Welcome to the second installment of Going on an Oculus Quest, a series which covers the Oculus Quest standalone VR headset. If you’re interested in a more in-depth review of the headset itself along with setting it up, check out part 1 by clicking here.
In its original reveal trailer of the Oculus Quest, Oculus took a few shots at the Nintendo Switch making it clear that they see the Quest as a video game console competitor. While we’ve discussed that the device itself is pretty neat but not without quirks, even the nicest VR headset would be worthless without a good library of games. Thus, it’s time to dive into the Oculus Quest’s library with a look at Vader Immortal.
(As a quick programming note, last time I mentioned I’d be looking at numerous titles in this part. However, I figured it’s easier to both read and write it by tackling one game at a time so impressions of Journey of the Gods and Robo Recall Unplugged will have to wait for another day)
Vader Immortal: Episode I
Amount Played: Completed Main Story, Replayed opening scenes a couple times, played about 15 rounds of the Lightsaber Dojo
Vader Immortal serves as probably the headset’s most well-known title ahead of launch due to the power of the Star Wars brand. The Quest is being geared towards people who haven’t really tried VR before, and Vader Immortal largely targets that same audience by providing more of an experience than a game. While there are game elements in the main story, there doesn’t really seem to be any way to die or fail at any point. The main goal is to put you into the Star Wars world for a bit while in the safety of your own home, not to put your skills to the test.
Vader Immortal’s main story puts you in the shoes of an unnamed smuggler who ends up being forced by the Empire to land on Mustafar at Darth Vader’s direction. Without spoiling too much (at least, nothing that hasn’t been shown in the trailers), you come face to face with Vader, do some sneaking around, and end up with a lightsaber. The experience lasts somewhere between 45 minutes and an hour making it a brief affair and the relative lack of clear cuts between most scenes seems to imply it’s meant to be done in a single go.
It’s clear that the developers really figured this first episode would coast by on story, being in the Star Wars universe, and the thrill of meeting Vader. While it’ll likely be a mind-blowing experience for VR first-timers, if you’re a veteran of VR, there’s likely nothing you haven’t already done here in terms of actual gameplay and your level of enjoyment will depend entirely on how much you like Star Wars. While you do get to use the lightsaber in a few action set pieces, most of the experience is moving around, listening to people talk to you, and doing very simple puzzles by fiddling with devices. I don’t mean to completely belittle it by saying this: one of my favorite VR experiences, Lone Echo on the Oculus Rift, contains a similar level of non-gameplay content. I just mean you should set your expectations accordingly.
As for the story, I found it to be a mixed bag. The actual plot so far is fairly interesting although I guessed Vader’s motivation for his actions here just by reading the title of the game. Scenes are staged well: the build up to your first meeting with Vader is given proper weight, the reveal of Vader’s Castle feels appropriately grand, and the initial presentation of your lightsaber is neat. Core story elements are told in an entertaining way and it’s clear that this is the first act of a larger story that I want to see more of.
However, my biggest problem with the story is your droid partner, ZOE3, voiced by Maya Rudolph. I found many of her jokes fell extremely flat and a lot of times it felt like she was reading her lines for the first time and nobody bothered to call a second take. Since she’s alongside you for quite a lot of this first episode, I felt it lessened the tone of the experience greatly.
As far as the Quest version is concerned, the graphics mostly look great for a mobile device. There are a few textures that look very compressed and some low poly TIE fighters in the background of some scenes, but characters and environments look very good. Performance is also mostly great: I did encounter a few frame drops here and there but for the most part it was stable which for a mobile device rendering this level of graphics is impressive (...most impressive). However, while using the Quest’s recording feature there were far more frame rate issues. I haven’t noticed this problem with other Quest titles.
Due to the way the scenes are rendered, it is not a full roomscale experience: you’ll receive a warning to return to the center of your play space if you wander too far even if you don’t reach the Guardian. Speaking of which, the Quest’s Guardian is currently overly sensitive to fast movement meaning it triggers frequently when swinging your lightsaber even if your hand doesn’t even come close to hitting the edge of your playspace.
As mentioned in my last article, dark scenes in this game make light leakage coming through the nose of the headset super noticeable so it’s best that you play in a dimly lit area. As for audio, while character voices and sound effects sound great even when not using headphones, the orchestral soundtrack definitely sounds like it’s coming from small speakers when using the on-board audio solution.
In addition to the main story, there’s also the lightsaber dojo where you’ll go up against training droids in a series of combat challenges. It’s here that Vader Immortal switches from experience to game. Unlike story mode, you can actually fail here if you take too much damage and droids attack from every angle keeping you on your toes. The mode plays very well to the strength of the Quest’s tetherless solution: even fairly early on, droids attack in quick secession from opposite directions requiring quick spins, something that’s a lot easier to do when you’re not worried about getting tangled up in wires. Hearing the audio clearly is a must as the positional audio is your biggest queue on where the next attack is coming from. It’s worth noting, however, that when using the headset speakers it can be difficult to tell whether sound is coming from directly in front of or behind you during intense moments. It’s a fun diversion worth playing for a few rounds here and there although I don’t think it’s compelling enough to stick it out to see every single round.
Overall, I think Vader Immortal is a pretty good package. I was less blown away as a VR veteran than I would have been had this been my first rodeo, but the production quality was good enough to sustain my interest and it’s nice that they included the lightsaber dojo so that the fun saber mechanics got some use in a mode with actual challenge. However, I can’t say I wouldn’t have rather had an actual Star Wars game, but perhaps the series will evolve in that direction as it goes along and can no longer rely on the new-ness of the headset and VR to wow users.
Update 6/21/19 - Since this is part of the day’s selection of TAY articles on Kotaku, I should note that since the writing of this article, Vader Immortal is now available on the Rift and Rift S.