We take a look at Stormland, a recent exclusive for the Oculus Rift headset. After borrowing a Rift, going through the lenghty setup process ended up being well worth our time.
Stormland was developed by Insomniac Games, whose Playstation games (including Ratchet & Clank, Resistance and the more recent Spider-Man) have been so good that we’ve been a little jealous of Rift-owning gamers for a while now. They’ve developed a number of memorable titles for the headset, including Edge of Nowhere, Feral Rites and The Unspoken. With none of these appearing on other headsets, it was time to borrow a Rift so that Stormland wouldn’t pass us by as well.
Certainly an ambitious title, Stormland is a story-driven adventure that takes place in an open world. It’s also relatively fast-paced for a VR title, with a ton of action spread across a seven hour campaign (which is of course short for an open world game, but fine for a VR take on one in my book). Stormland trims down the traditional open world experience by keeping you outside of lengthy conversations and engaged with the action as much as possible, and a lot of time is spent traversing the game’s large open environments – running, climbing and ziplining as you go along.
The game features a sci-fi setting, where you take on the role of a robot with a ton of immersive control options. You can’t quite jump and run in place, but using the Oculus touch controllers you can not only grab objects and use your weapons – you can also perform two-handed tasks or even rip off one of your arms if the situation calls for it (and yes, some situations do call for it). As you upgrade your body and your abilities, new ways to traverse Stormland and take on enemies also become available to you.
What’s also extremely neat is how in-game menus are handled by the game – as Insomniac’s transported them to a display that’s mounted on your metal skeleton’s hands. You even have the ability to project them into the game area around you, which makes for a great visual effect that makes good use of the headset’s ability to deliver a sense of scale.
The world in Stormland is large, but not as diverse as I would have liked. It’s a world spread across different islands, divided not by water but by clouds. The speed at which you traverse the world gives you little time to gaze at its finer details though, as your protagonist is quick on his metal feet. This makes Stormland a game best suited to more experienced VR players who have a high tolerance for games with rapid and changing movement speeds and directions.
The high speed of movement works well to “hide” one of Stormland’s weaker aspects in plain sight. Unlike Edge of Tomorrow, which I still think looks gorgeous, this game’s environments don’t feel as diverse or detailed as they could have. My guess is that this is part of the price that the developers had to pay to get such a large world running at an acceptable rate in VR, but it’s a noticeable trade-off assuming that is indeed the reason.
There’s a lot of freedom of movement to make up for that though, so much so that at times it felt like it’s a game that breaks one of the traditional barriers for VR – because even games like that feature a lot of physical movement (like Sprint Vector) have an on-rails feel to them where you’re following a pre-defined course (albeit with tons of alternate routes to tackle) Stormland feels liberating in that sense, allowing you to go nearly anywhere the eye can see.
Combat with other robots can be avoided if you take the stealthy approach (or are great at getting away quickly), but it’s so well implemented that I rarely ducked out of a fight myself. You can throw explosives, use gunplay (sometimes with two guns wielded at one time) or lay down an ambush. It’s fun to experiment with this, because the (side) missions you are given don’t really dictate a singular way to complete them. It’ll actually help your enjoyment of Stormland as well, because it’s open nature can also lead to players taking a ‘rinse and repeat’ approach to how they tackle missions – which I had happen initially before I decided to get a little more creative.
Stormland supports online multiplayer, but we weren’t able to set up a game with other Rift users to see how that would turn out. The game feels like it’s mainly a single player campaign though, even with the ability to tackle its challenges with other players. I’d love to see it evolve into something more, but I’m afraid that (with Sony’s acquisition of Insomniac we might not see that in the shape of a Stormland franchise). Nevertheless, this is another strong exclusive for the Rift – one that should make the Oculus Link release even more interesting than it already was.