Even if you don’t recognize the name “Insomniac Games” you are almost certainly familiar with the company’s work.
The Ratchet and Clank series is an enduring classic of the PlayStation platform, Resistance remains as one of the premiere first-person shooter franchises from console’s last generation, and Sunset Overdrive was one of the first true must-have exclusives for the Xbox One. These titles may be completely different, but they share that instantly recognizable Insomniac DNA. A heritage that is characterized by frenetic action, tight controls, interesting mechanics, engaging — often hilarious — storylines, and memorable characters.
If Ratchet & Clank, Resistance, and Sunset Overdrive are the trio of Harvard-bound elder brothers of the Insomniac family, then Feral Rites — the studio’s newest release on the Oculus Rift — would be the younger brother working at the bowling alley that the others try to avoid friending on Facebook.
Feral Rites is not an awful game by any means, it may even scratch a certain itch for some gamers. However, because it is an Insomniac title, there are certain expectations going in that are never truly realized by this lukewarm virtual reality brawler.
Let’s start with the good.
Wherever it can, Feral Rites does its best to remind you that it was created by a developer with decades of home runs under its belt. Little flourishes, such as a delightfully arcady combo system for combat, show that there are some sparks flying in this game’s design.
There is also a surpassingly engaging system of stat upgrades, equipment curation, and ability progression that rivals popular VR games like Chronos.
The core mechanic of Feral Rites is a literal “beast mode” transformation ability. This allows your character to assume the form of a Hulked-out jaguar or a swift moving panther in order to smash foes and more quickly traverse the game world. The transformations always feel fun, and being able to erupt into a snarling destructive dynamo at will during combat can be deeply satisfying.
Savagery seems to be a key philosophy for Feral Rites and this core tenant leads into what might be the game’s most impressive quality: blood and guts. The animalistic attitude of Feral carries into its combat systems and its visual touches. You’ll see this most clearly when the “execute” prompt appears over an enemy.
Pressing “B” during these moments will trigger an impressive variety of takedown animatics. Depending on what form you are currently in, these can include kicking an opponent’s head clean off, or crushing it to a pulp in one of your massive jaguar paws. The marks of your conquests remain on you after battle as well, meaning you may find yourself tracking through the jungles literally dripping with the blood of your fallen foes.
Blood for blood’s sake is never creative or fun in video games, but the Rift — and VR gaming in general — could do with a bit more carnage. Feral Rites delivers on that with every boom, pow, and crunch you deal out.
There is a lot to like in Feral Rites but, unfortunately, the negatives often outweigh the positives.
Combat may be the most disappointing element of Feral Rites despite the initially addicting combo system, which is particularly negative for a brawler. Insomniac games are known for engaging fights, but bouts in Feral Rites routinely devolve into “X, X, X, Y,” roll, block, “X, X, X, Y.” The battle animations are a bit slow, the enemy types are generic and repetitive, and the combo mechanics really just aren’t that deep.
Even beast-mode can’t make up for these lethargic scuffles since your Jaguar form itself is often even slower and less interesting to fight with than your human one. Fights pop up sporadically, and somewhat randomly as you explore the map and taking on the few enemies that eek out starts to feel repetitive and even downright boring in relatively short order.
It should be noted that end-game combat can be a lot more interesting once your two forms are leveled up and you obtain better gear, but these mitigating factors are too little too late to salvage what should have been the most enjoyable part of this game.
A lack of interesting content is a constant problem for Feral Rites. The sprawling world map may be expansive, but it’s mostly empty with shoe horned “resource collecting” elements that are clearly meant to make each new area feel like it has something for you to do. All that it really does, however, is reduce traversal to “make sure you smash every box you see” and this quickly becomes a chore.
The characters and storyline are also disappointingly generic. The studio is typically known for hilarious dialogue and breakout characters, but Feral Rites, in contrast, features forgettable characters and a plot that never truly flows or grips you in any way.
Pacing is consistently off in Feral Rites as well. Cutscenes, dialogue, and environment interactions all seem to trigger with a two second delay. It’s difficult to describe, but it adds to the feeling that Feral Rites in its entirety could’ve used another few coats of polish before releasing.
Lastly, Feral Rites is technically a virtual reality game, but it never truly takes advantage of the medium. In fact, the VR viewpoint is often a detriment to gameplay. Feral Rites adopts the Chronos technique of fixed camera boxes that you jump between as you walk between areas. This means you can occasionally lose track of your character when the perspective jumps, or struggle to keep your eyes on the action when combat is pushed to the corners of each box.
VR execution like this always feels like a missed opportunity for a platform with so many dynamic possibilities and it is a bit of a letdown to see it being used by a studio like Insomniac on one of its very few VR experiments.
After Edge of Nowhere — one of our highest reviewed VR games to date — and with the exciting mage-dueling game, The Unspoken, on the horizon, Feral Rites feels like a lackluster sophomore slump for Insomniac.
Feral Rites isn’t necessarily a bad game, but it’s also well below the usual standard of excellence one expects from Insomniac. Fans of brawlers may want to pick this one up to experience their favorite genre in VR, but everyone else should feel safe giving it a pass.
Feral Rites is now available for download from Oculus Home for the Oculus Rift at a price point of $49.99.
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