Of the many types of game that feel like they’re be ideally suited to VR, putting you in the seat of a powerful mech is one of the best, and Skydance Interactive’s Archangel offers exactly that. It’s the first full length VR game by the company, and as a debut effort it shows a lot of promise from the gameplay itself to the high production values found in many of the game’s scenes.
Playing as either Gabriel or Gabby Walker, you’re a soldier of the rebel army the United States Free Forces and the first to pilot a mech named Archangel. Your main connection as Walker in the game is M1KL, the AI that resides within the mech body. M1KL is represented as a large eye on a mechanical stalk through which it converses with you and gives you mission updates. With a neural link between the two, it gets to tap into and learn from Walker’s actions and memories, as well as simply let Walker pilot the mech in the first place.
The real star is the mech itself and the way you control it. You do have the option of using the DualShock 4 to play, but Archangel is a game that should really be player with a pair of Move controllers if you have them. This is because each Move controller corresponds to one of the mech’s arms, controlling its movement, weapons and shields.
The mech’s arms have different weapons attached to them: The left hosts both regular single fire missiles and less powerful missile swarm options, while the right has a machine gun and powerful rifle type option. Some of these are locked until you reach certain points, but all come into play and compliment each other well, with various upgrades possible between missions. Once unlocked, you can switch on the fly, letting you react quickly to what’s in front of you. Small forces can be wiped out by machine gun fire, but tanks may require the rifle, while clusters of air units are best targeted with missile swarms. You can also use the mech’s hands as fists to punch certain enemies.
Offence isn’t the only choice though, as shields need to be used to stop heavy incoming fire, which need you to correctly position the shield to cover the right point. Some of the best moments in Archangel are when you have a shield held up with one hand while you fire at enemies with the other. Your shields do degrade though and certain weapons can break through them.
In battle, you’re backed up by squad members, each of which have their own ships and can give you aid when the time comes for it. One character can throw you health canisters while another lets you take control of a big gun that’s motion tracked to your head for aiming and firing, and the final character makes bombs which float towards larger enemies. Each of these abilities only trigger a couple of times through the game at certain plot beats.
Lasting around four to five hours, you learn about the world in which you’re fighting through nine chapters, with a clear and moment at the start to set the game’s events in motion. This is a world where the group known as HUMNX has taken control of the world, and is in the process of bringing about absolute order and complete control, while wiping out any resistance. Walker is part of the United States Free Forces, a group that has been pushed right to the brink, but with the mech as its last true hope in the war. Some of this is relayed during missions, but a lot of information is given between.
During the post mission screens you can hail each squad member and have conversations about them regarding the state of the war, and the event that set up the group’s current course. It is also during these points where M1KL really grows as a character, and you should sit through these conversations to get the full story, otherwise you do miss crucial character building points. The characters themselves are generally portrayed well, though there are times when the delivery of lines can feel a bit over the top or not quite fitting the tone.
There’s some great production quality within the design of the mech’s interior and arms, your squad’s ships and enemies. The environments look a bit plainer by comparison, but there’s still a fair amount of variety in their design. However, the lip syncing for characters is off and their animations continue even when they’ve stopped talking in certain scenes.
My main gripe is with the placement of checkpoints though. At certain section you may get killed, and when that happens you’ll hear the same lamentations from Walker and M1KL, but where you expect to start again is rarely where you’ll end up. This was particularly noticeable in the final mission, where you have to repeat part of a fight and then also rewatch a cutscene if you manage to die. This wasn’t helped by the long loading times found in Archangel either.
Archangel is a game that shows a lot of promise from Skydance Interactive. There’s flaws with checkpoints and lip syncing, but the game’s presentation on the whole is great and none of that matters when you’re piloting the mech. You feel incredibly powerful as you easily brush aside smaller tanks and drones, while battling with larger enemies feel like a proper fight.
Version tested: PSVR