Update: Arca’s Path releases on December 4, 2018 for Vive Focus, PlayStation VR, Steam VR, Oculus Rift, Oculus Go, Windows Mixed Reality and Gear VR. Original story follows as published September 13, 2018.
Dream Reality Interactive might be onto something here. Its answer to making sure everyone from your grandparents to your nephew is trying VR this Christmas? Replace real presents with virtual ones. In this case, it’s the marble maze, a rare symbol of present-ized unification under the tree. It’s something that everyone can pick up, play with and ultimately get addicted to. The same is true of Arca’s Path.
This is UK-based DRI’s first commercial VR release and I have to admit it’s not what I expected. Set in a distant future, you follow a young girl that discovers a VR-like headset of her own amongst a trash heap, transporting her to a much more peaceful world in which you steer a ball through a series of levels using just VR’s head-tracking alone. Given that this is a team partly comprised of former members of PlayStation VR Worlds’ Sony London, I’d assumed its first game would build upon, say, the ground-breaking immersion of Ocean Descent or the heart-pounding action of London Heist. But DRI is casting its net wider here.
“The initial pitch to the team was ‘What can we do that runs on any headset?’, which was actually a commercial decision,” studio director Dave Ranyard tells me when I visit the team’s offices last month. “There’s not that many headsets and there’s loads of weird controllers, so we asked ‘What can we do that takes all that problem away and just consolidates that market?’ which is this.”
‘This’ is a surprisingly tranquil little game; peaceful and unassuming and yet immediately engaging, striking the delicate balance between entertainment and challenge with aplomb. You don’t need to press any buttons, nor wave your hands about, but you will need to move your head with a meticulous degree of precision. Whilst the first two levels I played serve as a breezy introduction, there are moments in which moving your neck a single degree too far will bring your ball tumbling off of the side, while collectibles dotted around the steep slopes and narrows paths tempt you to take riskier ground.
Arca is an experience that wants to appeal to both the core gaming audience and beyond, acknowledging that the former group has enough wave shooters and addressing the people that have no such interest in that genre. It helps that its neon-lit visuals are a joy to behold within VR, too.
“One of the things that we’re very pleased with Arca is that it is a new mechanic,” Raynard says, adding that the team spent around three months experimenting with ideas. “We came up with some mechanics and we could have made games with them, but we just tried again. What we ended up with, I think, is so intuitive that at E3, basically anyone who had played a game, you put it on their heads and didn’t need to tell them anything.”
It’s hard to argue that Arca’s control scheme works in a way that few controller-based games could hope to match. Every movement is an instinct; a foot wrong is swiftly corrected by recentering your head and the ball obiediantly follows as if on a leash when you slowly steer your view around the course. That said, it does wrestle with your natural instinct to, y’know, look at things. You can hold a button down on any controller you have to look around without moving the ball, though the temptation to react to new sights and sounds can make for frustrating self-inflicted failure.
I’m most excited to see where Arca takes these mechanics as the game progresses, though. Ranyard promises that there are trickier challenges ahead (“It’s not all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows”) and I think, for me, that’s where the game is really going to prove its worth. I can easily see myself getting lost in pulling off the game’s harder trials on repeat, which isn’t something I’ve often done in VR.
But Ranyard and co still have everyone else in mind, too. “If somebody buys an Oculus Go because actually they’re interested in journalism, it’s a great device for that. But they want to try a game and they’re not going to try a shooter or they’ve ‘already got a shooter, thanks’ — this is a game for them.”
I’ll just be happy to have something to show those people this Christmas. Arca’s Path is releasing later this year on just about everything; Oculus Rift, Oculus Go, HTC Vive, PlayStation VR and Gear VR.