In Death (PSVR) Review05/12/2018
I love my PSVR headset, it’s allowed me to walk around spooky houses, become a sadistic doctor, overlook the adventures of a brave mouse, and even fend off hordes of Dinosaurs, Zombies, Robots, and Monsters. A genre which I’ve only had a great experience with so far is the Roguelike genre with the amazing The Persistence. As such, I was very excited and intrigued to see what Sólfar Studios‘ In Death could bring to the table.
So, after charging up my move controllers, ensuring there is enough power in my headphones, and freeing up a decent amount of space around me, I donned my headset and entered the medieval world of In Death…
In Death ‘may’ be a title you overlook or miss out on due to its lack of solid structure – or at least the structure this game deserves. It’s a procedurally generated Roguelike game in which you grab a bow as you fend off seemingly infinite hordes of Crusaders, Monks, and undead beings. If that sounds familiar, you’re probably trying to liken it to the many stationary first-person horde games we have on the PSVR platform.
The main difference here is that you’re not stationary! Utilising one of two movement methods, or a combination of them both, you have free reign of the entire floating ruins as you cautiously, and hastily, roam around in search of your next prey. Well, until you get hit six times and die – thus restarting the cycle.
My biggest complaint regarding the game is the fact that it’s ONLY a procedurally generated roguelike game – hear me out. Every playthrough is different, the enemies spawn randomly, and the difficulty adjusts based on how much you play – these are all great things – but there isn’t a story or exposition holding everything together. I would have loved a story, regardless of how corny or simple it was, just so I knew I had a purpose and what my ultimate goal was. As it is, I feel like I’m Rambo who’s entered heaven which has become over-run by evil spirits which I must destroy for God. So, kind of like a vermin exterminator for the All Mighty.
Let’s step back for a moment and take a look at what In Death does perfectly – it’s mechanics! We’ve had a few games within VR which have utilised the bow and arrow mechanic with great results. Games such as Apex Construct and Raw Data, these are both brilliant games which I highly recommend but In Death feels a little more precise with its physics and motions. Not only do you have the bow though, but you can also unlock the Crossbow which is far more accurate and powerful at the expense of reload speed and being slightly more cumbersome.
You’ll not only be using standard arrows in In Death either. You can purchase and find enhanced arrows such as ones which freeze your enemies or set them on fire. Your standard arrows are infinite but the special ones have a limited number before they run out. However, you do find them quite regularly and the shop does pop up every now and again for you to spend all your cash in.
As you’ll be receiving a barrage of arrows heading straight for your face, as well as horrific beings jumping at you and knights trying to slice you up, you come equipt with a shield. The shield is awesome, for a shield. One press of the left-hand controller and you have an instant shield with is great for stopping those pesky arrows from ruining your day! However, your best defence is to either move manually or run away to a safe spot – which brings me nicely onto the…
In Death allows you to either use the Move Controllers or the DS4 in terms of getting about and killing your foes. Personally, I love using the Move Controllers, so they’re my preference here, but everything you can do with them, you can also do with the DS4, only without the realistic accuracy. You have the choice of teleportation, free-move, or a mixture of the both, so let’s look at that…
By far the easiest and most common transportation method which will be used. With the default setup, you can throw ‘shards’ with your Right Hand, these are basically shards of glass which shatter upon impact and teleport you to their shattered location. It’s a neat effect and one I’ve not seen before – think of it as a teleportation arc, like we usually see, only you throw it! Not only that, you can fire a teleportation arrow from either device by loading it with the ‘Move Button’ rather than the standard button. This works the same way – wherever the arrow lands, you appear. Arrows can go further and even cause damage to your opponents.
Free movement is a lot easier on the DS4 as the analogue sticks work as you’d imagine, on the move controllers though… It’s not bad, but it’s a bit slow. You hold the Move Button to move forward (slowly), in either the direction you’re looking or the direction your weapon is pointing (which is a cool option as we don’t usually have a choice), and Cross moves you backwards. Square and Triangle turn you left or right either in increments or smooth at your desired speed. However, whilst using free-move, you still have access to all the teleportation methods above, for quick movements and dodges.
IRL move your ass!
When starting up the game, you’re asked if you’re playing seated or standing. I play VR games seated due to issues with my back, but the game will most likely be a lot better if you’re standing. Why? Because you can duck, dodge, sidestep, and Matrix-style avoid oncoming attacks by moving around your play area. Whilst seating I was able to avoid many arrows by moving a bit to the left or right in real life as it also moves your hitbox so the arrows shoot past your face.
So, however you wish to play the game, it’s very customisable and you can use various things together. If you want teleportation but free turning – fine. If you want free movement but incremental turning because the free one is making you sick – no problem. Don’t forget as well that regardless of your choices, you can also move yourself IRL in order to dodge things without using your shield – it all works really well.
Disclaimer – I love the Crossbow, it’s the best weapon by far and it’s a lot more accurate, you just have to reload with your other hand a lot and it gets a bit fiddly. My main complaint with the device is when you’re in teleportation mode. The button on the Move Controller to throw a teleportation shard is the same to fire an arrow. So, if you’ve cocked an arrow into the Crossbow, you can’t throw a shard until you fire it. This wouldn’t be bad, but there are limited use arrows you can find and purchase, so it means wasting an arrow sometimes.
I did find out, eventually, that you can grab the Crossbow with your other hand and hold it with two hands, like the Shotgun in Raw Data. This turns the arrow into a teleportation arrow and doesn’t waste your limited use one. However, that wasn’t explained and it’s very picky regarding if it’s going to work. I would have prefered a button to unload your Crossbow. With the Bow and Arrow, you just slowly pull away and the arrow is unloaded.
Rewards and Punishments
I was really impressed with how In Death adapts to your playstyle and offers a decent amount of challenge based on your skills and progression. Whereas games like The Persistence kind of has a locked difficulty per floor, so even though it’s randomly generated, the first floor will always be easier than the second, and that the third etc… In Death bumps up the difficulty based on your progress. So, how does it work? You’re presented with a bunch of in-game achievements (not to be confused with the Trophies) which, upon completion, unlocks certain benefits or disadvantages which can’t be undone.
For example, one of the benefits I unlocked was the choice to use either the Crossbow or the Bow and Arrow on my adventure, another grants me a 100% damage bonus with the first arrow I shoot after getting hurt. However, The game likes to mess with you as some ‘achievements’ unlock harder classes of enemies. That’s right, as you work your way through the game, you’ll start to encounter enemies with shields, better accuracy and more health.
I really enjoyed this mechanic as it kept the game fresh, gradually bumped up the difficulty, and it even added new arrow types and things to look out for on my next run. The Catalyst Arrows are simply the best! They throw the enemies all over the place with their massive explosions!
The one thing all of the PSVR Roguelike games have in common, and even a lot of the other standard adventure games like Apex Construct is that they are single player only. They may have a mode specifically for challenges or a leaderboard, but there is no actual 1v1 multiplayer. In Death doesn’t change this either!
In terms of playing against another human, there are two features I just mentioned which makes an appearance. As you work your way through a ‘run’, you will collectively accumulate points for each kill you get, the gold you pick up, and items you find. This score is placed on the worldwide leaderboard for you to stare at and wonder how the hell someone got the score in first place!
However, there is a challenge mode placed within In Death as well. This consists of two players being placed in the same ‘seed’ (procedurally generated level). The goal is to accumulate the most points as you both venture through the same cursed ruins and fend off the same creatures but in your own instance. This reminds me a little of Hitman 2‘s Ghost mode, only without the set targets and time limits.
Additionally, you can set your game into ‘demo mode’ if you wish – which is a great option. It allows your friends to jump into your game, at your house and with your headset, and try out the game. The difference between demo and live is that your friend’s progression isn’t recorded – so they can’t jump into your save and unlock harder enemies or new weapons if they are in Demo Mode. I thought this was cool as you only have the single save slot per account, so it saves setting up a new PSN Profile for them to have a go and not disrupt your own achievements.
In Death is an amazing PSVR game, both in terms of its mechanics and audio-visually. As stated above, the physics seem spot on and once you’re used to aiming the Bow or Crossbow, you’ll be shooting the enemies in their ‘nether-regions’ or taking out all the knights by shooting them in their kneecaps. Well, that’s what I was doing anyway! visually, the game looks great in VR – you can see the enemies quite far back with little blur and no ghosting at all. In a game like this, that’s crucial.
When you see the enemies up close, they aren’t scary or threatening, but they can shock you. I shot a teleportation arrow by mistake and as I turned around in my new location, there was one right in my face! I may have screamed…
In regards to the sound design, there is very little in terms of music. Every now and again, there will be monks chanting, which is quite cool and really sets the mood, but the majority of the time will be eerie silence with the odd groan here and there. Again, that’s crucial in this game, just like The Persistence, as you need to be able to hear where the enemies are as you can’t see around corners – unless you peek in real life. As such, I’m happy with the lack of music which is replaced by ambient noises and the groans of your potential prey.
In Death is a must-have PSVR game which fans of FPS, Roguelike or Archery should own. The physics and mechanics of the weapons are perfect, the addictiveness of each playthrough is engaging, and the progression system is both unique and well thought out. The shooting mechanics do take a little getting used to if you’ve not played bow-based games before, but you’ll be aiming like a pro before long.
The downsides – no story and the movement when holding the Crossbow is fiddly. That’s all that I would class as being negative – In Death is mechanically perfect for me, I just hope it’s the core basis for a much bigger and richer experience in the future.
- Really good mechanics with the bow and physics
- Lots of replayability as the game adds new things the more you progress
- The eerie atmospheric sounds more than makes up for the absence of music
- Challenge mode to face off against other humans as well as an online leaderboard
- You can kill enemies by shooting them in their crotch!
- The Crossbow is great, yet fiddly when in teleportation mode
- No story or exposition to explain why you're here and what you're doing
- No Aim controller support - I feel this game would benefit from having it, especially with the Crossbow