Zulubo Productions’ VR debut gets a tune-up, but should you revisit this campaign four years on? Find out in our Vertigo Remastered review!
There’s a bit in Vertigo Remastered when you board a tram. It pulls away from the station, ready to ferry you to the next section of Plank Industries, a sort of multiversal prison currently experiencing a ‘this is fine’ fire emergency of robot coups and alien outbreaks, the latter of which you are a part.
The track stretches out in front of you but the tram suddenly veers off to the left, firing you down a rollercoaster path of steep climbs and plunges before you arrive, dizzied and frazzled, at your next destination. It perfectly encapsulates what Vertigo is, a tribute to and parody of a series it’s so clearly in love with, taking most of Half-Life’s staple features off in similar tangents throughout.
Crucially, though, Vertigo Remastered stands on its own two feet once removed from the lens of Gordon Freeman.
‘Remastered’ is actually a bit of an odd way to sell this one. It’s more of an expanded remix; yes there are some updated environments and visuals, but Zulubo Productions — almost entirely manned single-handedly by the 19-year-old Zach Tsiakalis-Brown — has also gone back to flesh out the story, refine mechanics, add in new segments and give the experience a lot more context in building towards the upcoming Vertigo 2. Some ideas have been trimmed, too, resulting in a package that’s still of similar size to the original.
The roots of its humble beginnings are still very much apparent, but Vertigo Remastered makes for a great single-player romp all the same. A physics pass gives its combat a bit more Boneworks-y heft, with an electric rod that batters hovering, smiley-faced drones with satisfying weight and guns that require precise control to fire and accessible interaction to maintain. A late-game machine gun first proves to be an unwieldy beast until you discover that, by simply sliding a switch forward, it transforms into a powerful sniper rifle. Though the game is surprisingly difficult — even as you advance through the new upgrades system — that solid core of Star Wars-style laser deflections and meaty shooting keep it fun to play through repeated attempts. There’s a VR-first philosophy here that plenty of others could learn from.
Perhaps the most important design element lifted from the book of Valve, though, is pacing. In fact, Vertigo Remastered joyfully hops from one idea to the next so often, it sometimes feels more Half-Life than even Alyx, at least in spirit. A string of walkway-hopping battles high above a giant venue tells you where the game got its name from, and later on, the experience plays with scale in some really entertaining ways. An incredible soundtrack, that echoes the energetic pump of Black Mesa’s most hectic scenes to the point of pure nostalgia, also helps hammer home that atmosphere.
That’s occasionally true in execution, too. A frantic cat and mouse game between yourself and an oversized oil monster named Frank is brilliantly inventive, getting to you climb ladders to avoid tsunamis of black goo as you hop between floating platforms. It’s exciting and coherent in a way that other VR setpieces often struggle to establish, even if its production values are a fraction of those in other titles. Not every such sequence is a hit, like a protracted underground bug battle or some cumbersome underwater navigation, but there is at least always something weird and wonderful to see. It’s a properly surreal exploration of VR in some truly strange ways.
For all those exciting highs, though, Vertigo remains more of a snackable, lighthearted campaign than an epic adventure on the scale of its inspirations. Its campaign is a breezy treat, partly down to how short it is (it’ll probably take between three to five hours depending on your difficulty). Sometimes you wish it would slow down a little and explore a few more of its concepts; like a hand-operated mine cart that could be used for some great cover-based battles but never gets the chance.
There’s a mounting sense, as you play, that much of this is laying the foundations for what’s to come; something confirmed by the game’s cliffhanger ending and, I would add, the slightly more grandiose scale of last year’s Vertigo 2 demo. Never was I ever once bored by it, but at the same time there were many moments I wanted to see pushed further.
Vertigo Remastered Review Final Impressions
Make no mistake, then, Vertigo Remastered is still very much a 2016 VR game at its core, even with an impressive number of new bells and whistles. But there’s a beating heart at the center of this always-entertaining campaign that fuels not only some brilliant, affectionate parody of Valve’s beloved series, but also its own string of thoughtfully-designed concepts that would fit right at home in it too. It’s Half-Lite which, for a game that wants to celebrate a series’ cultural impact as much as echo its philosophies, is high praise.
Vertigo Remastered is available on PC VR headsets via Steam from July 21st for $24.99, or free if you own the original game. For more on how we arrived at this score, read our review guidelines. Agree with our Vertigo Remastered review? Let us know in the comments below!