Left-Hand Path is a very dark game. When I say it’s a dark game I mean that both literally and figuratively. Not only are the enemies inspired by the twisted nightmares of medieval-themed fantasy, but from the opening moments you’ll have to quickly become accustomed to pitch black darkness. That is until you get used to using your staff as a flashlight.
The most powerful tool at any VR developers disposal is to force the player to feel things that they wouldn’t otherwise feel outside of VR and in the case of Left-Hand Path it’s a sense of lonely terror.
Left-Hand Path is a VR-only roleplaying game (RPG) that’s been in Early Access for over a year now and it makes full use of tracked motion controllers and room-scale setups for both Rift and Vive as it launched out of Early Access in November. All of your spells are cast by drawing runes in the air, similar to SoulKeeper VR, but you’ll spend most of your time exploring the world, uncovering secrets, and solving puzzles. And dying a lot.
The moment-to-moment gameplay is more visceral and interactive than most other VR games. It doesn’t feature robust melee combat like that in Vanishing Realms, but instead relies on a dense magic system. By tapping the staff in your right hand to your head you can summon your Grimoire, a magical tome full of runes that summon different spells and powers. In one moment I was twisting in a circle to surround myself in magical energy, while in another moment I was frantically painting circles in the air to send fireballs careening towards my enemies. You move by using a mixture of teleportation and smooth locomotion.
Left-Hand Path is far from a AAA-quality VR game and that’s apparent from the very start. It was created by a small team and it lacks a lot of polish, but it partially makes up for that rough-around-the-edges aesthetic with loads of ambition. When it’s all said and done you can easily spend upwards of 15 hours on this adventure, which is much longer than most VR games that cost twice the price of Left-Hand Path.
I’ve played a lot of VR horror games in the past two years from Resident Evil 7’s foreboding sense of horror, Killing Floor: Incursion’s frantic desperation, and even the relentless onslaught of haunted house style jump scares of Until Dawn: Rush of Blood. But none of those are really comparable to Left-Hand Path. In this horror-themed roleplaying game from Strange Company, you’ll be afraid of the dark, afraid of the enemies, afraid of your environment, and afraid to open the next door.
But remember how I said Left-Hand Path was a dark game? Sometimes it’s frustratingly dark. The lighting effects are quite impressive, for the most part, but the darkness textures and light mapping sometimes look more like black smudges and flat boards rather than substantive darkness.
When that sense of dread shines through though, it’s a fear spurred on by not only spooky creatures and sudden startles, but also your impending death. The developers claim a heavy inspiration from Dark Souls, but not in the way you’d think. It’s not an action RPG with bonfire save points and a third-person camera, but is instead a devilishly difficult and unforgiving gauntlet of puzzles and combat.
Pacing in Left-Hand Path is a bit of a problem, as are the difficulty spikes, but it never gets too outrageous on the lower difficulty settings. My main gripe with games that bill themselves as “The Dark Souls of ____” is that they often misinterpret what makes the Souls series so special. It’s not just the brutal difficulty. It’s about how the world building, pacing, gameplay, and enemy design all complement one another so fluidly.
In the case of Left-Hand Path, most of the “Dark Souls inspiration” is unfortunately relegated to a sense of frustrating, sometimes pointless, difficulty spikes. Thankfully it doesn’t detract too drastically from the game as a whole.
Left-Hand Path is just as ambitious as it is unpolished. It’s extremely rough around the edges across the board from visuals to sound design, but it packs enough creativity to be worth your while if you’re a sucker for dark-themed RPGs. The rune-based spell system is satisfying to master and the high difficulty level sets it apart from its contemporaries. It’s just a shame that the slightly janky execution holds it back from being even better.