everything is smartly kept in-game, meaning notes that the player finds are raised up to the camera to be read as a physical document rather than a wall of text. Hints appear as helpful signs stuck to the walls and interactive objects such as switches and doors stick out on their own, detracting the need for any immersion-ruining markers.

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Each new room presents an air of caution as you wonder what trials and surprises Psytec Games has lined up for you this time. Every step invites a quick look towards the floor to make sure the next one is safe to take, while every corridor that stretches out into the dark demands sheepish inspection. This is an experience that finds a comfortable middle-ground between the VR exploration titles that many are developing and the hardcore horror experiences that many more are concerned about actually playing. You develop a kind of curious fear as you progress; not afraid to take the next step but doing so in the knowledge that a carnival-eqsue thrill is waiting to surprise you.

It’s a promising sign that Crystal Rift is shaping up to be a legitimate VR videogame. This could be something that players can really sink their teeth into once the initial wow factor of the technology has worn off, especially considering that there’s an extensive level editor on the way, which Psytec Games is clearly very proud of. With an Early Access version of the Oculus Rift edition due this month, it’s time to start looking forward to the arrival of one of the first true VR titles.

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