Preview: Downward Spiral: Horus Station – 3rd Eye Studios Expand the Space Odyssey

3rd Eye Studios made its virtual reality (VR) debut last year with Downward Spiral: Prologue, a taster for the adventure yet to come. Now the team has ramped-up in numbers and is showcasing Downward Spiral: Horus Station, a full videogame experience built upon feedback from that original outing.

Downward Spiral: Horus Station ScreenshotWith the assets of experience and audience commentary in hand, 3rd Eye Studios has ventured to create a richer experience with Downward Spiral: Horus Station. Citing critically acclaimed first-person adventure videogames such as BioShock and System Shock as inspiration, Downward Spiral: Horus Station still feels somewhat shallow by comparison. However, taking the title as a unique VR experience in its own right does cast a better light on the proceedings.

Played as a two-player co-operative experience using Oculus Rift and Oculus Touch – versions of the videogame are also coming to HTC Vive, PlayStation VR and Windows Mixed Reality, in addition to a non-VR version for PlayStation 4 – Downward Spiral: Horus Station’s first chapter was a lightweight experience clearly designed as a tutorial for the basics. Players navigate by grabbing and pushing against walls as with the original Downward Spiral: Prologue (and arguably much better realised in Ready at Dawn’s Lone Echo) and later receive a magnetic grappling gun which affords the opportunity to pull themselves directly towards a wall or objects towards them.

Downward Spiral Horus StationThe movement mechanics in Downward Spiral: Horus Station provide a genuine sense of weightlessness in the zero-gravity environment, with players drifting through a space and having to connect with stationary objects in order to halt their momentum and prevent themselves from travelling beyond their desired destination. Once the grappling gun has been received a great deal more emphasis is placed upon pre-emptive decision making; especially once the combat engagements begin.

The original Downward Spiral: Prologue had but one enemy type, and while a basic drone provided enough of a challenge here in Downward Spiral: Horus Station, a later encounter with a boss certainly mixed things up considerably. The player is continuously faced with a decision between preparation for combat or flexibility in movement, with holding the grapple gun removing the option to dual wield weapons. Finding a safe spot in which to rain down fire is rare and as such quick changes in tactics between shooting-and-moving are frequently the more fruitful tactic.

3rd Eye Studios is aiming for eight chapters lasting over an hour each, combining puzzle, exploration and combat challenges into a varied space-based VR experience. What was seen in this initial chapter holds promise, but just as Downward Spiral Prologue before it leaves the player wishing for more depth: the mechanics of movement and combat seem disparate from the world, not cohesive in the way that the aforementioned BioShock cleverly made you believe in its world through mise-en-scene. An empty shell to move around within does not make a compelling experience, and so the hope is that the team find new and intuitive ways to make the best out of this inviting setting with the interesting mechanics they have created.