PlayStation VR has the potential to the lynchpin for innovative gameplay evolution, but many companies developing in the VR space tend to stick to tried and true genres and mechanics. For example, wave shooters work well in VR, so there are now dozens of wave shooters that have popped up in the PlayStation Store. But when a game does something truly new and innovative, and that new mechanic turns out to be actual fun, attention should be paid.
Arca’s Path Takes Some Serious Chances
Arca’s Path, developed by Dream Reality Interactive and published by Rebellion, could have been a total disaster. There is real danger for a company thinking this far out of the box in an industry that often balks at new things.
But by taking a known – but relatively ignored – gameplay mechanic and adding an extremely polished and responsive new control scheme, Dream Reality and Rebellion are delivering a title that feels wholly fresh and innovative.
You Control Arca’s Path With Your Head. YOUR HEAD!
I recently compared Arca’s Path to Marble Madness, but that comparison was inaccurate. Arca’s Path is much more akin to Super Monkey Ball, in that players are tasked with rolling a ball from point A to point B along a path littered with obstacles. The twist? You control the ball in Arca’s Path with your head.
That’s right. The controller is your head, people. And this wild scheme works with such a level of precision that I can’t imagine going back to a controller for a game of this style. Everything from gameplay to menu navigation is handled by directing your gaze. Controllers are only used minimally for pausing and such. Other games have dipped a toe into these hands-free waters, but Arca’s Path jumps into the deep end with abandon.
Players control a little rolling ball (strongly resembling a 20-sided die) with a cursor on the ground. As you shift your gaze, the cursor moves, and the ball follows along with the cursor. The further from the ball the cursor gets, the faster the ball goes.
There are several different smart UI cues to help players move the ball with precision. The cursor changes in appearance, swelling and contracting in conjunction with distance from the ball to help indicate how much torque the player is giving. There is also a satisfying little whirring sound that ramps up as the ball gains velocity.
The ball reacts dynamically to the physics of its surroundings. It takes more velocity to pull the ball up an incline, for example. And if you let the ball get away from you on a downhill run, you will find yourself back at a checkpoint in the blink of an eye. The controls are precise, and as such, they demand precision.
I can’t express how intuitive and successful this method of control is. There were points where my motions were so minute and the control over the ball was so tight that I felt as though I was controlling Arca’s Path with my mind.
You could literally strap this thing to the head of a non-gamer and tell them nothing whatsoever about how to play, and within minutes they would be zipping about the opening levels, giggling like kids.
Arca’s Visuals Are Simple – But Engaging.
Of course, new VR players will probably fall victim to one of the Arca’s Path’s primary tricks, and that is the promotion of the constant desire to look around at stuff. Arca’s Path, while somewhat lacking in the detail department, still manages to bewitch players with a dynamically shifting playfield and a brilliant color palate. This is a game that is not done justice in screen shots. Arca must be seen in action to get the full effect.
With a visual style that I can only describe as “techno-origami”, Arca’s Path unfolds the track in front of players as they roll forward, never tipping its hand and giving too much hint as to where they are heading. Of course, the game provides a button press to allow players to pause the action and freely look around, but that involves using the Dual Shock, so I considered it to be cheating.
Other Dr. Seuss-ian scenery unfolds into the mix, keeping the game popping with motion and color as the player progresses though the 25 diverse levels. Flowers and plants unfold as you approach, and abstract shapes and blocks float and swirl in the space around the player.
Things are not all meadows and light, however. As the story takes some darker turns, the visuals become deeper and more ominous, reflecting the change of mood.
A Brief But Effective Story
The story – outlined without dialogue in an appealing comic-panel art style involves a young lady (Arca, I’m guessing) that seems to live on some sort of awful Thor Ragnarök garbage planet. Arca comes across a kindly older woman and discovers a VR-style face mask, giving her control of the ball/track situation. a With a story this lightly sketched, spoilers are not a major concern. But let’s just say that things are not all as they seem.
The story segments are nicely done, but the star of the show is the ball-rolling gameplay. The simple act of rolling the ball across the screen gives a certain undefinable pleasure, and that feeling doesn’t fade as Arca’s Path progresses.
Most of the game is smooth sailing with a gradual ramping of the skills needed to progress, but there are a few sudden spikes in difficulty (I’m looking at you, level 17. You and me. Outside. Three o’clock.)
Even so, the game is wise enough to toss players a bone after completing a difficult challenge, allowing them to take a lap on some easier content before plunging them back into the tougher stuff. With a little patience, nothing in Arca’s Path is insurmountable.
Put Your Patience To A Test – But In A Good Way
In fact’ Arca’s Path is the most pleasant test of patience I’ve experienced in quite some time. The phrase “test of patience” might have some negative connotations, but I’m using the phrase in the most positive and complimentary way possible.
Every action in Arca’s Path must be measured, and players will find themselves constantly reeling in their speed-demon urges. The quickest way to send your little ball-friend tumbling from the path is to indulge your impulse to go whizzing down a hill, or rush to jump a ramp without taking the proper time to line up your angle and approach. Every time I died, it was my own fault for trying to get ahead of myself and take a shortcut.
As Arca’s Path progresses, guard rails come off of the sides of the path, and the game throws various tricks at the player to overcome. By the end of the last level, I was astounded by the degree of control I had achieved during my time. It turns out that using your head is not only a viable control scheme, I found it to be far more precise than using a thumb stick.
Pathways are dotted with occasional crystals. When all crystals for a particular level are collected, that level becomes available for a time trial run – offering the Arca’s Path a modicum of replayability. But I found the simple act of collecting crystals to be a reward in itself – a fun not-to-difficult layer added to the gameplay that had me retrying levels just for the joy of it.
There is frankly no way I would have replayed levels – let along playing through to the end of Arca’s Path – if the game used a standard control method. Games like this drive me nuts. I find their wobbly and loose gameplay to be interminable. But with Arca’s revolutionary hands-free control scheme, I found the gameplay to be refreshing and delightful.
There are many ways that Arca’s Path could have gone flying off the rails. With a primary gameplay mechanic that demands precision, anything less than perfect control would have resulted in this game being declared a fiasco.
The slightest tracking issues would render this game unplayable. Instead, the interface is rock-solid, polished to a glowing sheen. There is not a trace of the graphical flicker that one sometimes finds when dealing with motion controllers in VR.
Arca’s Path is a title that should be hailed for throwing off the shackles of the Move Controllers and the DualShock 4. This is a game that goes for broke with something entirely original – and pulls it off with stellar results. Arca’s Path can be enjoyed by young and old, and might be accessible to gamers that have dexterity or motion difficulties.
There is a difference between “accessible” and “easy”. Arca’s Path walks that line with ease, creating a challenging but fun dynamic that I recommend to gamers of all stripes. We play games to gain new experiences, and I guarantee that you have never experienced anything like Arca’s Path.