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‘The Brookhaven Experiment’ Review: Bigger, Better, and Scarier Than Ever

by David Jagneaux • July 5th, 2016
Platform: HTC Vive
Positives

- Grotesquely beautiful visuals
- Bone-chilling use of 3D spatial audio
- Excellent pacing throughout Campaign and Survival modes
- Truly terrifying moments of stressful gameplay

Negatives

- Already starting to feel a bit dated
- Lack of mobility in levels
- Campaign mode feels slightly underdeveloped

Surrounded by darkness, I nervously point the flashlight in my left hand towards an empty field. In the distance, I see a slowly shuffling undead corpse walking towards me. To the right, another zombie starts making its way to my position, albeit much more quickly than the first. I turn the pistol in my right hand to the side and look at the grip of the gun – only 10 bullets left.

The faster zombie is upon me now so I level my arm and take its head off in one clean shot. Just as the slower zombie starts to approach me I hear a different sound coming from behind. Instead of a hulking corpse stumbling forward in disgusting twists of flesh, I see a zombie crawling towards me in erratic movements on the ground. 9 bullets left.

I spin back around and send 4 bullets into the standing zombie to take it down: 2 in the arm, 2 in the chest. 5 bullets left. Now that I turn to face the crawling corpse again, I spend the remainder of my clip laying it to rest. Wave completed.

That’s a normal, frenetic, afternoon in The Brookhaven Experiment, one of the scariest, most intense, and truly exhilarating VR games to date. While the original demo for the game exploded onto the scene months ago, garnering dozens of viral video reactions and positive press from the gaming media, the full and proper core game itself has been in development behind the scenes ever since.

Unlike most VR games, wherein the concept for what would make up a traditional demo actually constitutes the entirety of the experience (since the vast majority feel more like glorified tech demos than actual games,) The Brookhaven Experiment actually resembles a complete and more robust full game now. I can truly tell how much work went into finalizing this product.

For starters, it’s now more than just a single wave-based survival mode, although Survival is still half of the experience with its own game mode in the main menu. While it may be short by traditional game standards, the Campaign mode offers a more structured format for progression. It’s a great starting point for new players and veterans of the demo alike.

Everything starts with an NPC speaking in your ear, directing your attention and feeding you information, as you work your way through a series of levels. A number of the environments in the full game are indoors now, such as a lab basement with monsters coming around chain link fences you can shoot through if you spot them early.

These indoor spaces are incredibly effective at increasing the tension when compared to the outdoor cityscape seen in the demo, as the confined nature heightens your sense of claustrophobia and restriction. You can get a small glimpse of some of the environments in the screenshots below.

However, I did find myself wishing for the ability to freely move around my environments. Back when The Brookhaven Experiment’s first demo released, it felt new and fresh. Standing in one place shooting zombies seemed passable for a new medium. But now that we’ve seen other games use more versatile movement systems like Raw Data or Arizona Sunshine, I wished for something similar in the zombie wave shooter that popularized the genre. Instead, you’re confined to the same spot in each level.

I found that the inability to move, combined with the funnel-of-enemies approach that guides them all towards you, did do a good job of amplifying the horror initially, but eventually the illusion starts to fade away. In a similar situation in real life, I could simply step away or hide from the monsters, not stand in the middle of an empty hallway while they mauled me to death. VR horror seems to work best when those layers of illusion are least noticeable, not when they stick out. While it could partially be due to personal taste, I’ve always preferred horror games that terrified me to my core with lingering fear in the back of my mind for hours or days after I finished playing, not just short and simple zombie-fueled jump scares.

Take The Walking Dead, for example. It’s a great series not just because of the gross and creepy zombies, but because of what the post-apocalypse does to seemingly normal people. It’s terrifying because of what the non-zombies do to one another in the face of catastrophe. I don’t expect every game to reach arbitrary storytelling standards by any means, especially considering that some games are just mean to be dumb fun, but the shallow nature of The Brookhaven Experiment’s setting and exposition are worth noting nevertheless. It does hold it back from being a landmark experience.

What the full game does absolutely do is expand tremendously on the core gameplay seen in the original demo, forcing players to carefully plan out their assault on the incoming monsters. Some will run at you, some are giants that take a clip-emptying number of bullets to kill. The variety and creativity of the team at Phosphor Games is certainly on display.

brookhaven gameplay2

Throughout The Brookhaven Experiment the length of time it takes to reload can seem like roughly 100 times slower than it should due to the adrenaline-pumping anxiety you’ll feel with multiple gruesome foes pressing down on you. In order to get out alive, you’ll have to keep your wits about you, save the batteries of your flashlight, look all directions, and then carefully plan your attack so you aren’t left reloading when one of the big guys comes in close.

The monsters seem really responsive to where and how you shoot and hit them — a well-placed punch or slash will knock them back and a shot to the shoulder will take off an arm rather than the entire beast.

This is a pain point in some VR games, especially when close quarters hand-to-hand combat is involved. But in The Brookhaven Experiment, a good swipe with your knife at a monster that wandered too close can go a long way. Although the lack of haptic resistance and feedback still plagues modern VR from truly delivering the sensation you’d feel when making actual physical contact, it’s satisfying all the same. The green sights on the default pistol are much improved as well, adding more visibility and accuracy in the darkness.

The Brookhaven Experiment feels like a pitch-perfect implementation of the gallery shooter genre, transplanted into VR, with detailed and strikingly scary zombies. It doesn’t have the narrative weight of a meatier plot-drive experience, but it nails the beats it aims to with some of the best thrills you can find on any VR device to date.

brookhaven gameplay1

Final Score: 8/10 – Great

The Brookhaven Experiment builds on the foundation of its popular demo and establishes itself as one of the premiere VR zombie shooter experiences on the HTC Vive. It doesn’t have a deep or engaging narrative, but between the Campaign and Survival modes there is enough content to satisfy fans of all experience levels. The new maps, enemies, and weapons take what was an already scary game and cranks things up to a downright hair-raising degree of terror.

Read our Game Review Guidelines for more information on how we arrived at this score.

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  • random_name

    I don’t get the hype around this game. If you’re capable of aiming even slightly, just hit the head and the zombie will die quickly. I got up to wave 4 before I shut off the game in boredom. My sister in law tried the game though and she practically pissed her pants. I just don’t understand it.

    • Wave 4 is no problem. What do you think of HordeZ?

    • Psycold

      What hype? It’s fun. The majority of people who played the demo loved it. Most games don’t even have demos.

    • Horror is a difficult genre to develop for. What scares one person may not scare another person. The mood and setting is also extremely important in most cases, unlike a lot of other game genres.

      • I don’t scare easily (I find hardly any modern hollywood horror movies scary) but Brookhaven is scary because you can’t run away and VR makes it feel real. I like the incoming wave style gameplay of Brookhaven. It’s a game you can let anyone play because they don’t need to learn a lot of controls.

        • Very true. The accessibility contributes to the fear factor in a way that’s balanced together really well. After I get someone’s feet wet in a slower experience I love throwing people into Brookhaven to see how they perform 🙂

          • DougP

            Re: “I love throwing people into Brookhaven to see how they perform”
            You have a mean streak! 😉
            j/k aside – it is a fun one to put people in who think they’re used to any kind of game/shooter.

  • I liked the demo a lot. Very atmospheric. I pre-ordered some time ago.

  • Leper Messiah

    I hate being pedantic, but these aren’t zombies, they’re monsters.

    • Good point, technically speaking, they’re monsters in the game’s lore. But I think the majority of people would associate slow moving, decaying corpses with the general “zombie” genre. The creators have also never corrected me, even in interviews or email conversations. In terms of specifics though, you’re correct.

      • theturtleguy

        I’m sure if you show a picture to a random passby on the street, they will say that its a zombie 5 out of 7 times

        • Torben Bojer Christensen

          monster /ˈmɒnstə/
          noun
          1. a large, ugly, and frightening imaginary creature.

          …I would say that zombies are somewhat monstrous 😉

          monstrous /ˈmɒnstrəs/
          adjective
          1. having the ugly or frightening appearance of a monster

    • DougP

      Technically they aren’t zombies in “28 Days Later” either – another common mistake. 😉

    • Torben Bojer Christensen

      monster /ˈmɒnstə/
      noun
      1. a large, ugly, and frightening imaginary creature.

      …I would say that zombies are somewhat monstrous 😉

      monstrous /ˈmɒnstrəs/
      adjective
      1. having the ugly or frightening appearance of a monster

      • Achilles

        Sorry but your point makes no sense. That doesn’t mean that “monster = zombie”. A zombie is a monster, but a monster is not necessarily a zombie. So Leper Messiah stands correct, I hope you understand, have a nice day!

  • Jason Wojciechowski

    Is there any weapons other than pistols and a knife?

    • Yeah there are some automatic weapons, grenades, and a few other things you unlock over time.

  • Mane Fit

    has any game gotten a low score on here. it seem like the standard by which these games r judge by are very low. we wouldn’t stand for a game that is basically horde mode but cause it’s vr then it’s ok… smh

    • Games are released all the time for PC and console outside of VR that are wave-based or offer just a handful of game modes. Considerations such as the maturity of the platform (VR is still very new) along with the size of the game and the team that made it (most VR games are made by small studios) all play a factor.

      To answer your specific question, yes, we have given some low scores and there are tons of bad VR games already out there.

  • Sam Kennedy

    Meh, I bought it and wasnt really a fan. As the reviewer pointed out it seems dated (but then he gave it an 8) I get that you want to support VR developers that put a lot of hard work into these games but this game just isnt that great. Very short campaign, and just 4 monster types make it very simplistic. 2 of the 4 monsters are glorified sponges with no strategy to them whatsoever and the basic zombie I can score a headshot on 9 times out of 10 no problem.

    I honestly prefer hordez , there are more varied zombie types and you actually move throughout the level. Not to mention the Weapons are more fun, Wielding a katana in VR is infintely more satisfying than a dinky knife. The knife is kind of stupid because no matter what it seems like you will get damaged from the zombies unless they only need 1 or 2 swipes left to kill them. I was really looking forward to this game, but one of the trailers had me believe they added some form of locomotion and that you would be walking through the levels. Just standing there static for 4 very basic levels with 3 waves each (in the campaign) was kind of a drag. You guys where way too easy on the game IMO. I couldnt see any gaming outlet(that also covers vr, like say giant bomb, gamespot, IGN) giving this a score anywhere near that high. Just because you guys are a VR site, doesnt mean that all the games should be reviewed with higher scores.

  • Josh Lawrence

    I really got interested in this game and pre-ordered it months ago. Loved the demo, waited eagerly for the full game. Got the late release and enjoyed it up til Storm Drain, where the controls seem to glitch at key moments in the later waves. If the flashlight isn’t working the gun won’t fire, despite me having 1600 extra bullets or full flashlight battery. It’s really annoying because I would have beaten this level already – but it literally just stops working with one controller or the other, even though they are fully charged. Would be a big fan of this game – instead I’m just pissed off. BTW I keep having to be beat the previous level that I already defeated to get back to Storm Drain after launching Steam VR again. It won’t save up to Storm Drain I have to beat the previous level every time and then experience glitches on Storm Drain every time. WTF!

  • Heiko Skubich

    You paid for the good score.