Be The Giant Robot You Want To See In The World
HIGH Endearing characters and a great sci-fi yarn…
LOW …that I kinda wish was playable without VR.
WTF Doc Julie’s hands!
One great thing about trying Virtual Reality titles is finding the moments when what I call “VR Magic” happens. These are the instances when VR immersion hits maximum and the sense of playing a game fades away to be replaced by a brief, vivid impression of a seemingly real world conjured by the technology.
The first such “VR Magic” moment happened quite early in the campaign of Japan-based studio MyDearest’s latest release, Altdeus: Beyond Chronos, a VR-exclusive sci-fi visual novel. It happened as I took aim at an approaching alien, one so large it blotted out the horizon. Encouraged by the songs of an angel standing on what felt like my actual shoulder, I assembled a cannon the size of an airport runway and unleashed hell.
Altdeus is the second entry in its series, following Tokyo Chronos. That said, one wouldn’t know it from playing — the setting and premise are different enough that the commonality feels more about branding than continuity.
Taking place in the 23rd century, Altdeus puts players in an underground settlement, years after mysterious aliens called the Meteora have devastated the Earth’s surface. Humanity cowers in a massive city-size bunker, relying on the bioengineered super-soldiers of Prometheus to defend them from further Meteora attacks. Prometheus accomplishes its mission by way of the Makhia, massive skyscraper-sized battle robots.
Players wear the headset to enter the mind of Lieutenant Chloe, the pilot of the Makhia “Alto”. An ace gunner, Chloe is set on revenge against the Meteora for eating her dearest friend Coco, and will stop at nothing to get it — but when a Meteora appears that looks exactly like the now-dead Coco, Chloe starts to question what she fights for, and what’s actually going on behind the scenes.
“Behind the scenes” takes something of a literal aura in Altdeus. Trapped underground, the human refugees use a ubiquitious and advanced form of Augmented Reality (AR) technology to keep their surroundings livable. Every citizen is equipped with ocular implants that layer virtual scenery and information into their field of view, allowing them to “see” information about everything around them. This AR also provides Noa, an AI-driven assistant that helps Chloe drive her Makhia. She’s the “angel” I mentioned earlier, and she also happens to be the city’s resident pop star, a fusion of Hatsune Miku and Sharon Apple.
This is where the second bit of “VR Magic” I encountered occurred. Annoyed by Noa’s pointed questions, Chloe decides to shut her out by progressively deactivating her ocular implants. First, Noa becomes invisible, and then the ads around the bustling Tokyo-like plaza we were speaking in faded out. Then the trees went, followed by most of the architecture, leaving Chloe seeing the world as it really was — a series of featureless, colorless spaces that resembled nothing so much as the “Whiteboxes” that are the basic building blocks of 3D level design. It’s a great scene, and a very clever use of VR’s inherent immersion to demonstrate the story’s sci-fi chops while selling the reality of Altdeus‘ world to the player, a feat that can’t quite be accomplished by its relatively simple character models.
Altdeus spins an entertaining sci-fi story, heavily tinged with emotional intensity and overtones of a cool mecha anime series. As a visual novel, Chloe’s adventure mainly consists of reading text and listening to voiced lines while moving through different locations. Free movement isn’t really possible, and players will navigate Altdeus‘ spaces by going back and forth between various hotspots. Character interaction is also somewhat limited compared to more cinematic VR titles like Blood & Truth. Characters typically arrange themselves in tableau, moving little as they utter their lines and stiffly transition into different poses.
Makhia battles don’t offer much beyond this same basic level of engagement. Though Altdeus puts players in the cockpit of a massive machine, this is no Mechwarrior 5 or RIGS: Mechanized Combat League. The fighting flows according to the story’s dictates, and at their core, they’re glorified quick-time events using the PSVR’s motion controllers to operate the Makhia’s weapons.
As a visual novel, Altdeus facilitates choices (to an extent) and allows Chloe to choose answers that can influence the path of the story. The AR interface shows how a given choice might affect certain factors, but remains vague as to how they’ll play out. Players will need to repeat the four-to-five hour campaign a few times while making different choices to experience the full breadth of the plot, but a constellation-like path system makes it a bit easier to organize one’s runs and check for missing story paths, though.
While Altdeus was an enjoyable experience and easily a contender for one of the best narrative games to be found in VR, I did encounter some issues related to its implementation on PlayStation VR.
Originally designed for Oculus-based systems, Atldeus‘ interactive portions occasionally run up against the limits of Sony’s less-capable hardware. The PSVR has always had particular trouble dealing with players turning around, as the hardware’s light-based positional tracking isn’t as precise as other systems. Unfortunately, many scenes in Altdeus invite players to look in all directions, and on more than one occasion, the headset tracking freaked out while trying to look at something.
It’s also worth pointing out that experiencing a visual novel-like story in a VR headset can be quite tiring. VR works best with short sessions, and while Altdeus is many hours shorter than a typical visual novel, it’s on the long side for a VR game, especially one that demands this much reading. It was during one of these longer sessions that I wished the game wasn’t VR-exclusive, so I could continue experiencing it in a less physically-demanding way.
Those issues aside, Altdeus: Beyond Chronos is a narrative experience that shouldn’t be missed. MyDearest has made the best case yet for proving that visual novels can work in VR, and it’s strong enough to compete with more traditional non-VR entries in the genre as well. This is one giant robot you’ll want to get into.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by MyDearest, Inc. It is currently available for PC via Oculus and Steam VR and PS4 via PSVR. This copy of the game is based on retail build provided by the publisher and reviewed on PS4 via PSVR (VR is required for play). Approximately 13 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode. There is no multiplayer mode. The game was completed.
Parents: This game is rated T by the ESRB, for Blood, Partial Nudity and Violence. If I wrote it, a description might read something like “This is a virtual reality adventure game in which players take control of an artificially enhanced soldier fighting a war against aliens in the future. Players will interact with fellow cast members, reading and listening to dialog and watching scenes play out around them. There is combat in the game, though it is displayed through the perspective of piloting a giant robot. Characters curse, threaten each other, and occasionally threaten the player directly, moving into close quarters with a weapon drawn.
Colorblind Modes: The game has no colorblind modes.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All voiced dialogue is accompanied by subtitles. There are no text size or presentation options. Some audio cues do not have a visual indicator and can occur behind the player, but these are not essential for gameplay. This title is partially accessible.
Remappable Controls: This game’s button controls are not remappable.