I’m starting to think the fastest way to making a compelling VR game is to play with gravity. Lone Echo used zero gravity traversal to create an immersive adventure and then Downward Spiral did the same with the ability to bring friends into the game. Enthusiast Games’ NeverBound might not be as revelatory as those two titles, but its fun twist on the shooter genre definitely makes it worth a look if you’ve missed out on it thus far.
Now available in Early Access, NeverBound allows players to walk on walls and ceilings, creating a 360-degree shooter that brings a lot of verticality into play. You use gravity ramps and special pads to walk onto other surfaces, which is usually required to solve puzzles and locate exits.
More interesting, though, is that enemies have this ability too. That means you can walk into a room and suddenly find heavy fire raining down from above as other enemies swarm in from the left, right and center.
There’s a handful of levels in the Early Access build right now, and they all offer something to call their own. In one mission I was protecting a drone as it hovered through an enemy base above the clouds, for example, while others had me manipulating platforms to open pathways.
It helps that a lot of the weapons are fun to use, too. Standard assault rifles get the job done, but a stun baton to knock enemies away provokes giddy laughs. NeverBound clearly benefits from the shooters that have come before it, taking the best of what’s worked in VR so far and making a happy home for it here. Extra points are awarded for the breakable weapons sights and a gravity-based weapon that crushes enemies against walls.
But, despite the neat ideas and solid mechanics, NeverBound is still cut from the same cloth as the enjoyable, if simplistic VR shooters that have come before it. Enemy AI likes to simply charge at you rather than take cover, and level design feels similarly standard, even with the unique travel considered. It’s always on the cusp of something brilliant, settling for amusing novelty rather than capturing a spark of true revolution, but that’s still a good place to be in the current VR scene.
What I liked most about NeverBound were the little touches that enriched the experience. When an enemy dies, for example, their gravity powers expire too. I’d bat someone away with the hefty swing of a stun baton and then watch them fall into mountain ranges below. Grenades, meanwhile, can have direction assigned to them before you throw them, meaning you need simply roll one out of your hand and it could ‘fall’ to the ceiling, blowing enemies to pieces.
That said, I’d love to see a few improvements made to the game before full launch. Enthusiast would do well instill a deeper sense of threat in combat, rather than letting you soak up bullet damage with an energy shield that doesn’t give clear indication of when it’s about to give out. As games like Compound have taught us, one slower, more obvious projectile to dodge is a lot more manageable than the hailstorm of bullets that will constantly be bouncing off of you in NeverBound, and the combat could definitely benefit from that more considered approach.
Perhaps where NeverBound will truly shine, though, is in multiplayer. Several competitive modes are planned for full launch and, while they’re not available in the Early Access build, it’s not difficult to imagine these options side-stepping the so-so AI of the single-player game and creating something truly dynamic.
For now, though, you can pick up NeverBound on Rift and Vive for $19.99. The price will rise come full release, which is expected to hit before next March.