Maybe I didn’t give the original Vertigo enough credit.
I remember playing it in the midst of a Christmas break, belly full from a diet of Superhot, thinking VR was only going to get better from here on out. In comparison, Zulubo Productions’ low-fi take on Half-Life VR seemed like an earnest beginning outweighed by lofty ambition. It had a keen sense of humor and enjoyable action, but its level design was often confusing and its production values fell understandably short.
Nearly three years on and all that remains true. But you’d also be hard-pressed to find many VR games with even half the determination and desire to deliver that Vertigo had. It was a real underdog.
Even with those managed expectations in check, Vertigo 2’s 30 minute demo blew me away.
This still has the heart of the original very much intact. Or should I say the Valve? Vertigo 2 has you navigating an enormous scientific research facility, fighting off teleporting aliens with an assortment of weird weaponry. In its intro you’re taxied around its various sectors, witnessing its inner machinations from afar. One of your companions is a white-haired scientist and another is a sassy floating AI orb named Harris.
By the time you reach the weapon range, you’ve already predicted the impending crowbar gag.
But, whereas the original’s scruffy edges kept it squarely in the ‘wannabe’ category, Vertigo 2 appears to move the needle over that line and then some. I was taken aback by just how polished this sequel appears to be, from the animated, fully-voiced characters to the epic scenery and refined sense of humor.
Much of what you can play now is focused on story, which is one of Vertigo 2’s more interesting aspects. Its plot may be a little nonsensical but the constant presence of virtual characters made me feel involved in the world in a way few other VR games have. At one point Harris leads you through several rooms in the facility and I felt like I was really there, strolling alongside him and nodding along to everything he was saying.
That’s my real takeaway from the demo, but there are promising signs of things to come too. Vertigo 2’s weapons are finely tuned for interesting VR gunplay rather than simple point-and-click shootouts. A shotgun needs pumping after every squeeze of the trigger, while a slow-firing, laser-sighted pistol strikes the right balance between power and patience. In one mountain top shootout, I started switching between the two on the fly depending on my proximity to the target in question. There aren’t many VR shooters in which you bother to switch weapons that often.
There are still some areas to smooth out, though. While firefights with armed robots are thrilling, some of the enemy alien types are less inspiring. The scripted arrivals of twisted creatures with hands for heads often falls flat. Vertigo 2 is often going for laughs over scares, but these encounters could be injected with just a little threat. That said I’ve rarely been more creeped out in VR than when I killed one alien only to be showered in maggots.
It’s just a taste of what’s to come, but this demo really upped my anticipation for Vertigo 2. Played right, this could be much more than a flattering imitation of Half-Life in VR. The game’s not out until 2020 so there’s plenty of time for some added polish along with whatever surprises Zulubo has in store.