One of my favourite things about virtual reality is that it can take the simplest of ideas and turn it into something a bit special. I mean, the idea of rolling a ball around a selection of tricky environments might not sound like the most thrilling of experiences, right? Well, that’s all you do in Arca’s Path, but it’s ended up as one of the more delightful titles I’ve played on PlayStation VR this year.
The core gameplay dynamic of Arca’s Path is to guide a ball across a variety of levels full of twists, turns, dangerous pitfalls and a wide variety of obstacles. Rather than using a controller to move the ball around though, you control everything with your head. If you look in a particular direction the ball will start moving that way, whilst if you stare at the ball directly it’ll come to a swift halt. It adds an extra emphasis on momentum in the game though, especially since the speed the ball is moving is pivotal to some later sections of the game – if you go too fast you might not be able to turn quick enough for example, whilst if you go too slow you might not be able to hit a jump fast enough to reach your target.
Admittedly, the controls can take a short while to get used to (especially when it comes to the precise movement you need as you progress through the game) but once you figure it out they feel very intuitive… well… outside of the achy neck you’ll get from playing too long. It does something unique in VR though, whilst the lack of a controller means its accessible for just about anyone to pick up and play.
It’s not just a case of guiding a ball across maps though, with plenty of different obstacles getting introduced as you work through each level. It always feels like there’s something new to be wary of, and whilst some later levels do re-use a few of these gameplay elements too much, they never grow boring. Then there’s the abundance of collectibles that you can find, each of which are well hidden across every level. Now I’ll admit, some of these collectibles could be a bit boring to find (especially those that demand you backtrack slowly across a different route), but a lot of them will really push your ‘ball rolling’ skills to the limit. They’re genuinely satisfying to uncover though and add an extra explorative element to Arca’s Path that will make you have to venture from the safe route and take more risks in order to find everything that’s hidden in a level.
If you manage to find every collectible in a level you’ll unlock the time-trial challenge, which gives you an incentive to replay through it again as quickly as possible to get those gold medals. It’s a neat addition, especially since the game only has twenty-five levels to play through in total, though it was disappointing there were no online leaderboards. A few of my VR-loving friends have been playing through Arca’s Path too, so it would have been great to have been able to compare my times to theirs (and then beat them, of course).
You should be warned though: Arca’s Path is a tough game. Whilst the earlier levels don’t really pose too much of a challenge, it doesn’t take long before the game ramps up the difficulty and sends you across treacherous environments full of twists, turns and traps aplenty. Seriously, some levels kept me challenged for a lot longer than I expected, with a multitude of deaths being joined by the yelling of swear words outside of the PlayStation VR headset.
That’s not to say it’s a frustrating experience though, nor did the levels feel like they were intentionally designed to be punishing for the sake of it. In fact, the increase in difficulty felt balanced with progression through the game. How many times have you played through a game and never found yourself challenged, even towards the latter sections when it’s supposed to be at its toughest? It’s something that’s common in video game these days, so finding myself getting pushed and having to take extra care during the backend of Arca’s Path was refreshing and appreciated. Each punishing level is satisfying to complete and moving onto the next big challenge (and conquering it) is all part of the fun.
That being said, it could be a deal-breaker for some. Not all players have the patience to put up with a tricky difficulty and believe me, there’ll be moments where players will want to switch off Arca’s Path because of it. It might seem like a relaxing and easy going experience to begin with but it won’t take long before it hits that difficulty spike where every action you make needs to be perfect – whether or not you find that sort of challenge fun will determine how much you enjoy Arca’s Path.
Visually, Arca’s Path looks bloody impressive throughout. I love looking at worlds from a third-person perspective in VR anyway, but the way that Arca’s Path’s levels come to life is spectacular – sure, it’s doesn’t have the most detailed visuals that you’ll see, but they’re so full of characters and colour that it’s hard not to be impressed. It’s just one of those game worlds that feels extra special in VR, with the extra immersion offered by the PlayStation VR headset making the whole thing feel that little bit more magical.
Developer: Dream Reality Interactive
Platform(s): PlayStation VR (Reviewed), HTC Vive, Oculus Rift