Skydance Interactive’s efforts to pursue virtual reality (VR) entertainment should be commended. Having deployed an in-house team dedicated to development of several VR works, the studio is aiming for high-end visual quality and immersive gameplay. The first title to emerge, Archangel, achieves the former with grace, but sadly feels outdated with the latter.
In Archangel, the player is cast as military personnel designated as the pilot of a skyscraper-high mech. The videogame plays as an on-rails shooter, with the player granted no control over movement or pacing at any point. However, they are afforded the opportunity to wield a large variety of weaponry in an interesting manner.
Played with the HTC Vive motion-controllers (or Oculus Touch), each controller represents a different arm of the mech. Each arm is equipped with a time-limited shield, which the player can pull across their body to provide protection from incoming fire. The shields take time to regenerate and cannot be used whilst firing the weapon connected to that arm, resulting in quick-thinking to ensure full-body coverage whilst still being able to return fire.
The weaponry the player has available is vast in quantity and varied in execution, though finding a preferred balance of heavy-hitting and rapid fire will be easy for most. Archangel’s later challenging levels will put your dependence on favourite fire arms to the test, and may call for some changes in tactical aggression. However, the variety of enemies thrown into combat in the first half of the videogame won’t really provide much pause for thought.
On PlayStation VR Archangel feels right at home. The limited input options offered by the PlayStation Move controllers work well acting as the mech’s arms and the lack of manual navigation results in an experience that is paced perfectly for VR newcomers. On the more powerful and less restrictive VR hardware available for high-end PCs however, Archangel already feels dated.
The HTC Vive (and, to a lesser extent, the Oculus Rift), allow for free-form movement, and while it’s not essential for every videogame – EVE Valkyrie and Elite Dangerous in particular – it does place Archangel in a box which the core VR audience would naturally deem ‘dated’. PC-based VR has made rapid progress in the quality and variety of content offered in the 17 months since launch, and on-rails experiences have long been considered passé.
What Archangel does manage to achieve is a remarkably high quality of visual design. Despite the demands VR places upon hardware, Skydance Interactive has managed to produce some remarkably detailed environments and character models for the war to wage with. Of the highest standard yet seen in VR, Archangel’s visual fidelity ranks alongside the likes of Robo Recall and Lone Echo in terms of graphical prowess, if not for pushing the boundaries of VR gameplay.
Archangel accomplishes much of what it sets out to do; a frequently intense on-rails shooter that looks spectacular and challenges players within its own predetermined rule set. However, it’s perhaps a case of limited ambition from the start that has kept Archangel from achieving more, as the genre chosen was one born of hardware limitation decades ago, and even now in these early days of VR those limitations are simply no longer there.