Now available in full on PSVR and Quest, how does Schell Games’ latest hold up? Find out in our Until You Fall review!
If every VR game came to a party, Until You Fall would be the one we’d all want to hang out with. Surprising, given developer Schell Games’ well-mannered VR back catalog of puzzlers and edutainment, but effortlessly earned with its infectious soundtrack, pulsating visual style and curiously rhythmic combat. Even one loop around the game’s recurring neon dungeon and it’s clear; you have to be friends with Until You Fall.
But this VR rougelike quite literally plays hard to get. Like many of its contemporaries, it starts out diamond-tough and makes you work your way up to the top through a combination of incremental upgrades and improved player skill – a vicious cycle that quickly sucks you in. Cast as a mythical champion, you take repeated runs at a series of inter-connected areas littered with gruesome monsters. Foes are vanquished in dual-wielding melee combat, you choose a run-specific upgrade like more health, money increased damage or other buffs, then move on to the next area. The process is rinsed in your own blood when you inevitably die and then repeat it all over again.
In Death already proved that the rougelike genre can work for VR and, in many ways, Until You Fall is a definitive – and perhaps more refined – continuation of that sentiment. Tonally similar to 2018’s rougelike sensation, Dead Cells, the game’s energetic pacing makes it hard to put down. Every time you die, you’ll return to a hub world where, with enough funds, you can buy new weapons and upgrade your existing ones before jumping back through the portal to start all over again. The lure of attempting a new run either to gain more cash for new weapons, test out your latest gear or even just out of sheer determination to improve your own reflexes and timing provides an ever-present progression that makes any play session, be it five minutes or two hours, well-spent. Small areas with constant load screens are a thorn in the pacing and immersion’s side, but they’ve been cut down as much as one could probably expect on a system like Quest.
This is all fairly standard stuff for this devious genre, of course, but Until You Fall keenly observes what makes its inspirations tick, pulls them apart, and then stitches them back up with VR in mind. Games like Dead Cells and Rouge Legacy thrive on pinpoint gameplay where last-minute dodges and precise attacks are key to protecting a health bar that isn’t easily replenished. With VR a far less maneuverable medium than flatscreen games, Schell translates agility on your feet to sharp reflexes with your hands. A second before an enemy attack, you’ll see an indicator for where one of your two weapons needs to be to block. Sometimes attacks come in quick succession, and sometimes you’ll also need to physically dodge out of the way of heavier hits, creating a nice variety to keep you on your toes.
Preventing you from employing the dreaded ‘waggle’ method is a guard system. Every enemy has a guard meter that must first be diminished before you have a limited time to hack away at their health and it fills up again. When it’s full, foes are essentially invulnerable and will carry out attacks even if you get a quick hit in before they land. You really have to pace yourself, knowing when to strike and when to resist the temptation, to come away unscathed. The more you play, the more familiar you become with animations and patterns to help you block better and get in a few sucker punches now and then. Garner better gear and you’ll organically witness your playstyle evolve to become far more aggressive. Until You Fall is a game that really rewards careful study and dedication.
The sum of these many parts is a remarkable, if complex and sometimes overwhelming battle system. It straddles a line between early VR melee design and more physics-driven combat, filling in for realism with an arcade edge. When an enemy’s health bar is exposed, slashing in the indicated direction builds a deadly combo, for example.
It’s a real curiosity, even if it’s really just an elaborate means of circumventing the current limitations of the tech. That said, there are some really quite brilliant innovations that do speak more to the physical side. Heavier weapons for example, will lag ever so slightly behind the player’s own movements, making them a poor choice for defensive play. Lining them up in time to block attacks it’s practically impossible, meaning your other hand will be working overtime on blocking but, when the enemy’s exposed, you can deliver some real damage.
In fact, Until You Fall’s varied arsenal really does encourage various playstyles and experimentation to get the most out of its combat relative to your capabilities. The combination of swords, knives, maces and more each have different properties both active and passive that let you find something that works for you. I’ve ended up favoring a sort of Wolverine-esque gauntlet along with a rapier, not because the former weapon is effective in battle but because its passive stats boost my health and its special move gives me space when enemies bunch up. Plus I find it incredibly challenging to coordinate blocking with both hands, so I rely on my nimble sword alone which, when at full health, deals increased damage. Then I could even choose to sacrifice some of my health in exchange for more power mid-run. There’s a huge amount of possible setups here.
But mental dexterity is also must to master dual-wielding. So much so in fact that I wish there was a slot to upgrade my brain in the game’s hub world (no one tell Facebook I said that).
Sometimes the odds are stacked too far against you for anything to really matter, though, like when multiple enemies fight you at once. Their presence on screen makes it almost impossible to see some attack indicators in time, leading to some cheap hits that frustrate a promising run. One mid-game enemy fires projectiles that need to be parried, but finding the right technique is incredibly difficult and can bring you right back to the start in seconds.
It also stings when a swipe just a few degrees off from the intended direction doesn’t land properly – if you’re swinging a sword with all your might in VR and it hits an opponent on their exposed side, why wouldn’t it do the maximum amount of damage? At least the existence of three difficulty modes — including an extra brutal hard mode that requires near superhuman reactions and plenty of play space — gives you some degree of control there.
You could also spend a lot of the early hours of Until You Fall building up a fortune for long-term gains. Once you clear any area, you’ll be presented with one of three upgrade options, a little like the transition between levels in Downwell. Sometimes this could be more health points or incremental upgrades to stats and weapon supers. But, until you’re confident you can make it pretty far in a single run, you’re best to keep grabbing additional money. It gives the game a bit of a senseless grind, taking on runs for the sole purpose of money over progression.
But that’s sort of the point with this genre, and it also means you’ll get plenty of playtime out of Until You Fall. Even on the Normal difficulty, it’s taken me at least five hours to get halfway through the dungeon and, once you’ve conquered that, you could revisit the dungeon in hard Mode with your upgrades intact but bosses restored for an extra challenge.
Until You Fall Review Final Impressions
Until You Fall is nothing less than a pitch-perfect breakdown of the best rougelike games, reassembled with VR in mind. The genre’s staple elements feel wholly refreshed by swapping out fast fingers for realistic movements, and the foundation of upgradable gear, new weapons and different loadouts encourages you to return again and again. Its combat system has some unfortunate quirks and I would have liked to see more elements rooted in reality, but as an addictive arcade treat you’ll find hard to put down, Until You Fall stands a cut above the competition.