At PAX West this past weekend we got the chance to try out co-op VR multiplayer in Stormland and it’s one of the best VR experiences we’ve ever had. Read on to find out why.
A lot has been said about how Stormland is pushing the boundaries of VR game design. It’s got a rich open world, an immersive narrative, and all kinds of tools that make combat and gameplay feel intuitive. It’s cooperative play is pretty standard with two players diving into the action instead of one, but the freedom of how Stormland plays makes it a multiplayer experience unlike anything else I’ve played before.
I went through a short twenty minute co-op demo at PAX West this past weekend alongside a representative from Oculus. We fought robots, soared over the clouds, and launched ourselves into the sky from the sides of cliffs. Everything I went through during the demo clicked immediately making Stormland one of, if not the absolute best VR games I’ve played this year from what I’ve seen so far.
Gameplay Features and Co-Op Trailer:
That’s solely due to how much freedom the game grants you. Everything is in a sandbox so you can approach combat with stealth or with guns blazing, from any direction (including above), and with just about any strategy you can come up with.
Stormland didn’t necessarily feel like it was designed specifically for co-op, but it’s mechanics and world are so fun and fluid that the game feels great when played solo or with a partner. That’s by design, as Insomniac’s first priority was to create a world that the player could feel powerful in. Adding a second player was a bonus.
“We’re not changing the game experience based on if you play solo or cooperatively. It’s just whether or not you want to experience it with a friend or not,” says Insomniac’s senior community developer Tim Salvitti. “There’s not going to be a separate co-op campaign or anything. It’s the same game. We just want people to be able to play with a friend because we know how fun it is to play with each other.”
Co-op in Stormland only works with two people, even though Insomniac had plans for more earlier in development. While it’s disappointing we can’t take a full squad into a gunfight, coordinating with another player still satisfied my craving for tactical first person action.
The demo was as straightforward as any—find three keys spread across a map full of islands floating in the clouds in order to open a giant hatch in the ground. The keys were locked away in beacons surrounded by enemies spread out across the map. We had to find them, clear the area, and collect the key. While that may seem somewhat standard open world fare, the tools Insomniac gave us made everything fresh.
At one point we approached a giant robot slowly stomping through the jungle, unaware of our presence. We stopped for a second at the edge of a clearing so it wouldn’t see us and agreed that my partner would go around and engage him from the front while I unloaded a clip into his back to hopefully put him out of his misery quickly. I waited a few moments while my partner made his way around and the anticipation nearly killed me. As soon as I heard gunshots I jumped out and sprayed.
It worked like a charm and the hunk of metal dropped almost immediately after we engaged him. It was a tad easy (like other Stormland demos this one was fairly uncomplicated), but I was still excited about our approach. We could have hopped over to a nearby cliff, jumped off, and attacked him from above. We could have attempted a stealth kill. The options weren’t endless, but each felt like a new way to play.
That sort of engagement comes from how fluid, fast-paced, and open the entire experience is in Stormland. It’s not just the freedom to take on combat scenarios that’s impressive, it’s the integration of the full body avatar, the dynamic weapon system that lets you pick up any gun from a fallen enemy, and the spirited climbing mechanics that also let you launch your avatar high into the air for the ultimate surprise attack.
“I think a lot of it came from not just what we learned from The Unspoken, but also what we’ve learned from our non-VR games,” says Salvitti. “Sunset Overdrive, Ratchet and Clank. We wanted the same smooth controls, shooting, and traversal. We just wanted to pull the same feeling but make it first person, make it feel like you’re actually there.”
At one point in the demo, after we had already picked up two of the three keys, my partner stepped back and let me approach the third beacon on my own. Enemies were set up on a bluff I started to climb up before launching myself high up for a vertical assault. I drew both guns before landing in between two enemies and blew them away at the same time. I felt like a robotic mix of John Wick and Rambo, nothing could stop how much I was enjoying this.
It felt as good as Spider-man on the PS4, the movement and gunplay was empowering.
PAX West 2018 Gameplay Footage:
The difficulty was still my only issue. Like the earlier scenario with the giant robot, this gunfight was incredibly easy and it only made my concern over Stormland’s difficulty stronger. I don’t know how that’ll change in the final release later this year, but Salvitti ensured me that there would be a steeper difficulty.
“The demo is tuned a little easier,” says Salvitti, before citing the changing cycle of the game world. “There’ll be new quests that pop up, new missions, new things to do. That’s all gonna be based on the cycle too. So as everything changes, it’s going to feel like there’s some whole new thing to do every time you log in and because we have the different realms that you’re working through, it’s going to get harder and harder.”
Even with the lax difficulty in the demo I played, Stormland had me hooked from the moment I launched myself in the air, submachine guns in both hands, and brought the house down on two unsuspecting robot goons. Stormland brings that trademark Insomniac game feel to VR and creates a feeling unlike anything else.
Stormland is slated for release during the Holiday season later this year and will be an exclusive for the Oculus Rift platform. Let us know what you think down in the comments below!
For more on Stormland, read our previous hands-on coverage from GDC,