Review: ARKTIKA.1

Like Metro 2033? Then you're going to love this.

Sometimes it’s the little things in a videogame, that precise attention to detail, that can impress. It might be how a gun looks or operates, a wonderfully interwoven storyline or just a beautiful sunset on the horizon. In Arktika.1’s case it’s an electric window right at the start of the experience that catches the attention, whilst you’re sat – or more accurately stood – in a vehicle as it trundles along. As the driver chats away, giving you the gist of the storyline and what’s to come, the engine quietly rumbles away as the wind blows in the icy tundra. Opening the window suddenly lets in a gush of noise, showcasing the spatial audio, letting the howling gale rush around your ear drums almost drowning out what the driver is saying.

It’s this small, almost inconsequential moment that sets up one of Oculus Rift’s biggest winter 2017 releases as something of note, as you settle in for a gun-wielding adventure into the snowy wastelands of Russia. You’re here because you’re a mercenary hired to help protect this remote outpost, one of the last remnants of human civilisation after the Earth entered a new ice age.

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Developed by 4A Games – the studio behind the Metro series – Arktika.1 certainly draws a lot of inspiration from those previous titles, with plenty of the action taking place in confined, derelict structures, sometimes heading out into the cold, hostile environment for a change of ambiance, but not of action.

Because Arktika.1 is all about the action. Intense gunfights are the name of the game here, with short breaks to figure out puzzles that block the way, yet they aren’t too difficult that they become frustrating or annoying, hindering progress for too long. This is mainly due to the movement system 4A Games has employed – a point-to-point teleportation mechanic – that means anything you need is usually close to hand, rather than having to wander aimlessly looking for a door code.

It’s this system that will likely be a bone of contention for some players, because as virtual reality (VR) development has improved more studios are offering a range of movement systems, from teleportation to full first-person shooter (FPS) mechanics. Arktika.1 offers none of that, merely a blue hologram where you can move to safely – with cover – or an orange hologram in some firefights that offer a better vantage or flanking position at the cost of cover.

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This may seem restrictive at first, however the whole experience does feel tailored to it. During intense battles in open areas the ability to nip about from ground level to a balcony is highly welcomed, soon becoming second nature in between blasting enemies in the head. Due to Arktika.1’s linear, story-driven campaign 4A Games has gone for a more controlled approach that fans of more open ended role-playing games (RPG) may not enjoy, yet that doesn’t detract from the overall quality of the experience.

And if you let it, Arktika.1 will suck you into one of the best VR titles available for Oculus Rift. It’s gorgeous to look at, no matter which level you’re on. From the abandoned subways to the shopping mall’s high ceilings, there’s not a square inch that’s out of place.

But this is a shooting videogame after all and if the guns and gameplay are rubbish all the best rendered environments in the world couldn’t save it. Thankfully that’s not the case. You begin with a couple of sturdy weapons which can be reloaded by being brought to your hip or cocked left to right. Unusually the studio hasn’t gone for holster mounted guns – as is quite common in other VR shooters. Instead both guns are located just over each shoulder, with the Oculus Touch rumbling when in the right spot. This can be a bit finicky when trying to grab them quickly, but not too much that it’s overly awkward.

As missions are completed you’re awarded cash to then spend on other guns, upgrades or attachments depending on preference. There are no shotguns, rifles or grenade launchers, just a mixture of pistols with some having special secondary functions to bend bullets round obstacles, penetrate cover or ricochet around corners. Through experimentation you’ll find the perfect pairing.

When encountering hostiles headshots are always the best, yet depending on how they react – and what loadout has been selected – this needs to be mixed up accordingly as not all the enemies are going to charge at you like in wave shooters. They’ll duck behind cover, switch position and so forth, meaning battles can be dynamic depending on the location – tighter corridors tend to be more war of attrition style.

Single-player experiences can suffer from a lack of re-playability which 4A Games has tried to counter with a level ranking system so you can go back to improve your score. There’s also several challenges to complete such as completing a level without dying or getting a certain type of kill with a specific gun. Successful completion will award perks to make the harder difficulty levels that bit more manageable.

So is Arktika.1 that ground breaking VR experience all the promotion material would have you believe? On the one hand no not really, it’s a good looking single-player FPS that’s a VR version of Metro when being really cynical. However, should Oculus Rift owners buy Arktika.1, then that’s a definite yes. There’s a good eight hours of gameplay on the easiest setting, with the hard difficulty just making progress all that more brutal. 4A Games has created a highly refined, polished videogame that’s a joy to play from start to finish.

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