In Death by Sólfar Studios - The best VR game nobody is talking about
In Death originally arrived for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive back on February 1st of this year. We were lucky enough to receive a review code from Icelandic developer Sólfar Studios. However, I must admit, upon first playing the game, I didn't have very favorable things to say about it. In fact, I mostly could only think about everything wrong with it. The most obvious offense, was the fact that many of the enemies would just be standing around, awaiting my arrival. You'd walk down a random hallway into an adjacent room, only to find three or four enemies just standing there, waiting around for their "action" moment. Sure, as soon as they finally noticed you, they'd begin their attack, but seeing them just waiting around like that is a really big immersion killer.
Then there's the fact that the environments and backdrops of the game repeat ad naseum. This is actually billed as a feature. The procedurally generated backgrounds are supposed to be a bonus. However, I have to say that once you've seen one medieval castle / church, you've seen them all. I've seen about every possible combination of staircase, hallway or ballroom that a medieval castle/church could possibly have. As beautiful as everything looks the first time through, it just seems like the same old place after awhile.
More criticism could be leveled on the lack of enemy variety. There's really only a handful of enemy types, and they repeat endlessly as well. They're all clones of each other, with identical animation routines and behaviors. You have dumb zombie foot soldiers, cloaked archers and helmeted crusaders. They can vary slightly in their appearance, with differing levels of resistance to your attacks. Some also feature stronger attacks that you'll need to deal with as you try to last a little bit longer than the last time.
It may seem like I have nothing but criticism for this game but the good news is, if you can look past everything that has already been mentioned, you'll find one of the most enjoyable and addictive VR games I've ever played. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that In Death might be my single favorite VR release of 2018 so far. That includes Brass Tactics for the Oculus Rift and Moss for PlayStation VR. This game is a hidden gem that not enough people are talking about. What's so special about it you ask? In a word, "playability". This game just has a flow. A rhythm. You're going to die an awful lot in this game, but you're never going to die a cheap death. When you die, there's a very good reason for it. Initially it can start off a bit frustrating, but as you come to grips with all the controls and really get a feel for the game, it then takes on a completely different vibe altogether.
This is a "Gamer's game", through and through. The more you play, the better you get. You'll actually notice your skills improving by leaps and bounds every time you play. That's because while the game has it's flaws in certain areas, the bow combat isn't one of them. In fact, this has one of the more refined bow and arrow mechanics of any VR game I've played. You quickly get a feel for how to shoot your arrows, when to shoot, when to block, and when to quickly throw your teleporting shard.
Ah yes... the teleporting shard. One of my favorite methods of transportation. Sólfar Studios has included three methods of getting from A to B in In Death. Teleporting arrows, free locomotion, and best of all, the teleporting shard. The teleporting shard allows you to move extremely quickly in a short burst, in basically any direction you want. You hold this shard in your right hand, and you quickly toss it wherever, and then instantly transport there. If you want to survive in this Roguelike for any length of time, you'll need to get know your teleporting shard very well. They say dogs are a man's best friend, but that man hasn't played In Death! The teleporting shard is what it's all about.
The great thing about this game, the more you play it, the more you'll realize what a hidden gem it truly is. It's because the secret sauce is the actual gameplay loop itself. This game is absolutely ideal for short-burst play sessions. Every single time I'm about to get some VR gaming in, it's hard not to think about jumping into In Death for some quick arcade action. The game also has that "one more time" vibe down pat. You'll die, and think..."Man, I shouldn't have allowed that to happen. I know I can do better. I must do better! One more go..." The next thing you know, it's two hours later, and you're wondering how the time has flown by.
Sure, the game definitely has it's share of faults, but I'd gladly accept each and every one of them for a gameplay loop this satisfying and enjoyable. Sólfar Studios has really knocked it out of the park with this game, and I'm quite embarrassed to have originally thought it to be mediocre. Thank goodness, I stuck with the game long enough to see the true brilliance the reveals itself with extended play sessions.