Arizona Sunshine wouldn’t have been my personal pick for our 2016 Game of the Year award, but I can see why we landed on that decision. Though time has proven Superhot VR to be the more significant of the two, Arizona delivered on the virtual zombie apocalypse dream with a meaty, straight-laced campaign and popular wave-based survival mode. It resembled a ‘full’ game at a time VR was sorely lacking them.
Time’s moved on, though, and VR has grown. Without a flagship shooter release since 2016, has Vertigo grown with it?
Logistically, After The Fall suggests it has. Vertigo’s latest ‘basically zombie’ shooter expands in all the right ways on paper; there’s a full campaign that can be enjoyed either by yourself or with up to three friends. It is, essentially, VR’s equivalent of Left4Dead, swapping out Turtle Rock’s dark, dank take on a Pennsylvania outbreak for a slightly zanier alternate history. A second ice age ripped through Los Angeles in the 1980’s. By 2005, many a poor soul mutated into brainless ‘Snowbreed’ and survivors band together for the best chance of, well, remaining survivors.
Vertigo’s pitch is a shooter specced out to the standards of modern console games, squeezed into VR headsets. The usual trends like loot and crafting systems find a home here, as does an arsenal of customizable guns and melee weapons. Take out the last of a pack of Snowbreed and the world will momentarily slow to a crawl to let you marvel at the bloodshed. If you’d have told me this was, say, Ubisoft or Activision’s vision of the shooter formula applied to VR, I’d have believed you, impressive production values and all.
There’s familiar fun to be had, then. I shoot my way through a crumbling building with another player. We make short work of the hordes of enemies, but they pour in in overwhelming numbers. There’s no denying After The Fall is an impressive technical showcase for VR; I often couldn’t fire fast enough to keep up with the incoming swarms. Bravado often informs tactics; it probably doesn’t make sense to swap a pistol for a spiked baseball bat close in on enemies, but it definitely delights to bat their heads away as if you’re some bizarre mix of Rick Grimes and Novak Djokovic.
Scarier than the Snowbreed, though, is the creeping suspicion that this might all a bit too by the numbers. In 2019, my VR zombie kill count is probably starting to rival my same tally for traditional games (not that I’m counting or anything). After The Fall is certainly answering the call (rhyming pun not intended) for the robust VR shooter, but I’m more interested in seeing what Vertigo does to offset zombie fatigue at the game’s launch in 2020.
My demo does provide a few hints. After The Fall has special weapons, the first of which shows wonderful invention. Riffing on the game’s setting, in which technological advances came swiftly to a halt, I discover a wrist-mounted cassette player that launches a fleet of homing missiles in the direction of huge groups of Snowbreed. It’s conveniently placed just before the numbers really start swelling, but provides a welcome bit of tactical tension as you decide when to unleash a payload. Make your move too early and you’ll have to fend for yourself as you wait for it to recharge. Vertigo says another weapon lets you manipulate Snowbreed yourself, and there are glimpses of some super-charged melee weaponry. This might be where After The Fall finds a closer connection to VR, with weapons designed specifically around the medium.
There’s also the promise of tougher types of Snowbreed. My demo culminates in a boss battle with an enormous brute that trades his attention between myself and my companion. It suggests that the tougher After The Fall gets, the better it will be (I don’t think I took more than a few scratches in the entire demo up until that point). I can see a more vicious version of this demo being an absolute thrill ride, for example.
A bigger curiosity, though, is the game’s online element, which I suspect could be the standout component. Vertigo describes the game as a ‘shared-world’ with endgame content. The game’s website says once the campaign is done you’ll still have “a living world full of events, missions and blood-pumping encounters” to explore.
Just how far this promise goes remains to be seen, but it’s big enough that Vertigo is taking sign-ups for a beta. If the studio successfully establishes the game as a long-term hub for persistent VR action, I can see After The Fall being a big deal for a community that’s constantly pining for long-form content. Competitive multiplayer aside, there’s a lack of ‘go to’ VR games out there right now. Vertigo may just ensure this is one that stays installed on your hard drive for some time to come.
For now, though, this is enough. I’m waiting to see a brighter spark from After The Fall, but the prospect of getting three friends together and shooting our way through the campaign is a welcome one.