Archangel review code for PlayStation VR was provided by the publisher.
Being quite new to the virtual reality scene, all the games of a rather short list have had me stricken with shock and awe in some form or another. It’s the feeling that reality is still around you but yet this projection is taking over.
The early moments with Archangel walk you on that line between “I’m wearing a headset and this is neat” and “I think this kid really IS my kid.” In fact, the opening sequence has you as either the father or mother of a young boy on your way to the beginning of the coolest bring-your-child-to-work day.
First is the train ride. Then it’s the reveal to your son that you’re taking him to work. Then your mech comes into view, and the scale of the game begins to show itself. The age-old adage “knee high to a grasshopper” came to mind as I loomed up at the archangel; in reality, you stand about ankle height or so.
This introduction does a superb job of indicating scale of the world around you. This is especially true once you are lifted up the back of Archangel and hoisted into the cockpit. All around you lies a HUD and the visible parts of the mech jetting out around you. I did take quite a few minutes exploring the innards of the cockpit as well as the hangar itself, taken by the fact that I could look around and see all parts of the world around me.
Again, VR is rather new to me, so these early moments could have been more emphatic for me than they may be for you. However, the development between you and your son is quite real, and it does a fantastic job of creating a significant relationship. What’s unfortunate about this is that there’s very little time spent with it once actual gameplay takes over, due to circumstances I won’t divulge here.
Either way, you as a parent driven to defeat the perpetrators that assaulted your compound and your family. This very notion becomes the driving force of your character, and all in all your character becomes rather unidimensional. There are little snippets and flashbacks that give further emphasis on your familial situation, but these moments are isolated and sporadic and don’t really add to the complete package past the opening moments.
As I detailed before, the scale is quite vast in the early moments, but once you’re locked into the mech, the game’s rail-shooter nature takes the foreground and the focus becomes aiming, defending, and shooting as the enemies come at you.
In your arsenal, you have a shield on each arm, a machine gun on your right, and various missile launchers on your left; as you progress, you unlock either basic explosive missiles with greater damage or lock-on missiles with lesser damage. The tactic is to defend on one or both sides with your shield while dealing damage when it’s safe to lower defenses. It’s not as simple as holding up your shields either, because they are limited to short bursts of energy and must be maintained, because holding them until extinguished will leave you defenseless for a spell. There is strategy to combat, but it’s far from deep.
Also, depending on enemy positioning, you may have to use both shields no matter what. Sometimes, even, enemies are in such strange places that both shields fail to protect you from damage. Considering the game is based on a rail with very little input on where you go, it’s frustrating to be bottlenecked into taking unnecessary damage.
As a new VR player, it was welcoming to discover that Archangel could be played with either the Move controllers or the DualShock 4. Both options work quite well, because the game does not ask a great deal of you outside of coordinating defenses and dealing damage to waves of enemies.
Still, there is no comparison when playing with Move controllers, because you are allowed to freely control both arms rather than having to coordinate with joysticks and moving the entire controller to one point. Having the ability to aim two arms differently feels more organic. However, as before, the lack of real depth keeps the game from feeling like a compelling shooter no matter how you play it.
Visually, I was gutted. The opening moments had me expecting something wholeheartedly more complete than I got by the end. Character models of you and your son were vivid, and even supporting roles and the Archangel itself all displayed a ton of detail and equal amounts of personality. However, by the time gameplay kicked in, everything hits the rails and loses its uniqueness, instead choosing to keep things safe and mundane.
The only times in combat when I saw actual people were when they appeared on my HUD. This was another setback, since graphical fidelity and even lip syncing was something akin to bad dubbing in the early PS2 days. Then it came down to mediocre, unrealized effects. Enemy movement holds little urgency, and explosions were isolated and uninspired. In fact, on multiple occasions, major ships exploded and shot out massive chunks of debris, which then just fell to the ground with no impact and muffled sounds that seemed almost tacked on at the end of development.
All in all, Archangel comes down to being a concept with a lot of potential that fails to meet the marks it set for itself. It had everything it needed in the beginning to be something special, but the gameplay hits a stutter-stride that it couldn’t recover from, as the uninspired aspects of it soon take hold.
I’ll never forget how excited I was in the early moments of Archangel as I took my digital son to work, and I’ll never forget that the same game that gave me such a wonderful memory let me down so badly the rest of the way. Archangel plays well enough, but it lacks the heart that it showed us one time before the game’s true colors take over.