The first-person shooter (FPS) genre has had a rough journey with modern virtual reality (VR), despite the fact that the first consumer device has only recently launched. Being arguably the most popular videogame genre of the time, it’s natural that many gamers would want to increase their immersion in these virtual worlds with the aid of modern hardware, but overcoming the issues that VR brings along with it has proven difficult.
It’s arguably Epic Games’ Bullet Train that has made the most progress in this regard, however this experience is demanding of very high-end hardware to operate at its most basic level. On Gear VR, it’s PikPok’s Into the Dead that is best positioned to advance the efforts of VR FPS experiences, though perhaps not in the way you’d expect.
Genre cross-pollination is nothing new, though it’s rare to see a developer that dares to take the hardened attitudes towards FPS gaming and mix it a genre deemed as inherently ‘casual’ as the endless runner. Into the Dead is a rare breed for certain, and one that succeeds more than it fails.
Playable only with a Bluetooth control pad, the videogame starts simply with only the ‘classic’ gameplay mode and no weaponry available to the player. Here you must learn the basic principles of avoidance: zombies litter the sightline ahead of you and the player must dodge left-or-right in order to weave your way through them. A minor scrape will hinder your vision but not likely result in failure; a head-on collision however will end your run.
Once the initial play has been completed the player is introduced to Into the Dead‘s progression system. Set tasks are available that, once completed, will result in additional bonuses such as access to new weapons and perks. There’s a great variety of these available in the videogame, with the player’s armoury offering a compelling reason to continue playing. Additionally, opposed to completing the tasks the player can instantly unlock new items by using in-game currency, but conversely this currency can also be used in order to give your next play a starting advantage. Wise investment of this currency can result in a vastly different outcome.
Weapons are found within the levels by running into crates marked by a green flare. Only the weapons unlocked before the mission will be available and their ammunition supply is always limited, with an in-game animation of throwing away the firearm informing the player of when their reserve is depleted. An interesting mechanic is that of the dogs: unlocked and equipped in the same fashion as the weaponry, dogs will run alongside the player and leap upon zombies in their line of sight, taking out a potential undead assailant. Several dogs can form a pack around the player, creating a near-impenetrable wall of vicious claws and teeth.
Into the Dead features 5 gameplay modes in total. In addition to the classic gameplay mode, scored according to distance ran, players can unlock further opportunities for zombie mashing in gameplay modes that are less centred around your ability to dodge and more about your aim, which is controlled by the Gear VR’s headlook functionality. Though VRFocus would be hardpressed to choose a specific gameplay mode from the 5, there’s easily 2 that standout as more enticing for repeated play than the other 3.
The visual quality of Into the Dead is mostly of a high standard, though it must be said that the end of a run can be pretty lack lustre. A sudden pause of motion and a zombie failing its arms at you is not enough to incite the trauma that the player should feel conversely to the excitement of rapid progression and enemy takedowns. The fact that the draw distance is limited aids in the maintaining of constant framerate, but the decision to include obstacles that the player must hurdle over (less so at take off and more at impact) is a questionable one given the fact that there is no control over forward movement whatsoever.
Just as with Bullet Train, Into the Dead can make the player feel like an absolute badass when running through fields armed with a shotgun and surrounded by a pack of dogs, mowing down zombies at high speed. On paper it’s a series of simple mechanics, but in VR it’s most definitely greater than the sum of its parts. There are some minor issues in delivery, especially given the lack of positional tracking on the Gear VR hardware, but it’s hard to fault PikPok for this when the quality of the package elsewhere remains so high.