Does Arktika.1 live up the Hype?
Way back when Arktika.1 was first announced as an Oculus exclusive coming to the Rift from developer 4A Games, it was assumed that this project was designed to have the maximum audio/visual impact possible with today's current VR technology. Although I'm still quite early on in my play-through of the game, I can safely say "mission accomplished". One of the easiest ways to describe Arktika.1, is to call it the Michael Bay Summer movie of VR games. The game is as bombastic and overpowering as the latest Transformers movie to arrive at the box office. Explosions are commonplace, and sparks are flying around everywhere you look. The game has a visual flair that is undeniable. You can literally see the millions of dollars that Oculus has poured into the game, as you look around the icy environments that 4A Games has painstakingly crafted.
Of course, the one fly in the ointment that everybody was concerned with, was the locomotion method that 4A Games was employing on Arktika.1 . The game uses a node-based movement system, not unlike the one used in Wilson's Heart, another high-profile Oculus exclusive. While many of my colleagues complained that such an outdated transportation system would ruin any potential the game had, I remained steadfast in my conviction that we must wait and see, and experience it all first hand before writing the game off simply based on this unpopular movement mechanic. After playing through the first two levels of the game, I'm sad to say that the node-based movement system really does dampen the overall impact of this endeavor. As I was moving around through the beautifully crafted environments, I found myself wanting to wander around and explore things in greater detail, but it's simply not possible. You're rooted to your spot, which only allows you to explore the immediate area surrounding you. This is a real shame, because the world of Arktika.1 seems built for more thorough exploration.
While the movement method might seem antiquated at this point in late 2017, it's hard to fault 4A Games too much, when this game started development several years ago in a much different climate. Back then, Oculus was all about front facing experiences, and roomscale was a word that Oculus representatives almost never uttered. Things have changed over time, and roomscale is no longer a dirty word. Oculus gamers with 3 and 4 sensors can have full roomscale experiences that are just as engrossing as anything found on the HTC Vive platform.
So, ultimately, what does this mean for Arktika.1? Should VR veterans used to trackpad, go-anywhere movement simply ignore this huge release? I don't think so. There is too much good stuff to be found in this experience to flush the whole thing down the toilet. First off, the game is $29.99, which is $10 less than most of the huge Oculus exclusives, but it's also one of the most visually stunning VR games we've see to date. There's lots of things happening in the backgrounds of this game at all times, and I couldn't help but feel like I wandered onto the set of a futuristic action adventure movie. The gunplay is fast and furious. The guns themselves have real force and impact. These are no pea shooters. You really feel like you're inflicting major damage on the environment as you fire your rounds at anything that moves.
Another aspect of Arktika.1 that may have been overlooked by many, is the fact that not only is this game a high-impact shooter blast-a-thon, but it's also bringing some horror elements to the party as well. If you tried to play the Doom 3 BFG VR mod, but found the environments and monsters too intense for you, you might struggle during certain moments of this game. 4A Games does a wonderful job of heightening the tension with it's use of lighting. Or rather, should I say lack of lighting? Yes, 4A Games will put the player in complete darkness at times, with only a faint whisper of light coming out of a corner of the room. You'll see something not quite human scampering around in the corner of the room, but you can't fully make it out in the darkness. The next thing you know, you have a terrifying monstrosity within inches of you as you empty your rounds into it's ugly mug in a complete panic. Moments like this might not be extremely commonplace throughout the game, but it does happen, and it can be extremely intense.
As I mentioned earlier, I'm still working my way through this game, so this isn't a review or a final recommendation. What I can say, is that I've seen enough to know that I want to play through the entirety of 4A Games first major VR production. It might not be the be-all-end-all that I was hoping it would be for the VR industry, but it's still bringing enough flavor and intensity that I want to really savor the experience and get the full breadth of what's on display here. Remember, just like an occasional Summer popcorn movie can be extremely enjoyable, so could a visually stunning shooting gallery. That's pretty much what we have here. A modern day shooting gallery, but with some of the most high-impact graphics and sounds that we've seen so far. Sometimes, that's reason enough to don the trusty headset and get to blasting!