I first played Sublevel Zero all the way back in early 2015, so it’s a relief to see developer Sigtrap Games finally double down on its VR support. Sublevel Zero Redux is a free expansion for the six degrees of freedom (6DOF) shooter that adds in plenty of new features including polished, official support for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive (as opposed to the experimental integration featured in the previous release). But a lot has happened to the VR industry over the past two years; does this belated arrival warrant another look?
If you’re a fan of the genre, then absolutely. Sublevel Zero is a faithful, fitting tribute to games like Descent with tight, exciting gameplay that carries a sense of danger to it, whilst also adding in some inspirations from some unexpected sources.
One such source is Rogue Legacy. You might not think that Cellar Door Games’ 2D roguelike adventure would have much in common with a 6DOF shooter, but Sublevel successfully replicates that hugely addicting procedural permadeth loop established in 2013 for a different genre. Levels are procedurally generated, ranging for lava-spewing caverns to Utopian sci-fi corridors, all littered with various dangers. As you progress through each level you’ll be able to pick new power ups that will help you on your journey. If you die, however, you’ll have to start the entire game over, though you’ll learn some extra crafting blueprints and more to help you on future runs.
It’s fascinating to see a tired and true formula adapted into a completely different type of game, and it gives Sublevel its own hook and likely hours more playtime than a standard 4 – 5 hour campaign would have.
In fact, the game is far more systematically driven than it has any right to be. Starting classes will let you cater to your play style, while a loot system will make everything from your weapons to your boosting system different every playthrough. Then there’s the previously-mentioned crafting system that allows you to make new weapons and more out of thin air. At first I was hesitant to embrace these features; I just wanted to shoot stuff, but it’s all surprisingly simple to get to grips with and gives the core action a bit of behind-the-scenes depth.
That said, the game’s cramped, claustrophobic shoot outs are worth the price of entry on their own. With a number of different enemy types (many of which are new to Redux), I often found myself leaning back in my chair in tension as I pulled away from a barrage of incoming fire, or physically ducking at the sight of one particularly aggressive foe trying to barge into me. As you diver deeper and deeper into the game’s sprawling caverns and enemies increase in number and threat the game really starts to give your heart a workout.
Every time you open and door and hover into a new room you’ll scan every possible angle before likely strafing left or right like a mad man in order to avoid surprise attacks. Follow some optional paths and you’ll find chests that will spawn waves of tougher foes upon activation. In some rooms things can get a little too hectic and you’ll struggle to keep up with who’s attacking you from where,
Part of those reactions were spurred on my the immersion of VR. Like EVE: Valkyrie, Elite: Dangerous and others, Sublevel is a great example of why cockpit shooters are a perfect match for headsets. There’s very little in between you and the virtual world you’re peering into, especially if you utilize the game’s HOTAS support.
It can be a pretty dizzying experience, but Sigtrap has absolutely loaded the game with different, optional comfort features to ensure anyone can play. I rarely suffer from sim sickness so I turned these features off, but my head started to spin about 30 minutes in and thus I was ultimately grateful for their inclusion.
With that in mind, I would have liked to see a little more clarity in the level navigation. A comprehensive map will always tell you where you’re headed, but I would become frustrated when feeling fatigued and discovering I had travelled down an optional path and not one that lead to a level’s end where I could take a break.
Sublevel Zero Redux isn’t a shooter for everyone. It’s intense and demanding, and that simply isn’t something some people will want inside their VR headsets. For fans of Descent and the emergent rougelike genre, though, this is something of a treat. Polished, tight gameplay gives this unique brand of action an engaging edge. 6DOF is enjoying a small resurgence right now and, if that’s something that interests you and you’d love to try the genre in VR, Sublevel Zero Redux is your best bet.
Sublevel Zero Redux will be available on Steam on July 13th. It will be free for owners of the original game, which costs $14.99.