VR games are a weird bunch, with developers still experimenting across a broad range of genres and game styles to see what works best. Sometimes these games can bridge the divide between VR and flatscreen play, but this typically comes at the cost of a slightly slower pace to compensate for any potential motion sickness. That slower pace doesn’t always translate well if you aren’t playing in VR, and with no VR headset to call my own, it’s something I found with Downward Spiral: Horus Station.
Exploring a desolate space station in zero gravity poses some unique challenges when it comes to getting from place to place. In this case you get around initially by pushing off from surfaces and gliding about, it’s a very strange experience that sets the pace of the entire game straight away. It’s a pace which is meandering due to it’s design, and one which even carries over into the camera controls, which are painfully slow. Doing a full 360 turn takes far longer than it should for a game with some shooter elements, even with the sensitivity settings turned all the way up, and while this is no doubt to keep it palatable for those in VR, for those not in VR turns simple exploration and movement into a chore.
While you acquire a grappling hook early on, allowing you to pull yourself to any surfaces within range, it doesn’t make the process any less cumbersome or lackadaisical. Even with the ability to move towards anything you can see, the movement is still painfully slow; you always feel like your wading through tar, which is at odds with the fact that you should be in the vacuum of space.
You slow progress comes to a sudden halt as you get ambushed by bots. They shock the life out of you and as you respawn in a room full of weapons, it feels like this could give the game a shot of adrenaline. Here is a chance to fight back and change up the monotonous pace of the game. It doesn’t. Just as with getting around the station, you’re aiming is held back by the sluggish camera movement and it’s a struggle to fight the enemies because of this. You will often find yourself taken out because the enemies can move around in ways you can not, and in ways that make them incredibly irritating to target. It just feels sloppy.
The game does have a few nice moments, thanks to its setting and visual design. Exiting the first section of the space station gives you a great sense of scale that helps you realise where you are. Sadly the interiors of the station itself are fairly basic, with everything more or less looking the same. While this may well be true to the idea of a space station, it adds to the monotony inflicted upon you by the movement speed and general pacing. The sound design is by far and away the best thing about Downward Spiral as the soundtrack builds up brilliantly and helps to set a mood that is sadly not matched by other parts of the game.
Downward Spiral: Horus Station is a unique take on zero gravity that feels fairly true to what it would be like. The trouble is this makes for a dull experience when not in VR. While everything feels as though it fits well, the trouble is that the abhorrent camera speed makes the only real challenge looking at things. The combat isn’t hard, but still manages to be frustrating. In VR the experience may well be completely different, but without that hook, the game is an easy pass.
Version tested: PC (non-VR)
Also available for HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Windows Mixed Reality
Coming this summer to PS4 and PSVR