Though Oculus Quest still doesn’t launch until the 21st, Oculus has seen fit to give us full access to one of its biggest launch titles: Star Wars Vader Immortal – Episode 1. This “narrative virtual reality adventure” does a good job of immersing you in the Star Wars universe, but it feels all too brief. Thankfully there’s a surprisingly fun ‘Lightsaber Dojo’ that offers hours of engaging challenge.
Star Wars Vader Immortal Details:
Available On: Quest, Rift (at a later date)
Reviewed On: Quest
Release Date: May 21st, 2019
Let’s put this right up front: Star Wars Vader Immortal, at least its story portion, is more of a VR ‘experience’ than it is a outright game. At about 45 minutes for the entire story playthrough, it’s not as long or as deep as you might hope from a game proper. But hey, this is ‘Episode 1’, so they’ve clued us in ahead of time that there will be more to come eventually.
Luckily Vader Immortal also has a ‘Lightsaber Dojo’—a standalone mode where you can engage in more extensive lightsaber combat than what you see in the story—which is worth a handful of extra hours of enjoyment.
With a price tag of $10 for the whole thing, the two modes add up to what feels like a very fair value.
The story is where you ought to start though. It’s a well paced and polished adventure set on the planet of Mustafar, where you’ll bump into Vader himself. It’s a pretty classic Star Wars scenario: you and your partner unexpectedly get tangled up in some serious trouble that you definitely weren’t looking for.
Without spoiling the story, you’ll be with your droid partner ZOE3 as you work your way through Vader’s castle on Mustafar. ZOE3 is very believably voice acted, and works as both an expositor and a guide for what the player should be doing. You’ll use a tool to open some control panels and figure out how to fiddle with the insides to unlock some doors. You’ll climb ladders on you way from A to B, eventually get your hands on a lightsaber, and see the story unfold along your way.
It’s a purely linear experience, but good pacing ensures things don’t feel dull or too constrained throughout. It also strikes a good balance between being friendly enough for novices while not being boring for veteran VR players. The only pacing problem is the sudden ending which comes just as it feels like things are getting started. It’s an entertaining and authentic experience, but you hate to see it end after just 45 minutes.
Luckily the Lightsaber Dojo mode gave me more gameplay to sink my teeth into, and turned out to be quite a bit more expansive than I expected. In the Lightsaber Dojo you’ll face off with your energy sword against waves of enemies. It starts slow, but as you complete the waves, things get harder and you’ll be slowly introduced to more advanced lightsaber fighting techniques as you go. The lightsaber fighting and even the enemies you’ll encounter in this mode go a good bit deeper than I was initially expecting.
You’ll see enemies that you never see in the story mode, new attacks and attack patterns, and advanced techniques like parrying and fending off lightsaber ‘clashes’. It’s actually a bit of a shame that they couldn’t bring combat seen in the Lightsaber Dojo into the story itself.
I played the Lightsaber Dojo mode for at least three hours and I’m still just shy of the final stage. As far as wave-based VR content goes, I was surprised at how fun it was, and I can see myself pushing to make it to the last stage and sharing it with friends in the future. For the collectors among you, there’s a series of different lightsaber colors and hilts to be unlocked by scoring well on each wave.
It’s clear that ILMxLAB spent a lot of time making Vader Immortal feel like an authentic story, and they’ve done a pretty good job. The whole experience plays out pretty seamlessly, mostly without loading screens. The graphics won’t blow you away, but it’s a pretty impressive achievement when you consider the mobile hardware that the game is running on, and there’s a few moments that play with scale very well and make you feel like you’re in front of something quite massive.
Writing was engaging, with good voice-acting throughout (even when ZOE3 was telling you want you needed to do to move the game forward), which helped keep the world feeling cohesive. Art direction is cohesive throughout, and there’s even a cool technical cameo in the form of a Quill drawing (Oculus’ VR painting tool).
There were a few cool moments of player-to-character interactions which are nice to see, like when a character hands you an object directly, or reaches a hand out to give you something to climb up on. I thought however there were a few missed opportunities to make the player ‘act’ as part of the scene. For instance, when a Stormtrooper ran up to me with his weapon drawn, it seemed like a great opportunity to tell the player “hands up!” and actually make them do it. I hope that we’ll see more stuff like this in Episode 2.
On the Lightsaber Dojo side, there is a weird issue causing the lightsaber to jiggle as it swings through the air. For the most part it doesn’t impact the gameplay, but it’s annoying not to be able to swing a nice smooth arc through the air. It also would have been nice to have killing cuts on enemies slice right at (or close to) the point of impact, but instead they sort of just fall to pieces.
Occasionally in the Lightsaber Dojo, it feels like sometimes enemies can hit you even though you successfully blocked, which can be frustrating.
Because much of the game is dark scenery contrasted by fairly bright lights, the black-smearing caused by Quest’s OLED display can also be distracting at times.
Star Wars Vader Immortal has a decent set of comfort options. Teleport is the default for locomotion, but smooth locomotion is an option too, including the ability to use instant or smooth teleportation. Snap turning is enabled by default, but smooth turning is an option. I found myself not needing any artificial turning, and just rotating in place as needed (thanks to Quest’s 360 tracking). I never felt uncomfortable throughout my time playing Vader Immortal.
Because enemies in the Lightsaber Dojo rely so heavily on sound to telegraph their attacks, there’s also a ‘visual assist’ option which lights up the screen to alert you to the sounds of an enemy before they attack; a thoughtful option for those who are hard of hearing.