It’s been far too long since Insomniac Games has created something like Edge of Nowhere. Since the release of the underrated Resistance 3, the studio has stepped away from its PlayStation association to experiment with the wider industry. The results have been mixed; few even remember the company’s partnership with EA in making the wholly generic third-person shooter, Fuse, but working with Microsoft spawned the loveable, colourful Sunset Overdrive. This Oculus Rift exclusive, then, sees the team returning to familiar territory in one respect, while making a huge leap in another.
First revealed at E3 2016 as part of the Oculus Studios line-up, Edge of Nowhere came to GDC 2016 with a brand new build, this time less focused on proving itself in VR and more determined to showcase an intriguing adventure that any fan of the developer’s work would want to undertake.
Before you’re reintroduced to icy Antarctica in which the title is set, this new demo starts off with a cutscene of flashes from the past of protagonist Victor Howard. He recalls lessons from his mentor and girlfriend, both of whom he’s set out to find after their expedition force goes missing. Though the mission Howard’s on is very real, the experience itself is firmly rooted in his mind in this way, often warping reality with these hallucinations and recalling the past. It’s central to Insomniac Games’ storytelling and where the inspirations of author H.P. Lovecraft are most evident, letting you crawl inside the thoughts of the character as he struggles with his sanity, dealing with twisted imagery.
While that Lovecraftian atmosphere drives Edge of Nowhere’s story, its gameplay owes a debt to far more modern influences. Comparisons to Uncharted, Dead Space and even The Last of Us may sound lazy, but they’re impossible to escape when clambering up a cliff side, managing to stop yourself from a sharp plummet at the last moment, or diving deep into bottomless caves to face off against insectoid aliens. These enemies remain a complete mystery at the moment, one that will no doubt unravel as Howard uncovers diaries of the lost expedition force. How to survive against each different type is also a puzzle in itself.
Howard is armed with a shotgun, but its extremely limited ammo count restricts it solely to worst case scenarios. The rest of the time you’ll have to get by using stealth, traps and the occasional mad dash for safety. This proves easy at first; an initial batch of spider-like creatures hang from the ceiling, but telegraph their position leaking pools of a disturbingly dark liquid. Following that, things take a turn towards Naughty Dog’s post-apocalyptic adventure with significantly tougher enemies that are blind. It’s possible to throw rock to distract these foes, but there’s a swift, painful tribute to Isaac Clarke for anyone that doesn’t make it.
It’s the final enemy type seen that stands out best. This hunchback of sorts emits waves from its front and sides that will detect Howard if he comes into contact with them. Its back, however, remains unguarded. If you’re to take one out close-range, you’ll need to tread a careful path up to it, risking being discovered with the slightest misstep. It makes for a tense type of stealth, which can be avoided by using rocks to lure the enemy over to bizarre pod-like vegetation, then hitting that with another rock, sending spikes shooting out.
Each new enemy type is introduced one after the other in a series of rooms, almost tutorial-like in nature. If any concerns about pacing and simplicity were starting to set in, however, they soon fade when you start to face a mix of creatures. Suddenly Edge of Nowhere turns from gritty stealth survival into a vicious burst of violence as you balance taking out smaller obstacles with keeping the larger ones at bay. It was this kind of juggling act that gave Dead Space its engrossing intensity, and this section provides hope that Insomniac Games will draw from that source.
So, yes, Edge of Nowhere wears its inspirations on its frost-bitten sleeves, but bringing this mix of genres to the Oculus Rift ticks several boxes that the VR HMD has left empty until now. But, as good as it is to see Insomniac Games working in VR, it’s even better to see the studio tackling a more twisted tale once more. The company is returning to familiar territory to find its footing in the world of VR, and the results are looking promising.