It’s safe to say that I didn’t think we’d be here six months ago. After Vader Immortal’s stunning first episode, I’d braced for a lengthy, agonizing wait for its final two installments. Months of silence, long delays, more wrinkles growing on my skin; that sort of thing. These types of experiences have a tendency to go that way. Ask Valve.
And yet I just watched the credits roll on the last part of ILMxLAB’s very own Star Wars saga. Episode III is a welcome step up from the stumbles of the second installment though, ironically, I’d have been happy to wait a while longer if it resulted in something of grander scope.
Having spent two episodes flexing its narrative muscles, the final moments of Vader Immortal are rightly all about the pay-off. Much of the tiresome exposition is pushed aside in favor of a climactic assault of Vader’s castle. The story isn’t without its new ideas, like commanding a droid army with the point of your lightsaber. It’s another winning example of the kind of accessible, intuitive interactions ILMxLAB has been in search of on this journey; the kind of moments that make this an experience for anyone, not just gamers, and it’s entirely welcome.
That said, ideas like these are only touched upon briefly as if the developer fears you may break the shroud of illusion with over-exposure. You are, understandably, kept at arm’s length at all times; you never join the masses in a movie-worthy firefight, for example, and one encounter with a series antagonist is resolved not by yourself but by simply doing nothing, chained to the spot while you watch your droid enjoy the action. Lean a little too hard on the set and it’s clear it risks falling over.
For all those inelegant stumbles though, Vader Immortal: Episode III offers up a glorious slice of immersive VR action, too. Fully kitted out with force powers and your lightsaber, a stunning setpiece atop catwalks and control rooms shows the series at its most thrilling. With the training wheels off, ILMxLAB finally provides the cinematic combat sandbox Star Wars fans have been pining after. Throwing Stormtroopers around with the force, seizing their own blasters and deflecting incoming fire with lightsabers; it’s all here and feels fantastic.
This builds, of course, to the showdown with Vader, a moment we’ve all been looking forward to not just since the beginning of this series but arguably when we first put on a VR headset. It’s here you hope the developer really lets the leash off, filtering all of its learnings into what should be one of the most powerful VR experiences to date.
Unfortunately, it never quite materializes. The showdown is brief (saber-to-saber fighting lasts less than 40 seconds) and somewhat clunky, falling into the same familiar game design tropes as Episode II’s final battle. For all its triumphs in storytelling, Vader Immortal doesn’t know when to shut up and let you do your thing. I longed for the elative encounters of, say, Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, a game that lets players instill their own sense of drama and pacing into every fight. Conversely, Vader Immortal has a script to get through when you wish it would just leave you be.
Perhaps its fitting to round out three episodes like this, watching Vader Immortal struggle to toe the line between immersion, interaction and authenticity. It’s a battle that has been at the heart of this series throughout. You end up appreciative that you’ve had the opportunity, though painfully aware you’re just scratching the surface of what VR and Star Wars could and should do together in the years to come.
As with previous episodes though, the Lightsaber Dojo is here to make up for any of the story’s combat shortcomings. Though the finesse of the first Dojo’s saber-only combat gradually wanes as you complete your transition into force wielding Terminator, there’s still nothing quite as viciously enjoyable as this wave-based extra. The additions to the mode this time are wonderful surprises, even if they’re hectic in execution.
Star Wars: Vader Immortal Episode III Review Final Verdict
A mostly welcome ending to a mostly excellent series, then. Vader Immortal’s ambition has occasionally outstretched its capabilities, and, even for a two-hour adventure, its pacing hasn’t always been on point. But Episode III offers the best of the series’ combat, some of its most memorable high points and a relieving lack of its lowest. As far as the concluding part of Star Wars trilogies go, that’s a very good spot to be in.
Final Score: 4/5 Stars | Really Good
This review was conducted on a Rift S playing the Oculus Home PC version of the game. You can read more about the new five-star scoring policy here.