I look down, and I can’t see my legs. There’s nothing but an empty seat with what feels like my consciousness floating above it. It’s an unnerving and uncomfortable feeling, because from the second I become cognizant of it, I know this isn’t real. I’m not talking about a nightmare, however—I’m talking about far too many VR games that don’t bother creating an avatar for you in their virtual reality. You fail to see anything, and you’re immediately disconnected from the experience, even while NPCs talk and interact with you. And, as irritating as this is, it’s the least of the many problems that plagued Archangel, the first VR offering from studio Skydance Interactive.
Archangel is set towards the end of the 21st century. The world we know is gone as many of the Earth’s countries—including the US and most of Europe, although the game makes a point of letting us know Canada did not fall for some reason—are united under the totalitarian rule of one faction bent on maintaining their own version of order. A resistance force hiding in the American Midwest, however, is trying to even the odds with a secret weapon, working toward finally overthrowing the dictatorship that has left most of the world in ruins. You play as the pilot of that secret weapon: a 60-foot tall mechsuit with an adaptable AI program that gives you every edge you could ever want in battle. It’s your job to get this prototype mechsuit from the research installation it was built in to resistance homebase to be mass-produced, but there’s just the little issue of an entire army standing in your way.
In my mind, it’s games like this that are holding virtual reality back. Archangel is built around a great idea which the team then took absolutely no chances whatsoever with, resulting in what comes off as nothing more than a glorified tech demo. I loved the idea of piloting a giant mech suit and blowing up everything around me, but by the time I was done, I couldn’t wait to delete Archangel from my harddrive. There are really only seven levels in the game (nine if you count the opening and end scenes where you just sit there and are talked at for five minutes each), and I beat the entire experience in less than four hours—yet I was never more relieved to take my VR headset off then after playing Archangel due to how it drags on.
All of the gameplay takes place on rails, and your mech lumbers along like a six-story tortoise instead of a feared killing machine. Despite being the “pilot,” the only aspects of your mech that you really control are the left and right arms, each outfitted with a pair of weapons and shields. With these tools at your disposal, you can shred the enemy army apart like paper blowing into a hurricane. Tanks, planes, turrets, and even giant robo-dogs are no match for you, even when the screen becomes filled with foes.
While using PS Move controllers, you can set one up for each arm, and get the feel of at least directly controlling that aspect of the mech with satisfying accuracy. If you’re like most people, however, you’ll probably end up using a PS4 controller instead. Under that control scheme, the firing mechanisms are predictably set for each appropriate trigger button, but you need to swing the controller around—far more wildly and more inaccurately than when using Move controllers—in order to switch from arm to arm and have each arm independently do what you need them to do, especially when on the defensive. It can quickly turn a competent rail-shooter experience into an extremely frustrating one.
Archangel is also an ugly game. Many VR games haven’t really wowed in the visuals department yet, especially as there are some limitations with the tech still, but Archangel is a pretty low bar in terms of animation and graphics. Most of the buildings in the ruined cities you walk through look like geometry from two generations ago, with no reflection and minimal complexity. Enemy tanks and planes also look far too simplistic compared to what we expect from this generation of consoles. As well, the character models look so cartoonish that I couldn’t figure out if this game was even trying to convey realism—not to mention that half the time when you talk to your three squadmates, their lips don’t match up with the words they’re saying. (Or worse, many times, I’d be hearing characters talk, but their lips weren’t even moving.)\
Of course, these are the few times you actually see other characters at all. There are no cutscenes in Archangel, which could be construed as someone at Skydance wanting to make an effort at immersion. Instead, however, you can talk to your squadmates, or the mech AI, between levels to try to flesh out the world. Unfortunately, all you get is a computer screen that pops up in your cockpit, and some of the most long-winded and horribly overacted banter that I’ve heard in a video game in a long time. It’s the obviously poor fix for someone who wants desperately to flesh out this world they’ve created, but have no real idea how to do it in a video game. By the end of the game, I wanted every character to fall off a cliff (including my own). Archangel’s world could’ve been an interesting one, and there are hints of it if you look closely enough. Overall, though, it’s just full of sad, ham-fisted attempts at character development and world building, which utterly fail at trying to cover up the monotony of shooting the same enemies with the same weapons at the same slow pace for four hours.
Looking at Archangel, there is no doubt there was an intriguing idea here. But with every passing moment, every enemy shot down, and after every terrible delivery of a new line of dialogue, I lost hope that the game would ever reach its potential until I finally got to the credits and my suffering ended. There are great VR games and experiences out there, but Archangel does not come even close to sniffing them and should be avoided at all costs.
While there’s really nothing broken in Archangel, the game suffers from a clear lack of follow-through on any of the interesting ideas it tries to bring to the table. Its slow, plodding pace stands out even more against the backdrop of mediocre gameplay and one-note characters that made me thankful when the game came to its abrupt end.
T - Teen
|Archangel is available on PlayStation VR, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. Primary version played was for PSVR. Code/hardware was provided by Skydance Interactive for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.|