Frank He gets his hands on Insomniac’s third virtual reality title for the Oculus Rift, and finds an unusual mix of adventuring and vibrant VR brawling.
Feral Rites by Insomniac is said to be an adventure-brawler VR game, taking place on an exotic tribal island filled with mysticism. You play the role of a character, who you can choose to be male or female, that as a child had to escape the island he or she was born on, because the peaceful chieftain of the tribe, the character’s father, was murdered. Now, you as the child grown up, are back on the island seeking vengeance.
You adventure through the jungle, the ruins, and other areas to uncover the truth of your father’s death, while fighting off the enemy tribe and exploring different side quests and activities. All of this is done in 3rd person, with the ability to dish out various attacks and combos, but also with the special ability to transform into a feral beast and tear up your foes. At E3, this game was available for people to play for the first time, and here are my impressions of it.
My demo session was around 10 minutes long, and I was able to play a part of a mission, or quest, in the game. With that said, 10 minutes was not nearly enough time for the whole mission, and I didn’t even get to play in beast form, but I could at least get a sense for where they were heading. In general, the gameplay felt fleshed out and polished. The combat was tight and varied. You could make light and heavy attacks, throw enemies into the air and at pointy-hurty things in the environment, dodge, block, and string together different combos. Although you don’t use weapons, your character does have armor which can be found and upgraded throughout. That leads to the next thing.
While it isn’t open world in this game, the map is supposed to be pretty big for a VR title, with different areas and branching paths to explore. And that fits with the feature of quests, which may play into armor upgrades as you progress.
I spoke with Marcus Smith, the Creative Director of Feral Rites, on a prior occasion about the game and the demo being shown at E3. When I played, I was able to bring up a mini-map of the local area, and I could see that it had several sections stringed together with different places to go and choose from, but according to Smith, it was limited in order to give efficient demos. Of course, what I experienced was essentially just a tutorial easing you into the gameplay, and so for that, they didn’t want to confuse the player by giving them too much freedom. In the full game, it should be obviously bigger. In addition, Smith described the length of his game to be similar to that of Chronos, another VR title: “we’re in that range.” Depending on the player, Chronos was around 10-14 hours.
And speaking of Chronos, another similarity is the camera system. While it isn’t completely identical to the way Chronos does it, the cameras, or your viewpoints in Feral Rites, are placed in stationary, set positions in the world. This ensures no motion sickness, and the possibility to get artistic with camera placement, like was done in Chronos. In the demo, I could see that some cameras were indeed placed in spots that were both scenic, and taking advantage of the unique depth and stereo 3D perception provided by VR. For instance, in the starting area, you’re floating near vegetation which you can lean in and get close to, while just ahead is a more open clearing where your character walks. In many other places, there are great particle effects all throughout at different depths, again, giving that sense of 3D perception quite easily.
The art style and graphics, too, even while unrealistic, was well done and looked beautiful in the headset. The vibrant colors and lighting definitely contributed to the atmosphere of exotic tribes and magic.
Yet, this camera system might still need a tiny bit more tweaking and polish, at least from the way it worked in the demo. As I played, the mechanics of moving between areas and the transitions from camera to camera were serviceable and didn’t get in the way of my experience the majority of the time. The only exception was when I was in the middle of fighting an enemy. At one point, after a transition to a new camera, it became confusing as to where my character and the enemy was in relation to my own position, so I had to readjust for a moment.
From my playtime, this seemed actually like a relatively rare situation. Most of the time, the way fights are handled is that you and your enemies get locked into the area, creating a sort of arena. But sometimes you fight something and the game doesn’t lock you into an area. It happened when I was fighting against a black panther which appeared in the jungle. Perhaps less important fights like these were by design chosen not to limit you and keep you from progressing. In any case, things could still change, pretty easily, and it’s only a minor annoyance that doesn’t happen too often anyway.
After playing the demo, I could, similar to Chronos, imagine that it would still be a fun game without VR, and that it could work well on traditional monitors, mechanically speaking. Some would argue that this is a waste for VR. However, in my opinion, Feral Rites is still a good addition that’s worth the time, because it avoids gimmickry by using VR’s strengths to its advantage, using VR’s immersive strengths to enhance atmosphere and pull you in to the setting.
For me, my time with Feral Rites at E3 shows that Insomniac seem to have most of the fundamentals of the game locked down, and if they add more enemies to fight, more challenges to tackle, a deep story, and not too much repetition, it could prove be a VR game truly worth being excited for. Of course, that’s easier said than done, but we’ll see this Fall, when the game is set to release exclusively for the Oculus Rift.