Schell Games has a varied roster of virtual reality (VR) titles under its belt, from educational experiences to comedic escape rooms. Then in 2019 the studio released early access action-packed hack and slash title Until You Fall for PC VR headsets with procedural levels, vivid aesthetics and energetic gameplay. The time has come to officially launch Until You Fall and bring it to new headsets in the process, so VRFocus decided to assess the Oculus Quest edition and see how the final version stacks up.
Until You Fall is purely concerned with sword fighting, getting in close, unleashing a volley of blows for maximum damage then quickly moving on. Unlike other popular VR sword-wielding titles Until You Fall isn’t really concerned with highly realistic physics and overly long back and forth fights, this is arcade gameplay in its raw form. But that’s not to say the gameplay is about wildly swinging your arms around until the opponent crumbles to the floor as all you’ll do is open yourself up to attacks, die, and then find out you’re right back at the start.
As mentioned this is a procedurally generated videogame, which means each time you play – or run through – will be slightly different. You’ll still get the same enemies and environment style but they’ll be switched around so there’s little forward strategy. Meaning most decisions are made on the fly, quickly assessing how many enemies are in your way or their particular type – and therefore style – all nicely adding that sense of excitement going into battle.
There are a number of VR videogames which use this ever-changing method to great effect, the recent In Death: Unchained being one of them. However, with that title the world was expansive and you could freely wander around choosing whatever path you liked. With Until You Fall each area is essentially a mini-arena, one way in and one way out, so you’ve got no choice in the direction you want to go. You either make it through the gauntlet or you don’t. It one of the few gripes about the experience.
Because the rest of it is exhilarating, exhausting fun. The first couple of runs didn’t instantly impress, with the gameplay coming across as repetitive and quite constrained. Yet with each death and restart the process started to become quite addictive, mainly due to the harder boss characters providing the sort of challenge that all gamers relish.
Dropped into the visually striking world of Rokar, Until You Fall places two weapons in your hands which magically appear and disappear when holding the grip button so there’s no inventory or hip/chest/back mounted attachments to concern yourself with. This is a brute force style of videogame so there’s a dash mechanic to launch straight into an opponent to deal early damage, after which it’s all about wearing down their armour to unlock the ability to deal critical hits. This first phase provides the classic sword-fighting duel, quickly blocking an enemy’s attacks indicated with blue slashes, really making you work for the win. Once the critical hits are unlocked these act in a similar fashion where you have to attack in a certain direction for maximum damage, indicated by an orange slash. It is formulaic but once you get into the swing of it becomes very satisfying dealing with the tougher bosses.
Then once the area is cleared you get three perks to select from, these can be regaining health, extra critical hits, weapon enhancements, another health slot and so on. They’re always randomised so if you’ve been particularly battered one round you may not be able to get your health back for the next. Plus, should you die then all the perks are lost apart from the Aether which can be used to add permanent upgrades. That’s right, dying can actually be beneficial in Until You Fall.
The hub is where difficulty settings can be changed and more importantly, weapons swapped and improved. The small starting blade is fast and nimble but doesn’t do a massive amount of damage, unlocking the axe will get through an enemy’s guard but is far more cumbersome. There’s even a testing dummy to practice on before heading back to Rokar.
What’s most impressive about Until You Fall is the level of polish and smoothness of each encounter. From little details like your weapons clinking together – rather than glitching through – to the way combat is methodical and completely engaging, it’s one of the best examples in VR. So much so that you need to make sure you’ve got ample space, Until You Fall is one of those titles where you’ll quite easily hit a real-life object – even with Guardian on – because you’re so heavily engrossed.