Seeking Dawn (2018) is a sci-fi first-person shooter which puts you in the boots of a space marine who’s assigned to carry out a search and rescue mission on a mysterious alien planet. Including a single player campaign, and online co-op which lets you and your friends or strangers team up, Seeking Dawn promises a full-feature game with multiple hours of gameplay, however this results in only just enough incentive to keep you hunting around for that last uranium rock to spend on that OP rocket launcher you’ve had your eye on.
Seeking Dawn Details:
Note to the reader (July 11th, 2018): I wasn’t able to get into an online match during my time with Seeking Dawn, so I’ll be posting an update once the game goes live and multiplayer servers are up and running.
As a soldier of the First Centauri Republic (FCR), you’re after the missing Major Walker and his team who were sent to the alien planet to find what promises to be a powerful key to put an end to the ongoing war with the Alpha Centauri Commonwealth (ACC), a new nemesis in the 24th century universe of expanding human influence over the stars. The story is your standard sci-fi shooter fare, so don’t expect much more than a SyFy ‘B’ movie script and voice talent. While it can be cringey at times, it’s mostly an innocuous pretense to the alien-ganking action.
Like a jack of all trades, Seeking Dawn carries with it a longer than usual list of features for VR games currently: single player and online multiplayer co-op, resource gathering, weapon & equipment crafting, base construction, and survival elements that require you to stay properly fed, watered and full of appropriate ammo types throughout the game.
Shooting is a simple experience. All guns have a projected aiming reticle that requires no need for lining up the sights and aiming down the barrel. All guns are single-handed, so you can choose to go dual auto-pistols, or even dual rocket launchers if you have the material. Simply grip to reload, or wait for the last spent cartridge to exit the gun.
Basic crafting materials are found in a number of ways; everything you destroy drops something valuable to the overall goal of building guns, armor, mini construction factories, ammo – everything has its price. Enemies drop meat, and crafting items like collagen which are used in construction. Trees, which you explode with your handy Woodchucker, give a few types of wood and health-restoring berries. Dedicated mineral deposits, which you can explode with your Excabreaker, give out a number of minerals that are important to crafting guns and other non-lethal tools. Your Woodchucker and Excabreaker are invaluable, as you use them up the very end of the game to harvest resources.
That said, there are no tech trees, or upgrade systems—what you see is what you get, and you’ll predictably abandon about half of the 5-6 total guns as you encounter more powerful enemies like high-level ACC soldiers. In the later quarter of the game, I found myself using the rocket launcher almost exclusively, as it provides infinite ammo and does around 400 HP damage; this felt a bit cheaty, as I would launch a barrage of rockets at a wall where I suspected enemies to be, and hit points would magically register. For a game that boasts crafting as a big feature, I was expecting a lot more variability in that department. Once you get the hang of clearing an area of minerals and trees, crafting really just becomes a timed hurdle to obtaining any specific weapon (eg: a big boss is coming up, and surprise surprise, I see my first deposit of uranium – something required for a level item.)
In short, weapon and tool crafting is fun to begin with, but soon becomes a dull chore with expected rewards handed down at important intervals in the game, making it essentially a monolithic loot chest with tedious extra steps in between.
To manage all of your weapons and tools on the go, you’re given what I consider a basically good and functional inventory system. A button press brings up a ring with a limited number of slots, and by selecting the weapon or health item, you equip it in either your left or right hand to be used. Because of how often you use the Woodchucker and Excabreaker though, I would have much rather preferred a hotbutton to quickly switch between guns and tools for quicker harvesting and battle readiness. A larger inventory, which is best consulted when out of harm’s way, lets you swap out items into your quick inventory.
Enemies are varied enough to keep things interesting. Regular enemies include flying bug-types, massive tanks, fast tiger-like aliens, hopping scavengers, and ACC soldiers of various abilities. While you can count the number of bosses on two or three fingers, they always prove to be extremely tough—which when compared to the crappy little baddies running around, make for a clear ramping of difficulty. To beat the mid-game boss, I struggled for over an hour to scavenge wood to create enough bullets to take him down. Only near the end did I feel like the difficulty plateaued to an even pace.
The game includes a single prefabricated base, and that’s where the part of the game forces you to throw some resources at building turrets during specific times (no random attacks). But even skimping on turrets and using my own two hands proved to be a fairly simple.
Like with crafting, this is a moment when I wish the feature set could really lived up to my expectations instead of being a couple of wave-based defense missions. I wanted to build out my base and have to worry about defending them from savage alien beasts, but instead I was given a voice over prompt from my omnipresent Captain Coleman for the games few base defense missions.
My personal gameplay time was 11 hours, which is about half as long as the studio says it should take. I’ll admit I was using the fastest possible way to get from point A to point B: walking at max speed with automatic running, which I’ll talk about in the Comfort section below.
Immersion is a bit of a mixed bag in Seeking Dawn.
Every once in a while you’re treated to real moments of awe, as you round a bend and find yourself staring at an enormous mushroom swarming with neon jellyfish, or what I can only describe as a skyscraper-sized alien Brontosaurus who curiously casts a look in your direction from what seems like a mile away. There are a few giant baddies out there too that will have you fearing the long trudge back to the start of the level if you forgot to set a teleporter node. The set pieces and level design are definitely highlights in Seeking Dawn.
The game’s visuals are certainly a cut above many, but I do have a few healthy niggles. Smaller geometry like plants and ammo boxes pop in after only a short radius, and faraway textures can look muddy at times even on high settings (low is decidedly much more messy). Several times I’ve wandered into a level to find it barren of enemies, only to hear the drumming beat of the fight music piped into my ears as creatures pop out of nowhere. This only puts a slight damper on the overall effect: a varied, iridescent world that transmits an eerie beauty across several biomes. Dank cave systems open up to underground crystal structures, pulsing alien trees loaded with glowing fruit, and even a few hellish underbellies littered with bones and rotting corpses, and some with burping volcanoes and dizzying heights.
Let’s make no bones about it: Seeking Dawn is very much a game that relies on some traditional gaming shorthand that’s oftentimes more concerned with delivering an efficient way of traveling, killing enemies, building structures, etc, than giving you a 1:1 experience of crash landing on an alien planet.
Hit counters let you know when you’ve landed a critical hit on an enemy, and big white numbers pop up above their head to tell you what it’s worth. This is convenient, and maybe even forgivable for a sci-fi shooter game, but it still feels like I’m playing a game, with all the regular traditional conventions attached.
Object interaction is carried out via ‘force powers’, meaning you need to hit a single button to quickly collect crafting items, even ones out of your arm’s reach. This is much more comfortable than having to pick up the thousands of items, but it does come at the cost of hand presence. Once an item is locked on, you can’t let go until you reinsert it into your inventory, or swap it for something else.
Seeking Dawn offers a bevy of locomotion choices suited for most people: head and hand-relative forward locomotion, smooth turning, snap-turning, ‘blink’ teleportation (driving a ghost of yourself until you reach your desired teleport destination) and of course room-scale locomotion, although there’s not much of a reason to move around your room outside of the standing position. You can also play seated, although you’ll be ‘seated’ in the game as well. There is brief exception during climbing portions of the game, where handholds may be out of your reach.
One other locomotion style rounds out the bunch. There’s also a ‘swinging your arms to run’ mode which turned out not to be as fun or comfortable as I’d hoped, as it introduces artificial head-bob. This in general is something most VR developers stay away from because of the associated nausea, although it seems the arm-swinging did help mitigate this some. Instead, I opted to use head-relative walking with an automatic run option which lets you pick up speed gradually.