Feral Rites is a third-person VR adventure-brawler from Insomniac Games released for the Oculus Rift. Set on a mystical island, you play as a beefed-out warrior trying to avenge your father’s death by kicking, punching and slashing everyone in your way.


Feral Rites Details:

Official Site
Developer:
 Insomniac Games
Publisher: Oculus Studios
Available On: Oculus Home (Rift)
Reviewed On: Oculus Rift
Release Date: September 13th, 2016


Gameplay

At the beginning of the game, you’re introduced to Bokor, a powerful shaman from your tribe who leads you on your way to avenge your father’s death, an act perpetrated by the evil Sombro. Blinded with rage and taunted by Sombro along the way, you tear through each sector of the island, killing everyone with your newly acquired beast powers, which lets you turn into a slow and hulking man-jaguar—the tank of the game—or an actual jaguar that is faster at (but has no combat abilities) moving and auto-smashing the world’s inexplicable surplus of terracotta vases.

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slashing an enemy in beast form

Much like Insomniac’s Spyro the Dragon or Ratchet and Clank series, Feral Rites is jam-packed with collectibles of all sorts spread out through the game’s maze-like map. Raw material for armor upgrades, gold, journals, and talismans used to increase the number of moves you can do, are to be found in every nook and cranny of the complex map set out before you.

feral-rights-menu

With multiple temples in a single level, it’s easy to get lost, which is probably why the developers included a ‘spirit sense’ mechanic that lets you find the most direct route to your objective by tracing a temporary line to wherever it is you need to go. While this is arguably better than quest markers or mini-maps, which can spoil the fun of real exploration, I (predictably) ended up abusing it. Since there’s no penalty for using the mechanic to your heart’s content, it personally became a part of the game’s natural flow, where I would enter an area with a fork, pound the ‘spirit sense’ button, and go on my merry way. In terms of real exploration, your mileage may very depending on how much you use (or abuse) the ability.

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So maybe exploration isn’t your thing anyway and you just want to smash some shit up? Feral Rites has you covered.

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Combat is high-energy, visceral and extremely gratifying in Feral Rites, featuring a large enough array of moves to make fighting any of the world’s dozen-or-so bad guys an interesting and challenging affair. You can’t just tank through fights and button mash your way to success, because your beast form can only take so many hits before you’re turned back into a human; your human form, while agile, deals less damage to your foes—making the game’s combat system a real study in balance. You can change the game’s difficulty level at any time though, even in the middle of a fight, which increases bad guy skill and HP, and decreases the chances of getting a power up in one of the aforementioned vases that litter the game world.

My two favorite moves were throwing bad guys off high cliffs and throwing bad guys into piranha-infested streams (I really liked throwing guys)—two moves that are worth a relatively meager hazard bonus on your constantly building combo meter, but really effective at eliminating high numbers of baddies.

Puzzles are on the easy side, but hey, this is an adventure-brawler and not an adventure puzzler like Obduction.

Immersion

Like Insomniac’s Edge of Nowhere (2016), your third-person point of view makes you essentially a floating security camera that automatically switches positions as you control your character below. This sort of fixed-point teleportation isn’t really jarring because you can anticipate the camera switch pretty reliably, an event triggered by your character crossing a blue line in any given area of the map.

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‘spirit sense’ activated, heading for a new area

So what does VR add to a decidedly traditional game like Feral Rites? A few things actually, the most important being the grandiosity of seeing it all in virtual reality.

The game’s Aztec-inspired scenery is vast and megalithic, something only a VR headset can correctly translate to the viewer. If you can resist using the ‘spirit sense’ ability and really take your time, you’ll be able to appreciate some of the most well-made environments currently available to VR headsets. Perched over a seemingly infinite drop, you can really get the sense of vertigo, even if you’re an invisible set of eyeballs in the sky.

To help you appreciate and take in the scenery, the developers added a unique rune-searching system so that every once in a while you can stop in your tracks and search for a rune symbol hidden somewhere in the scenery. When you find it, you’re given a little reward of coins for your effort, and you also get a chance to better scope out your surroundings.

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Your shaman guide, Bokor

One of my least favorite things about Feral Rites is that the storyline relies heavily on narrator-driven cut scenes; that and the helpful, if not incessant, image of your mysterious shaman buddy Bokor constantly appearing out of nowhere to tell you what to do. These are both (un)necessary evils to push the narrative forward, but dammit if it just doesn’t feel so gamey when you play it in a VR headset. Maybe it’s trying to hearken back to an earlier age, but the storyline was just too simplistic and just too obvious for me to really be engaged. Then again, it may be that I’ve grown out of these sorts of games, but I desperately want a game that feels more clever than me. I had to slog through it to get to combat, which proved to be much more engaging.

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Something that often takes a backseat to the story is the soundtrack, an intensely cool mix of chill hiphop vibes when exploring (something like Samurai Champloo), and a much more arcade-like drum and bass track when in fights.

Comfort

Third-person games with a fixed POV like Feral Rites are always supremely comfortable simply because they don’t have any stomach-churning artificial locomotion to contend with.

It’s no surprise Oculus is pushing games like this on their platform, which up until Oculus Touch launches later this year, makes playing a game in a Rift necessarily a seated experience. That said, using the gamepad and sitting down is a familiar way to game, and scenery is usually splayed out in a comfortable, forward-facing way so you don’t have to swivel too much.

I can’t always play VR games for long, but this time I had a full day to beat it from beginning to end. Topping out at 10 hours for me personally, I can attest that Feral Rites is just as comfortable as you would expect it to be.

Conclusion

Feral Rites proves to be a fairly fun, well-balanced brawler that offers around 10 hours of gameplay if you follow the story alone. Collectibles are everywhere, giving you extra incentive to explore the entire island, which is a massive and beautiful place worth more than a cursory glance. The storyline is predictable and dialogue feels wooden however, and relies heavily on cut scenes and helpful narrators to push things forward, making it much less interesting than we would have hoped.


exemplar-2We partnered with AVA Direct to create the Exemplar 2 Ultimate, our high-end VR hardware reference point against which we perform our tests and reviews. Exemplar 2 is designed to push virtual reality experiences above and beyond what’s possible with systems built to lesser recommended VR specifications.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Overall
6.5

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  • Bryan Ischo

    “That said, using the gamepad and sitting down is a familiar way to game,
    and scenery is usually splayed out in a comfortable, forward-facing way
    so you don’t have to swivel too much.”

    Sit down and look straight ahead. Just like Oculus wants you to. Yawn.

    • Steve Dennis

      Until like, next month. Jesus.

      • Bryan Ischo

        Oculus will continue to encourage 180 degree games. They’ve said so many times. They will also continue to encourage sitting games, I am sure, in order to not alienate those customers who bought the incomplete solution. Christ.

        • Nashoba Darkwolf

          And they also pushed for 360 games too… Please research before spreading more misinformation.

          • Bryan Ischo

            I have researched. It’s well known that Oculus will be encouraging 180 degree experiences due to the mechanics of their tracking system. It will be impractical for users to place a camera in an opposite corner of the room due to extra cabling requirements. Certainly doable; but since Oculus is not providing the cabling for that solution, you can’t call it officially supported.

            Oculus has also stated many times that they will be focusing on 180 degree experiences. I believe they have given developers guidance on that if I recall correctly.

  • MasterElwood

    Nothing wrong with “Sitting down and looking straight ahead” if it fits the game!

    You dont need swirl-mania for EVERY game…

    • Beran

      Waiting for touch..