There’s one thing I’ll never tire of in VR and that’s using a bow and arrow. I’ve loved it in titles like Skyrim and Apex Construct in the past, and every time PlayStation VR has a new archer-focused title I simply have to play it. Naturally then, In Death appealed to me from the get-go – it sends you on an adventure through a dangerous procedurally-generated medieval-like setting where you can either use a bow and arrow or a crossbow to take down the vicious inhabitants that want to bring your life to a swift end. The goal of the game is left pretty ambiguous, with the game offering very little in the form of hand-holding or even a narrative structure; you just know you’ve got to work your way through the environment and try to survive until the end. It’s not something I’ve actually managed to do yet, but hey, I’ve enjoyed trying.
I really have to mention In Death’s controls, which are a mixed bag to say the least. In a first-person VR title (and especially one with a bow and arrow) I like to use Move controllers, purely for immersion reasons and to feel like I’m right there in the middle of all of the action. However, they’re so awkwardly mapped in In Death that they just felt difficult to use. Movement is incredibly tough too, even though the player is able to either teleport around or move with free-locomotion – using the latter just felt clumsy and made it tough to get out of reach of enemy attacks, especially when you’re caught in the middle of trying to line up an attack of your own.
At least you can use the DualShock controller to make movement a bit easier, though it comes at the expense of immersion. Fortunately, In Death is still fun to play with a traditional controller, but it is a shame that the Move controllers themselves couldn’t feel a bit more intuitive – especially when similar PlayStation VR titles have managed to do it so well.
The combat itself is actually a lot of fun though. It’s always satisfying to use a bow and arrow in VR (especially if you’re attempting to use the Move controllers) whilst there’s a surprising amount of depth to your positioning, the power you apply, and your accuracy in firing. It definitely takes some practice to become skilled at the game, but it’s in that satisfying way where it feels empowering to find yourself taking down enemies with a lot more ease the more you play. You’ll even unlock different arrow types as you progress, which don’t only make it easier to kill foes but also feel cool to use too. In Death doesn’t get everything right, but there’s no denying that it does a good job of making you feel like Robin Hood or Legolas with its fantastic combat mechanics. You’ll need those skills too – especially with the varied enemies who’ll launch all manners of attacks your way.
You can improve your skills with new upgrades as you progress through each run too, so you’ll feel yourself getting better outside of just additional and fancier arrow types. Admittedly, most of the skills simply boil down to dishing out more damage or being able to take it yourself, but they at least let you become a bit stronger during a run. Be warned though: the more skills you have, the more powerful your enemies become…
So In Death is a tough game – not only from a general gameplay perspective, but also in the fact that it doesn’t really guide you in what you’ve got to do. You’ll have to figure out most of the game’s mechanics by yourself, and with enemies coming at you thick, fast, and from all angles, it can make your initial hour or so playing a little jarring. Thankfully, as you progress and get used to everything the game throws at you it can become ‘easier’, though it’s certainly designed to be a challenge for players of all skills. Admittedly, a lot of this could be down to the control scheme (DualShock players will definitely have an easier time than Move users), but you can still expect to die a LOT.
The game also just so happens to have a perma-death mechanic in place, meaning when you die you’ve got to start your run again. Given how tricky the game is, this could actually be a bit problematic – whilst the level is procedurally generated and feels unique to explore each time, having to go through challenging encounters with the same tricky enemies over and over again just got a little wearing. There’s also the fact that there’s no real driving force to the game outside of racking up a high score, and whilst it’s undoubtedly fun, there wasn’t much there to push me to success. I just felt like I was simply following the same gameplay cycle over and over again, with the only real stand out moments to be found during subsequent runs being the showdowns with a boss (which were, you guessed it, hard as nails).
In honesty I’m probably being a little bit harsh, especially since I did enjoy myself during each playthrough. It just felt a little bit too hard to progress and sure, a lot of that might just be put down to my skill with the game, but In Death did very little to make subsequent playthroughs feel unique regardless of the level itself being randomly generated. I just felt like I was doing the same things over and over again, which isn’t always enough – even if taking down enemies remains fun throughout.
One thing that In Death really has going for it is its visuals, with the haunting medieval-like landscape never failing to impress throughout. I’ve ventured across plenty of interesting locales in PlayStation VR, but there really was something unique about this environment that felt both harrowing and pleasant at the same time. Add to that some impressive looking foes and it’s certainly easy to see that Solfar Studios have put together a very pretty title.
In Death is an enjoyable game and it’s clear that a lot of effort has been put into making it a unique title, but between the awkward control scheme and tough difficulty it was hard to get completely absorbed into the experience. Sure, when I switched to the DualShock controller I had a better time getting through the game, but since similar titles have managed to integrate the Move controllers perfectly it was a shame that they felt uncomfortable to use here.
Still, its world is definitely an interesting one and between the different enemies and procedurally generated levels there’s plenty to keep the player engaged in the game. There’s no doubting that I had a good time taking on my foes and slowly seeing myself progress through In Death’s dire land – I just wish it had a bit more polish with the controls and difficulty to offer a more balanced (and perhaps varied) experience for the player.
Developer: Solfar Studios
Publisher: Solfar Studios
Platform(s): PlayStation VR (Reviewed), HTC Vive, Oculus Rift