Insomniac Games currently stand as one of the most prolific high profile development studios in virtual reality (VR), with Feral Rites joining Edge of Nowhere as the second Oculus Rift exclusive title from the studio and a third, The Unspoken, on the way. While the latter title is something which could arguably only be achieved in VR, both Edge of Nowhere and Feral Rites are more traditional videogame genres adapted to the new medium.
Edge of Nowhere was a surprising realisation of adventure gameplay in VR. Slower paced than the recent Tomb Raider reboots or the Uncharted franchise yet bringing a whole new level of immersion to the genre, Edge of Nowhere proved that VR can add a great deal to videogame formulae that we’re already well versed in. Feral Rites is aiming to do the same for the scrolling beat-‘em-up genre, taking a single player through a 3D adventure that eschews the trends of modern takes on the genre such as Devil May Cry or God of War and sticks to the basics. This is ‘90s videogaming in modern technology: an experience that you probably haven’t been crying out for, but are likely to enjoy regardless.
Much like the pioneering Streets of Rage and Final Fight series, the combat in Feral Rites begins simply enough: light and heavy attacks, trading speed for damage with a risk/reward system of potentially leaving you open to counters. String combos together for increased damage while dodging and jumping to gain the advantage. So far, so familiar. But the videogame has been given the name ‘Feral Rites’ for a reason. It’s the transformation element that plays into the combat system to grant it a unique selling point (USP), as well as some light puzzling.
Throughout the campaign players will be given the ability to transform into several beasts, from a brutish bipedal tiger to a slightly less intimidating monkey, each with their own unique combat set and special abilities. The real skill comes when the player learns how to transform mid-combo, significantly increasing the experience gained and the chances of an instant kill.
Sadly, that experience is a massive bone of contention. The player can upgrade their character as they progress through the videogame, but it’s so structured its essential binary. There’s little difference here than simply unlocking new abilities along with the transformations and player choice is limited. Playing through the entire campaign twice will yield very similar results.
This too goes for the exploration aspect of Feral Rites. There are frequently multiple paths to choose from but ultimately it’s a pointless exercise. Sure there’s the occasional hidden collectable to find, but unless you’re an absolute completionist there’s little reason to go back and venture through previously unexplored territory as all paths eventually lead to the same destination.
The visual quality of Feral Rites is perhaps its most pleasing aspect. The chunky, colourful characters look great and the backdrops are very highly detailed. The VR aspect of Feral Rites performs best when the action is at its most fierce – panning and zooming the camera for blood-pumping action – but essentially, given that the player is following a near-linear path, the headlook functionality is largely overlooked.
Feral Rites strikes a similar chord to Edge of Nowhere in that it tries to bring something new to the genre without redefining it. Sadly, it simply doesn’t go far enough to breathe life into its chosen genre. It’s a videogame that – much like scrolling beat-‘em-ups from the early part of the century – is stagnating in a formula that is in desperate need of rejuvenation, suggesting that perhaps Insomniac Games may have been better to follow the lessons taught in Devil May Cry and God of War after all.