Superman IV: The Quest For Peace was an infamously troubled movie. After the success of the first two entries, the third film in the series was not met well by critics and 1984’s Supergirl subsequently bombed. The rights to the series traded hands and the fourth film found itself with budget constraints that made for a movie that actually looked worse than its predecessors.
First Impact: Rise of a Hero sadly ended up reminding me more of Quest for Peace than it did any of the other classic Superman films. As one of VR’s first superhero games, it’s certainly got its heart in the right place, with a big colorful world to explore and a charming comic book atmosphere. But it needed significantly more development time before it should have even been considered for a full release, let alone an Early Access launch, which developer Red Meat Games has seemingly decided to skip altogether.
It’s a shame, as there’s a foundation for a likable open world comic book romp here; you have four elemental superpowers to play with, each enabling different attacks, defensive measures and special movement options. Fire powers have you spurting flames, while ice hits enemies with a heavy impact, and gusts of wind send them hurtling into the air. Earth is easily the best, causing spikes to shoot up from the ground and impale your foes. You rightly use the Vive’s wands (or Touch controllers, when the Rift support officially launches), to aim, and attacks shoot out of your hands Iron Man-style.
Powers are nicely varied and all upgradeable by finding items in the world, but they also present First Impact’s first real problem: it could have done a lot more with a lot less. On Vive, the game’s controls are stiff and awkward, with almost every button assigned to an action in seemingly random placement. You use quarter-sized sections of the right touch pad to move between powers, but this isn’t effective in the heat of battle, especially as touching the pad also turns your character one way or the other.
Moreover, many of your abilities end up feeling redundant in comparison to others. Jumping great heights, for example, is useless in comparison to the flight mechanic, though sluggish movement means neither is especially compelling to use. I stuck to super speed almost the entire time I played, with little reason to utilize other movement systems. The short distance teleportation feels useless unless you’re affected by motion sickness.
Combat, too, ironically lacks impact. In the early stages of the game your powers merely chip away at the enemy’s health, and fail to really stop them in their tracks. There are times you’ll be overwhelmed by foes and just don’t seem to have the right tools to take them down, though the balance does start to shift as you upgrade your abilities. New powers like super strength are fun to play with, but you’ll almost instantly tire of fighting brain-dead bad guys that mindlessly march towards you. Not a battle went by where I didn’t see at least one get stuck in a piece of the environment and just march on the spot, without moving.
Being a superhero should make me feel powerful and, well, heroic. First Impact’s lifeless fights were instead spent struggling with controls and bugs that made me feel anything but those two qualities.
Immersion-breaking issues like this persist. As I walked around town I found parked cars placed inside concrete floors rather than on top of them; pedestrians that would regularly either vanish right in front of me, or start flickering back and forth between character models; and a draw distance that I could use to make trees simply disappear from sight by either raising or lowering my head. The world just isn’t well designed, with items and assets seemingly scattered at random in some areas.