I’m cold. I can see the flurries of snow outside and the thin coat of ice on my hummer’s windshield and I feel cold. This wouldn’t be all that notable except for the fact that a moment ago I was feeling quite warm inside the busy Oculus demo hall at GDC 2017. But I’ve been transported somewhere else since then, transported to the freezing, incredible world of Arktika.1.
I first had the chance to preview Artika.1 — an exciting new collaboration between Oculus Studios and the 4A Games (Metro: Last Light) — at Oculus Connect 3 last year. The brief demo I saw there was enough to convince me that this was a game to watch in 2017. The extended GDC experience that 4A brought to GDC, however, has convinced me that Arktika.1 is the game to look out for this year. It really is that good.
As soon as the new demo began I knew that this time around the studio was focusing on showing off the deep narrative and thoughtfully constructed world of Arktika.1 rather than the more combat heavy slice from OC3. The first 5 minutes or so of the preview I was simply sitting in a heavily armored car.
I was being driven through the frozen landscape by an NPC who’s narration provided story hints at every turn. I won’t spoil them for those looking forward to the game but generally Arktika.1 takes place in the midst of a second ice age. You are a mercenary hired by the last remaining humans in Russia to protect them from marauders, bandits…and something even worse. Here’s the official synopsis from 4A:
Nearly a century in the future — in the aftermath of a silent apocalypse — the planet has entered a new ice age. Only the equatorial regions remain habitable, yet pockets of humanity still manage to survive in small numbers all over the planet. These small regions of civilization sit on resource-rich, highly desirable territories to the north and south. As a mercenary hired by Citadel Security, your job is to protect one of the last colonies in the wastelands of old Russia from violent raiders, marauders, and horrifying creatures. Be the savior. Give humanity a second chance.
When my car finally broke through the blizzard I saw on the horizon where exactly the name Arktika.1 comes from: a massive, heavily secured compound. The last refuge for a dying human race.
As I drove up to the survivor city’s gates I was struck by how beautiful this game is. 4A is building Arktika.1 using its proprietary engine and it is able to produce the most striking visuals I’ve ever seen in a VR game. A good portion of that too is owed to the art design. Much like the Metro series before it, Arktika.1’s story oozes out of every carefully crafted asset you’ll come across in its richly developed environments. There’s more detail in every frame of Arktika.1 than you’ll probably even take the time to notice. That commitment to world-building through design, coupled with the amazing visual fidelity, makes this a game that sticks in your mind long after the headset comes off.
In addition to amazing visuals, 4A is also doing some interesting mechanical things that are exciting to see from a bleeding-edge VR title. For example, during my car ride I could interact with certain elements inside the vehicle. I could role the window down at will by pressing a button. I did so and immediately the sound changed. I could hear the engine and the wind more clearly than before. The voice of my companion also got more difficult to hear but when I closed the window again the sound reset and the noises inside the car got much crisper. Little touches like this make a good VR experience a great one and Arktika.1 is packed to the frozen gills with them.
Apart from the world-building moments, the GDC demo also took me through a completely new combat mission as well. Things began similarly to the OC3 demo. I went to the armory and picked out my weapons. After that, however, I was taken into a simulated training room to hone my skills against digital opponents. From there, I was taken to a nearby airfield that had fallen to the icey cold and notorious bandits. My job was to eliminate them. I’m good at my job.
Arktika.1’s combat is all about cover. You need to use it well in order to survive. The levels are designed creatively enough that your cover points always feel interesting and strategic rather than frustrating or overly simplistic. The guns themselves are interesting as well, with enough variable ammo types and firing options to keep you experimenting for hours. 4A also showed us a secret gun hidden behind a hotkey in the demo.
This new weapon is modable with different options for the chamber, barrel and ammunition. Swapping these around created a completely different weapon for each configuration. Mods like this seem to be a staple of what 4A is building here and they are a very welcome addition to the world of VR shooters, where loadouts are often pre-determined and limited.
Between the deliciously ambient world, the pulse-pounding combat and the innovative VR mechanics, its safe to say — for me at least — that Arkitka.1 is the game to look forward to in 2017 on any platform. Its currently set to release in Q3. Until then, stay warm out there.