Virtual reality (VR) developers need to stop making awesome horror titles as it’s just not fair to other mediums. Step into anything decent, whether it uses jump scares or psychological terror and say goodbye to ever feeling even a little bit tense during a movie or flat-screen videogame. The latest to give players nightmares comes from White Door Games in the form of Cosmodread, and let’s be clear dread is certainly an apt word for the experience you’re about to face.
This team is already well versed in VR horror thanks to its first foray, Dreadhalls, which completely and utterly embodied jump scares inside a dark and dingy dungeon. Cosmodread is still very dark, with sketchy lighting, gloomy hallways and an atmosphere so tense it could shatter glass but this time you’re in space looking for a way home.
Sci-fi references abound here, with noticeable nods to classics like Alien and its digital clickity-clack of monitors, the seemingly derelict spacecraft from Event Horizon or the sheer terror the original Dead Space so expertly wove. So in a nutshell Cosmodread will keep you on edge. This does fade somewhat over time as you get accustomed to the endless hallways and constant sound of something crawling through the vents, but what horror title doesn’t.
The story goes that the ship you’re on activates a ‘Jump Drive’ which naturally doesn’t work according to plan and arrives who knows where only to come into contact with a big tentacle entity that begins infesting the ship. With the crew gone and you on your lonesome, you’ve got to explore, survive and get everything up and running again to hopefully get back to Earth safely. Easier said than done considering what the crew have been turned into, the ones that haven’t been torn apart that is – there are plenty of heads, feet and other miscellaneous body parts all over the place.
Dropped on the vessel with a singular weapon, Cosmodread is designed to be difficult and get even more so once you start unlocking things. This is because it’s a procedural videogame based on run-throughs – think Until You Fall or In Death: Unchained. You always start in the same room but what you’re supplied with can change, so you could be equipped with the crossbow or if you’re really lucky the shotgun. While any weapon is useful possibly the most vital item you have is the torch mounted to the back of your dominant hand. Some rooms and hallways have power supplied by wall-mounted batteries so they are illuminated but many do not. These batteries can be swapped out should you need to power a room, however, they only have so many uses whilst the torch is seemingly infinite.
So quite often it’s just easier to wander around with the lights off and use the torch, also adding to the scare factor. There’s a graphical benefit as well. Being procedural, every run-through has a different layout using a set selection of room designs. So while you won’t know what’s behind each door, everything starts to get very samey and drab, with lots of greys and browns throughout. Hence why just using the torch can be much more fun and interesting from a visual aesthetic.
The other problem this style of gameplay mechanic creates is the rinse and repeat formula. It’s not too bad on those videogames with a lot of action as you’re pumped about going again, whereas Cosmodread is a slow, methodical title which can leave you thinking ”do I want to play again after dying so far in?”
White Door Games tackles this in a number of ways, firstly Cosmodread is gripping to play. There’s no run mechanic so it’s one steady pace throughout, building that vital atmosphere. Dying returns you back to a hub pod where you can select various gameplay mods which unlock depending on how much you’ve explored and discovered. These all tend to either make life harder by reducing health or adding more monsters, or a plus/minus combo such as less health but more inventory space. Then there are all the perfectly tailored VR mechanics. You have to physically open the big doors between each compartment which you don’t always want to when there’s some scratching going on behind it. All the weapons have a manual element to them, so it’s a pump-action shotgun, the crossbow has to be drawn back each time or there’s an electric gun that doesn’t require ammo but needs pumping to juice it back up – this leads to truly frantic moments with more than one enemy.
Then you have all the crafting and resource elements. Stuff is littered everywhere, some more useful than others. On your wrist are oxygen and health gauges so you’ll find plenty of O2 bottles and occasional syringes. Then there are all the tertiary items that can be shoved in the Fabricator to build useful items like laser sights, weapons on more health syringes. This encourages further exploration into the bowels of the ship to find all the blueprints, carefully managing limited inventory space along the way. Thankfully, once a blueprint is found and decoded it’ll carry over for subsequent run-throughs.
Now let’s talk about the ‘monsters’. So you’ve been wandering the hallways for a few minutes, getting your bearings using your wrist-mounted mini-map, proper on edge as the ship creaks and then out of the darkness pops a…Cephamorph! This three-eyed humanoid beasty steps into the light and you go from “AAAAH!” to “oh?” as it’s not the scariest design in the universe. It’s a little bit of a bubble popping moment, the same goes for the face-hugger like creature with a single big eye on top. They’re a bit too cartoony for Cosmodread, so kill them and move on. There are a few other monsters with the personal favourite being the one with a vertical mouth, no eyes, and the ability to make all the lights flick on and off to reappear in a new place – now that’s frightening.
When it comes to comfort Cosmodread has you well catered for. There are four locomotion options including standard teleport, smooth and Jump which simulates a low gravity environment. Snap and smooth turning are there and so is left-handed support.
Cosmodread was one VR horror videogame VRFocus was looking forward to and it delivered. Some might not like the repetitious formula and it’s not visually stunning but that shouldn’t put most of you off. Cosmodread genuinely succeeds in what all horror games should do, making you afraid of the dark thanks to the absorbing atmosphere and gameplay. A definite must-have for those that love this genre.