GDC 2019: Stormland Dazzles With Immense Polish And Traversal Freedom

by David Jagneaux • March 20th, 2019

Stormland is easily one of the most anticipated VR games of the year. Ever since it was first announced around E3 last year we’ve only seen one single demo of the game in action at PAX West and OC5. Now today at GDC 2019 Oculus is showing a brand new demo and we got to take a deep dive into what Insomniac has been cooking up.

When Stormland hits Rifts later this year it really has the potential to be something special. We’ve seen big Oculus-funded titles before like From Other Suns that have lots of replayability or Lone Echo which offered a great linear narrative, but Stormland feels like the next level of VR gaming. It’s got a large open world that’s dynamic and ever-changing, there’s co-op, you can upgrade your abilities, find loot, climb anywhere, glide around, skate across the clouds, and generally explore to your heart’s content. I think it’s fair to say that Stormland is unlike anything we’ve seen in VR yet.

As opposed to the previous Stormland demo, which was heavily focused on combat, this new demo was much more narrative-driven and actually kicked off from the very beginning of the game.

From what I can tell the story revolves around you being one of the last androids left remaining. There is a massive storm called the Tempest that has ravaged the Stormland and left nothing but destruction in its wake. Most of my demo just had me exploring islands above the clouds, gliding around, and viewing recorded memories of past androids walking around different base camps.

What stood out to me, other than the excellent visuals, was the wonderful voice acting. Everything has a very AI-sounding filter over the top of it, but it does a great job of immersing you in the world and actually making you feel like a robotic avatar. I don’t think there are many VR games that let you yank off one of your arms, place it on a table, and install upgrades before locking it back into the socket. It’s like a new type of phantom dismemberment feeling.

oculus rift s headset and controllers

It’s worth noting that my demo was actually on the new upcoming Rift S headset and not the original Rift, although Stormland will of course work fine on either one. Playing on Rift S meant I didn’t have to worry about the placement of the sensors in the demo space at all and could freely move around easily. There was still the cord to contend with of course, but the lack of sensor placement was freeing in comparison to other Rift experiences I’ve had.

Since the Rift S has five total cameras on it (two in front pointed slightly down, one one each side, also angled down a bit, and one on top) the tracking never gave me any issues. In fact, while hanging from a wall, I could turn and shoot with my other hand and remain stuck to the wall just fine.

During my demo, which took about a half hour to get through, it seemed like I was unlocking new things at a quick pace, which makes me wonder how the full game is going to feel. Within that thirty-minute timeframe I had gotten two types of guns, a shield, boosters for gliding and skating across clouds, and tools on my hands for climbing.

You know that feature most VR games use that allow you to point and use telekinesis to make items float to your hand from a distance? Stormland does that, but it also does the same thing for climbing. So even if you can’t quite reach that wall that you’re climbing up you can emit a little tether that connects to the wall almost like a short-range hookshot. This is super useful for swinging yourself across gaps.

There is no full-on flight in Stormland, but you can glide when falling from extreme heights. I didn’t do a whole lot of combat this time around, but all of the collectible resources in the environment have some satisfying effects when you break them apart. The bits of metal cascading around me felt a lot like the nuts and bolts currency in Insomniac’s Ratchet & Clank.

Insomniac is no stranger to VR game development. First there was the excellent supernatural action adventure thriller Edge of Nowhere, then the top-down brawler Feral Rites, and finally magic dueling game The Unspoken. Now, they’re taking their talents in a new direction.

Stormland has more in common with the studio’s non-VR development roots than their past projects, such as Ratchet & Clank and Sunset Overdrive with its heavy focus on modified weapons and freedom of exploration. Except this time it seems to take cues from the likes of Anthem, Destiny, and The Division as well with its cooperative atmosphere and ever-changing world.

Since Stormland has been in development for multiple years we probably won’t see a game like this from Insomniac for quite some time. Hopefully it comes out soon since it was announced almost a year ago, but we weren’t given any indication of the actual date.

Stormland is due to launch on Oculus Rift (and/or Rift S) later this year. Let us know what you think of the game so far down in the comments below!

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