Review: Downward Spiral – Horus Station

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Developer: 3rd Eye Studios
Publisher: 3rd Eye Studio
Platform: PC(Steam), PS4
Price: $19,99 USD
Release Date: May 31th, 2018 (Steam) / September 18th, 2018 (PS4)
Virtual Reality Compatibility:: HTC, Oculus, Windows Mixed Reality, PSVR

Space Station exploration games are among the most popular among VR gamers. For developers, it is a very convenient setting to work with. No long distances, no complicated physics, and freedom to experiment with unorthodox movement control systems. Horus Station approaches this challenge with an interesting proposal: what if we made players move around the scenario by grabbing and pushing away from the walls?

For this review, I have played through the game twice using a regular PS4 Slim(not a PS4Pro). The first time with a regular DualShock 4 Controller, and the second using two Playstation Move Controllers. All screenshots were taken with the built-in Share Button function. Screenshots and Videos made on PSVR are captures of the TV Screen feed, which is called the Social View. In other words, it’s what other people see on the TV, not images from inside the PSVR lenses(images from the lenses are stereoscopic, but you can’t capture these easily). As with any other VR game, flatscreen representations don’t do it proper justice, so don’t mind if it looks jagged or blurry from pictures, it actually looks great once you’re inside.

Story

You’re not told anything at the start of the game. You begin inside a control room with terminals and monitors giving a vague suggestion that you should to go out and repair the station. There are a few prompts within the first chapter that explain the controls, but for the most part, you’re on your own. Horus Station’s narrative is mostly non-verbal, and the only time you see might words are from monitors. There are maps spread out around the station that inform you of where you are and how to go places.

In the developer commentary videos, developers claimed that the story is purposely made to be cryptic, with each player being left to make their own theories based on their personal interpretation. Furthermore, they also propose players replay the game at least once to figure out the story.

Gameplay

With so much being left to your imagination, the gameplay had to be solid. Fortunately, Horus Station turned out to be one of the better games I’ve played on my PSVR to date. Even though it was originally developed for PC peripherals, the gameplay translated perfectly onto the PS Moves. The game is playable on a regular DS4 as well.

At the very beginning of the game, you have nothing on your person and must move by grabbing and pushing. Within the headset, you can see your hands being tracked by the movement controller. When you hand touches a surface or a ledge, you can grab it. You can then push and release it, which will fling you in the opposite direction. You can also move by using both hands, each grabbing a difference surface, and then pull yourself. This is useful for climbing ladders and going through hatches.

The DS4 controls are not as intuitive but manageable. The game gives a vague guide of how to move using the thumbsticks but it takes a few minutes to actually get it down. You need to push the stick towards the surface and then release, which flings you in the opposite direction.

A few minutes into Horus Station, the game will give you an accessory to help you move around. A grappling hook, useful not just for pulling yourself into walls, but also for pulling objects towards yourself. About halfway into the game, a second accessory that gives you a one directional boost becomes available as well.

At the start of the game you are prompted about whether or not you want to face enemies, and how strong and vicious their attacks should be. Enemy drones are fought by shooting them with “guns” you find throughout the game, which are all actually just repurposed tools. They go down easily enough but at the highest difficulty they can easily kill you with a single strike.

There are multiple doors throughout the game which you cannot access. These doors are the places you will respawn from in the event of death. Certain paths you might find will seem like dead ends but are in fact respawn areas. Playing at the highest difficulty, I died several dozen times during the first playthrough but thankfully respawning is quick and painless, with no rollbacks.

Horus Station will surprise you with attacks when you least expect them. The game is not above spawning enemies inside corridors and rooms that you have already previously explored, so beware walking straight into a bunch of robots. There is also a giant enemy inside the central hub that will appear at the start of the game but can only be defeated at the end, forcing you to evade its attacks to move past it.

Lastly, the game is based around coop play as well. Certain challenges throughout the game will change during coop mode, forcing both players to work simultaneously to get through obstacles. Online versus multiplayer is also available, if you are lucky enough to find someone else to play with.

Sound

As you’d expect from a space game, it’s mostly silence the majority of the time. Music will play during important segments and certain combat scenes too but most of time sound direction will rely entirely on sound effects. Much of the narrative is told by means of sound, more than I realized until I replayed the game after watching the developer commentary.

Downsides

The first thing you do in the game is to calibrate the brightness. I was shown an image and asked to lower brightness until I could no longer see the object. I did as the game suggested but it turned out that this made the game so dark that I could barely see anything. The player character does not have a light source, which made it nearly impossible to navigate larger rooms. I was forced to adjust the settings and make it brighter. Not really an issue from a practical perspective but it makes me wonder if the developers wanted me to float blind as a bat or if the lighting was skewed during the port to PSVR.

By the time I reached endgame my brain was full of questions. You will find some really weird stuff inside the station, some of which makes no real sense, and certain phenomenons happen that make it even more crazy. I expected some sort of resolution to these questions but, alas, I was just told to figure out the rest on my own. I’m okay when games leave certain plot points up to speculation but not a huge fan when everything is left to imagination

Overall

Horus Station is a gem. It’s got that experimental feeling that most of these VR games give off, but at the same time it’s extremely well polished and executed. It looks great, performs great, sounds great, has replayability, gives you the flexibility to play with a regular controller(even if it’s not optimal), and had commendable direction and level design. The catalogue of VR games has grown to the point that we can find amazing little hidden gems such as Horus Station that manage to fly under the radar. Despite only scoring 65 on Metacritic, I feel the game deserves better than that.

Developer commentary as bonus content

As a small bonus that not many people care about, but I personally enjoy, Horus Station has built-in commentary by the game developers. You can view these videos from the main menu. Listening to the developer’s perspective gave me valuable insight for writing this review and I’d personally love if more games cared about bonus content.

Downward Spiral – Horus Station

Downward Spiral - Horus Station

7.9

Final Grade

8/10

    Pros

    • Unique, creative controls
    • Great sound design
    • Coop play
    • Many gameplay options
    • Comfort settings can be disabled

    Cons

    • Versus Multiplayer lack people
    • Open ending