When I was a young kid and saw Apollo 13 for the first time — an incredible film with great performances by Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and more — it actually gave me an irrational fear. I started to contemplate what it would be like to be stuck in space, with no gravity, floating in the middle of a room without any way of reaching a surface to push myself off of. Without a gravitational pull to yank me downwards, or momentum to redirect me, I could be trapped, suspended in the air, with no escape. It was terrifying to think about and it’s always been in the back of my mind ever since.
Naturally, when I embarked on my preview gameplay session with Downward Spiral: Prologue, the first VR game by 3rd Eye Studios, a company that’s stacked with experienced talent, my completely random fear came rushing back. Luckily I never got stranded, but this was the first space-based zero-G VR game I’ve played that really gave me a strong sense of immersion and agency unlike anything else.
I went into my demo for Downward Spiral: Prologue mostly blind. After installing it on my end and having fellow UploadVR writer, Jamie Feltham, get everything squared away on his end, we dove into the experience together. At first glance it’s easy to draw comparisons to the likes of ADR1FT, but that game lets you boost around with a little jetpack. More recent upcoming games like Lone Echo are similar in terms of how you traverse the environment, but not exactly the same.
As soon as the initial loading screens were done I was standing on a metal bridge across a dark room surrounded by computer monitors that showed my avatar floating on them. When reaching out with either of my Vive wand controllers I could press the trigger to grab onto railings and other surfaces, then push off and fling myself through the air, without friction or gravity getting in the way.
It’s a very floaty, otherworldly feeling that somehow seems to sidestep the motion sickness concerns that plague other titles. Part of the phenomenon though could be due to the implicit FOV limitation of being inside a space suit since I could see the edges of my helmet when I looked around. Whatever the case may be, neither of us experienced any nausea at all, even when moving around quickly.
Once I reached the computer terminal at the end of the hall I had three basic options: Single player, Multiplayer, and Deathmatch. On my right there was another module where I could adjust the intensity of my graphics settings. We both mashed the Multiplayer button and waited for it to finish loading.
The next scene I found myself in was what looked like a space pod of some kind. There was a window to the deep, black sea of stars to one side as well as a vault hatch of some kind to the other. I reached out and opened the hatch with a lever and propelled myself down a tube into a large room. Craning my neck upwards I saw a second level with different bays and doors as well as a large computer terminal in the center.
In front of one of the computer screens I could press various buttons to cycle through several different cameras, allowing me to see all edges of the room from a single vantage point. With only my single partner to keep track of, this wasn’t very useful in my limited demo setting.
Objectives were unclear, so naturally we just started fumbling around. Objects floated weightlessly throughout the environment and we eventually stumbled across two storage containers with guns inside. Naturally, this resulted in us opening fire on each other, diving around the arena as we engaged in a bit of impromptu deathmatch even though this was actually the cooperative mode.
Soon, we found our way up to the second level of this room where we found a new door that led us to an even larger area. We looked up and saw several bridges crossing a large chasm and a black void down below us. A panel toggled a fan when pressed, which caused us to slowly start rising to the top of the room.
Eventually we gained access to a device that could be used as an air blast to propel us in the direction we pointed. My default style resulted in me holding the air device in my left hand, then pointing and releasing to adjust my course through the air, with the gun in my right hand for best accuracy. In the trailer at the top of this article, you can see some of the small, orb-like robot enemies that chased us with lightning bolts. Luckily, it only took two shots to take them down with our pistols.
I don’t want to spoil what happens at the end of Downward Spiral: Prologue, but it left both Jamie and I with big smiles on our faces. We couldn’t stop talking about how well-paced and epic it all felt, especially considering how little we knew about the game before diving in.
After that we jumped into a quick round of Deathmatch (I beat him 10-1), which will support up to 8 players when released. In the mode we could freely move around the same massive room found at the end of the Prologue mission. Everyone is equipped with a gun and air jet machine so you can freely move around. There is a ton of floating debris everywhere so holding onto a piece and popping in and out of cover while shooting felt great.
Downward Spiral: Prologue is expected to be available on Steam for Oculus Rift with Touch and HTC Vive this month, in March 2017. Prologue will be the first installment in a larger Downward Spiral Anthology series, each of which are expected to feature new characters, plot points, and settings that will all be tied together with an unsettling backstory.
Let us know what you think down in the comments below!