Among the opening salvo of PlayStation VR titles, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood bears the most similarity to the prototypical motion-control game. “On-rails shooter” might bristle fans of PS4’s sleeper horror hit or conjure memories of a genre maligned for having slim content and low replayability. But in the same breath, “on-rails” makes innate sense for a VR title. I worry that VR will struggle under the weight of so many control options and possibilities–Move wands? DualShock 4? Neither? How will developers solve the challenge of player movement, and how much movement will they allow? The easiest answer is, ‘None,’ but while Until Dawn: Rush of Blood restricts your perspective to a mine cart, it manages to evoke tension while empowering you to fight back against the horrific creatures we’re used to running away from.
As a fan of the original game, I loved its meaningful choices and cinematic action. When I first saw Rush of Blood debuted at Paris Games Week, I was skeptical it could deliver a worthy spin-off, let alone a game with the same tone as the original. After my demo, I can confirm that at least two of Until Dawn’s trademarks, namely jump scares and strange psychological terror, have survived the transition to Rush of Blood’s rollercoaster. The narrative is heading in the right direction, too. Sony wouldn’t tell me the main character of Rush of Blood, but they did confirm that the game’s theme is one particular character’s descent into madness. All it took was one look down, at my avatar’s body and clothes, to confirm who I was playing as.
Gameplay, of course, is where the similarities end. There’s no two ways about it: Rush of Blood is a fundamentally different game than Until Dawn. From what I can tell, you’ll have little to no control over the narrative and the minute-to-minute action. Instead, it’s about surviving the ride. You’re strapped into a seat, faced with that anxious suspense where you know something is going to happen–imminently–but you don’t know what, or from where it’s going to strike.
Supermassive Games is part of the way toward nailing that feeling. Graphically, Rush of Blood is a step down from other PlayStation VR games I played (odd, given the original game’s technical achievement). Muddy textures here and there, combined with a less lifelike art direction, were enough to break the illusion periodically and prevent the game’s horror from doing its work. But in other moments, like when a spotlight illuminated a group of mannequins, my intense attention was drawn to that spot and dread creeped as I awaited what would happen next.
Rush of Blood also made me feel constrained and anxious. In tight spaces, as the cart slowed to a crawl, I had the faintest suffocating feeling as metal spikes and wooden beams came within inches of my face. The feeling of presence granted by VR really helped sell those claustrophobic spaces, and I expect Supermassive will make frequent use of these even as it oscillates between different horror themes throughout the game.
For all the moments designed to scare you, there are just as many combat shootouts where you make use of two weapons–a gun in each hand–to fend off attackers. My demo, which started outdoors in a dark, wintry forest, only asked me to dodge overhanging logs at first. I ducked left and right to avoid taking damage from these oncoming obstacles. Before long, I was rocketing down into a tight mineshaft. In here, I could put my virtual reality gunplay to the test. My demo involved holding a Move wand in each hand, held aloft so that, in my resting position, the Move wands resembled makeshift guns. Inside the world of the game, they were something like 9mm pistols, and as I articulated my real hands and arms, the in-game hands and arms followed suit. With each gun’s flashlight beam serving as a loose aiming reticle, I could aim independently, cross my left arm under my right to support my aim, or–if I needed to concentrate on precise shots–use just one gun so I wouldn’t have to worry about firing and reloading two. It’s a simple manner to reload (flicking a wrist will do it), but I was surprised at just how taxing it can be to handle two guns when a game allows such a range of motion.
That freedom was exciting. Leaning back into a relaxed sitting posture, extending my arms, and unloading into rushing enemies made me feel like an action-film badass. As ghoul-like women would drop from the ceiling, or as mannequins would come to life and strike, I tried to keep my cool in the heat of the moment. Successful kills and headshots, as well as striking bonus targets and collectibles hidden along the track, rack up a high score and multiplier. But there’s also health and ammo to worry about, as well as weapon pick-ups to help turn the odds against enemies with more health. Before long, I had a sawn-off shotgun in my right hand and an Uzi in my left, and I had to wrestle with different clip sizes simultaneously.
Unfortunately, the gunplay’s polish leaves a lot to be desired. Hit detection seemed wonky, and there was practically no visual feedback that I was successfully hitting an enemy. They rarely staggered or showed signs of damage as they rushed me, and it seemed impossible for me to prevent taking hits from later foes who could soak up plenty of bullets. It was also difficult to track my own ammo and health, as the HUD was incorporated into my rollercoaster cart, below my view of the track ahead.
My demo ended with a boss fight of sorts. A giant, fleshy, beating heart revealed itself behind a door up ahead, and after several shots of gunfire, the door closed to allow waves of enemies the chance to strike. I also had to fend off a swarm of crows to get the heart to reappear so I could deal more damage. After a few openings, the heart stopped beating and slumped to the ground.
The demo took me about about 10 minutes to complete, and it represents just one section of one of the game’s chapters. There will only be a handful of chapters in the final game, but branching points along the tracks will allow you to experience different frights on a second playthrough. I wasn’t able to choose my paths in the demo, but I recognized the branch points as well as spots where the tracks reconvene. I don’t expect these will have any meaningful impact on Rush of Blood’s story, but at the very least, they’re a fun nod to the choice-based gameplay that made Until Dawn special.
You shouldn’t expect any more than nods to Until Dawn in the game proper. Ostensibly, Rush of Blood is in the same genre as its forebear, but the way horror is conveyed on a rollercoaster ride is entirely different than via film tropes and exploration. In place of psychological terror, you’ve got on-rails suspense and the knowledge that something horrific will attack you; if not at this moment, then the next. And with a host of weapons and free articulation, you can fight back against the terrors. As powerful as that can feel, the gunplay is hampered by poor feedback, and visual quirks can take you out of the moment. Some light narrative potential is there for Rush of Blood to offer perspective on the events of the main game, and the presence felt within PlayStation VR helps sell certain fears, like claustrophobia, in ways a traditional game can’t. At this point, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood needs to commit to the traditional game elements that help balance the horror ride. With more polished gunplay and graphics, and better visual feedback, Rush of Blood could debut as a well-rounded package and an early highlight of the PlayStation VR release window.