Insomniac Games are one of the most high profile developers currently working on the consumer version of the Oculus Rift head-mounted display (HMD), and yet their title, Edge of Nowhere, is perhaps the most traditional videogame experience yet seen. It’s an action/adventure title, taking cues from the likes of Tomb Raider and Uncharted, though there’s something a little more curious about the tale it appears to be telling.
Cast as Vincent, the player is on a quest to find a lost loved one. The experience opens with Vincent looking at a picture of a young lady – presumably his love interest – with a voiceover stating that he should not follow her. The arrangement immediately suggests that Vincent’s partner has gone missing and arriving at her last known location he found a letter addressed to him. This may or may not be the case in the final build of Edge of Nowhere, but one thing is certain: she was right.
What then ensues is a journey through a treacherous mountain range; sprinting across ice ravines, wooden bridges and snowy peaks, all the while watching the world crumble around you. Ice breaks, bridges collapse and Vincent is forced to use both his initiative and exemplarily climbing skills to keep his footing. This is the crux of Edge of Nowhere‘s gameplay and also, sadly, where it’s biggest issues lie.
Excusable because it’s obviously an early build of an in-development title, Edge of Nowhere‘s animations are still far from perfect. Vincent’s jump is often unwieldy and unpredictable with only a single stock animation to define take off and landing. Furthermore, collision detection and scenery mapping is poor. You will often find yourself miss your intended landing zone entirely only to find safety in thin air.
Once you become accustomed to the awkward jump animation and the incredible leeway given during it’s use, Edge of Nowhere is most certainly a palatable experience. The first half of this vertical slice, littered with reactionary platform challenges, gives way to a more frightening event as you climb deep into a cavern. The rope that leads down is long and the descent presents a feeling that is only possible with virtual reality (VR): vertigo, anxiety and eagerness all rolled into one prolonged moment that makes you want to hold your breath. Then a slip; Vincent drops his torch, and the horrors below come into focus.
Spider-like creatures with tentacles that are reminiscent of The Matrix‘s Sentinals scurry around, obviously angered by your presence. Hitting the ground the only option is to run; forward and panic-driven, leaping across planes separated only by a potential fall to your death. Escape is difficult, but once assured a moment of respite follows. A giant four-legged creature notices you as you emerge from a cave, but doesn’t appear to be as worried as the smaller lifeforms. Waiting for it to pass, you cross the open plane to another cave which will be the conclusion of the demo, but what lies within is not exactly what you may be expecting from the icy wasteland you’ve been traversing until this point.
Edge of Nowhere is a very traditional feeling videogame experience applied to a new medium. Rarely does it ask you to use the unique features of the Oculus Rift – indeed, the only moment wherein the ability to look away from the on-screen avatar felt compelling was during the chase with the spider-like creatures, and even then only for a moment – but this is perhaps the reason why Oculus VR have chosen to promote it so thoroughly. Unique VR experiences are wonderful, but Edge of Nowhere shows that traditional gameplay mechanics won’t be abandoned; they’ll be polished and reapplied, and always handled with caution.