Virtual reality gaming has made some leaps and bounds in the last year; quickly transitioning from a novelty, to a format most gamers are eyeing as the next evolution of gaming. Sony has had VR in mind since the PlayStation 2 days, using the futuristic commercials of the “PS 9” and the release date of 2078, which is only a few decades away at this point. However, before we can allow electronic spores into our adrenal glands, biometrically connecting to our brains allowing “holographic surround vision” we need to take some baby steps and PlayStation VR is just that. Downward Spiral: Horus Station is the latest title on PSVR, following in the footsteps of the many that have jumped to the PS4 after moderate success on the PC. And like most before them, found a much better home, but some of the issues we first saw, still have yet to be addressed.
Channeling Stanley Kubrick or better yet David Bowie, Downward Spiral: Horus Station takes us into an abandoned space station, after traveling through an odd loading screen of ancient ruins on the surface of Mars. The key to understanding the story is visual storytelling but it seems to lack some substance as you’re kind of on your own to figure out just what’s going on. The space station is filled with its various sirens, lights and warnings as your first arrive, but you never really understand why you’re alone, or even there in the first place. Was this a rescue mission? Was I in hyperbolic sleep while I traveled to Mars and this was what I woke up to? A few simple moments could have cleared up the confusion but just aren't there. After traveling into a few different sections you activate robotic guards that seem to think you’re an enemy and start to attack. But thankfully your newly acquired space gun gives you some advantage and gives those bots some hot lead-in space.
Admittingly, the game has some issues with a story but the actual gameplay isn’t bad. In fact besides a few moments of controller confusion attempting to grab onto objects, the game nails something most VR games have trouble with, travel. The weightlessness in space gives you a feeling of being out-of-control but in the way it should be, you’re floating around in a space station after all. The first experiences, using your hands to grab and push off the walls and railings, gaining momentum, much like you would in a weightless atmosphere. The feeling that your character is just a little small, which is another issue most VR games have is present. Size in real life has an effect on your virtual avatar, being a big guy and not feeling like I am the same size on the screen makes it feel a bit awkward. Also, quick a few times I had this feeling of helplessness while just floating in the middle of the room. After you acquire the grappling gun, that issue disappears and maybe that was the point, make you feel helpless but then give you the tools to avoid it. Later on as you travel outside the Horus Station that feeling returns as you can slowly drift away into the darkness of space if you’re not careful.
The shooting, both of the grappling gun and the handgun feels spot on, using lasers on screen helps with aim, however I could see the issue if your holding your Movie Motion Controller the way you would for other games using guns. Here you point your controller straight up, where others you’re more pointing at the screen.
The meat of the game is puzzles, find this or that and fix that or this. Nothing really shattered my expectations but everything was kind of expected. Find fuel cells, replace fuel cells, find button, press button.
As far as the graphics, well they're not complete eye-candy. Even the stars and planets look just dull, nothing really pops and makes you want to look at it. Some textures even look old and clunky, which is very noticeable when you take off the VR headset and see it on the TV. They’re okay, just not amazing. Downward Spiral: Horus Station was worth knocked on their graphic options in the PC version, notably the “ultra” and “low” settings having very little differences, with the PSVR version that issue is gone, but the issue of low quality textures is more present when you have other VR games out there that look stunning.
But the variety of user interface options is actually really nice, allowing players to operate the game with Sony Move Motion Controllers or using the standard DualShock 4 controller, which honestly wasn’t nearly as fun as using the Move controllers but the issues with character size and how big the player is on screen did completely vanish
Developer 3rd Eye even went one better allowing their VR game to be played without a VR headset which opens their game to everyone. Also, well worth a mention, the game is a multiplayer game, with an online connection you could meet up with a friend to repair the Horus Station. I wasn’t able to get a game started but I could see how this feature would make this game even better. Allowing one person to focus on a task while another acts as defense.
Overall, it’s good, not great, but good. The mix of puzzle-shooter and the eerie ambience created is really done quite well, the sound design is something to really note. The sounds of space are naturally creepy, you have the nothingness around you and when something is wrong that’s all you hear is the warning sirens. This game has great ambiance and a subtle but really nice score to give some extra tension during those few moments where the story picks up.
3rd Eye is definitely one of those game developers I’m going to follow now. I see so much potential, and yes room for improvement but more so I can see them making taking another crack at VR and making it even better.
Final Score: 6 out of 10
A copy of the game software was provided for the purpose of review.