I’m sure everyone has played a video game where they’ve got to control huge robots, with titles like Zone of the Enders and any Gundam release being the usual suspects for gamers. It’s always proven fun and makes for exciting gameplay, but how does actually feeling like you’re really *inside* one of these Mechs and getting to unleash destruction right in front of you sound? That’s what you get to do in Archangel – the virtual reality shooter from Skydance Interactive that puts you in the cockpit of a giant Mech.
Archangel is a story-driven on-rails first person shooter that sees you taking on the role of either Gabby or Gabriel Walker as you work to fight off the evil HUMNX Corporation that has taken over the world. Fortunately, you’ll be doing this is in a gigantic, well-armed Mech, so you’ve got that working to your advantage. You wouldn’t want it any other way, right?
After a Half Life-esque sequence that sees you arrive at the Testing Facility via train in a drawn out introduction, you step inside your Mech and demonstrate its capabilities to your Son and some important onlookers. Disaster strikes though when HUMNX attack and bring down the facility, bringing death to everyone that’s inside it. You and a few colleagues manage to make an emotional escape though, and with the full control over the giant Mech decide to bring an end to HUMNX once and for all.
In honesty I didn’t except an action-focused game like Archangel to have too in depth of a narrative, but it actually takes centre stage a lot. Don’t get me wrong, the main focus is always on the huge Mech that you’re controlling, but throughout the entirety of the game you’ll see interactions between characters and learn more and more about the dire situation that the world finds itself in. Whilst the story doesn’t necessarily feature anything that you wouldn’t have seen before, it works well and will certainly motivate you to take down the plethora of HUMNX forces that come your way.
Once you’re in your Mech you won’t be able to help but be impressed. The scale of it is grand, especially since you have to actually get in a lift that slowly raises you to the top of it in order for you to climb aboard. Once you’re actually on the battlefield and see that you’re literally hulking over buildings and bridges, the sense of enormity really kicks in – it’s something that’s further emphasised by the fact you’re playing it with the power of virtual reality. It really is impressive.
Archangel supports either the use of the Dual Shock controller or a pair of Move controllers, though I found the latter the most enjoyable way to play the game. Each Move controller is assigned to one of the Mech’s arms, with their movement effectively mimicked by the actions you make with your own arms. Each arm is loaded with different weaponry: the right arm has a machine gun, whilst the left arm has a rocket launcher. You’re given a reticle for each weapon that allows you to aim them freely by simply moving your arms around. It might sound awkward, but it’s effectively the same system that’s used in other on-rails shooters – except instead of just using guns, you’re using enormous metal arms with guns attached…
You’ve also got shields equipped to each arm, allowing you to defend yourself from the constant stream of incoming fire that’ll be heading your way. Your shield is only temporary though and needs to be recharged after each use, so you can’t constantly have it up to protect you. You’ll need to balance its use and time it right; it’s never fully obvious where enemy fire is going to come from, so you’ve got to keep a constant eye on all directions. It’s incredibly satisfying to use the shield though, especially when you’re blasting away at enemies with one arm and using the other to protect yourself from any harm. It makes for some of Archangel’s most satisfying moments, though in fairness the entirety of the game itself is a blast to play through.
You can even use your arms to punch through the environment or incoming enemies. However, whilst it sounds ridiculously cool (and it is the first few times you use it), the game’s on-rails nature means you’re simply using it during scripted moments where there’s something blocking your path. You haven’t got the freedom to just smash through anything around you, but rather what the game tells you to. It’s still neat, but a little underwhelming compared to the game’s other combat mechanics.
When working through Archangel’s campaign you’ll come up against a decent variety of enemies, with airborne and ground based artillery joined by hordes of actual soldiers. Luckily your different weapon types will work effectively against them all, but sometimes you’ve got to balance out their use – especially since enemies come at you from all directions. This could actually get a little confusing at times; it was often difficult to differentiate between each reticle type, especially when taking out enemies that are so closely grouped together. It meant I’d move one arm hoping to change targets but would’ve actually mistaken it for the other reticle. They made for small little errors, sure, but these errors could cause a few issues early on in the game. It’s something I got used to with time though, but there can be a little bit of a learning curve during the game’s more action-packed sequences.
Progression through levels feels great though and there are never any moments where you’ll feel bored. There’s always something to shoot at or some interaction taking please, meaning you’ll never be left in a lull whilst waiting for something to happen. You’re constantly tested and with a decent variety of foes to take on, you always have to think carefully about how to approach each situation.
Archangel isn’t a particularly long game and should only take around three hours to complete, though there are extra difficulty levels on offer for those who like more of a challenge. There are also plenty of neat upgrades to purchase for your Mech, as well as plenty of optional interactions with your allies that add a bit more depth to the game’s narrative. However, I’m not sure if it’s enough to justify the game’s hefty price tag; Archangel is close to a full price release, so a three hour campaign may not be enough for some gamers.
Archangel certainly looks the part though with some great visuals on show, especially with the Mech itself and its interior. Some of the levels you traverse across could be a little bland in design, but they still felt impressive thanks to the sheer scale of the environment; you’ll actually feel like you’re in a giant Mech and looking down on this war torn world. Enemies and allies look great too, with the game coming together to offer what is pretty visually pleasing package.
There were a few minor oddities to be found though, such as your allies’ lip sync being completely off during interactions on-board your Mech. It was a bit of a lazy effort on the developer’s part, with talking animations still playing out even when nothing is being said. Normally it’s easy to simply overlook but seeing as Archangel has a very cinematic feel to it, it’s hard to not notice it. There were also some pretty lengthy load times, though in fairness they never really broke up gameplay too much – you’d just be aware that you were left waiting a while between levels.
Archangel offers everything you’d expect from piloting a giant Mech thanks to its incredibly satisfying combat mechanics and well designed levels, whilst the competent narrative that comes along with it ensures that you’re kept motivated to vanquish the evil HUMANX scum. There’s this sense of scale on offer that’s simply not possible outside of virtual reality and it makes for some terrific showdowns with your enemies in-game.
The short length of the campaign and occasional graphical oddities do hold it back a little, but overall it’s easy to recommend Archangel to anyone who enjoys an action-packed virtual reality shooter.
Developer: Skydance Interactive
Publisher: Skydance Interactive
Release Date: 25/07/2017
Format(s): Playstation VR (Reviewed), HTC Vive, Oculus Rift