Of Fireballs, Pressure Pads and Insta-death
Some of the perils which lurk deep in the dungeon are deliberately designed to enforce an error on your part. Throwing fireballs from different directions inducing panicked button mashing and inevitable death, often by falling off the nearest ledge. Because the grid based system allows only staccato movement, over-pressing in one direction or another under pressure can be fatal. However, if you negotiate a particularly tense situation or tricky area, it’s exhilarating once you make it out alive. There’s some neat and clever level design at work in Crystal Rift and I have to admit there were one or two surprises that had me cursing the developers. I suspect you’ll do likewise once find out what cunning sods they are.
Pick up red vials to replenish one of your 5 ‘heart’ containers, denoting a life, with potion bottles filling them all. When you die in the Rift, you lose a heart but restart where you were, once depleted however you’ll be back to your last save point. Those save points are marked by a slightly disturbing looking stone faces in walls throughout the dungeon and are surprisingly infrequent. Once you descend to the later levels, you’ll be glad when you stumble upon those staring eyes, especially when running short of hearts.
Secrets litter the world – and sometimes secrets within secrets. Keep an eye out for raised surfaces and inconsistent textures for clues as This is where VR’s strengths are played to – you’re constantly darting your head to and fro looking for unusually raised surfaces in tunnel walls that open secret doors or passages elsewhere.
Health vials can be picked up as well as larger, heart rejuvenating potion bottles. Initially I feared these might be too plentiful, but once you progress they become ever more a necessity – especially if you’re as clumsy as I.
Other than crafty traps and pitfalls, there are others who share the depths of the dungeon with you. And one recurring, shadowy figure in particular will likely be your main source of jump scares throughout the game. Introduced early on, his presence is then hinted at continually and gives reason to your fear of the many dark corners.
The Piece of Resistance – Creating Your Own Hell in VR Block by Block!
One advantage in building Crystal Rift around the grid-based system is that the levels are by definition modular and based on blocks. These sorts of systems lend themselves very well to simple map editors of course. Well, the guys at Psytec clearly had this in mind from the start because they’ve build a level editor that is quite possibly Crystal Rift‘s crown jewel.
Selected from the main menu, you’re dropped into a basic room with floating menus in 3D space. The top bar displays building blocks you can select to build your level with (walls, doors etc) and the bottom layer is a map of the level you’re building. You can control the entire editing process from within VR with your joypad and the entire experience is wonderfully intuitive.
You select blocks groups from the menu bar with the left and right D-pad and then select sub blocks within that group with up and down. One you’ve selected a piece, using the map layer below to position, press another button and that block will appear in front of you. You move about your level with the same movement and rotation controls as you world as you do in game. As a result, the creation process itself becomes an immersive, engrossing experience in and of itself. What’s more, because you’re inhabiting the environment you’re building, knowing if your changes are ‘right’ is instinctive and intuitive.
You’re able to save levels you’ve designed to try out yourself and with later versions of Crystal Rift export them to share with others. I can see this becoming a crucial part of Crystal Rift‘s potential success, building a community around building is something of course the likes of Minecraft thrive on. Kudos to the developers here, it’s a brilliant feat of design and engineering and I can’t wait to see how it evolves and how people use it.
It’s the sparse appearance of this and other characters that illustrate one of my niggles with Crystal Rift. It’s a little empty and devoid of life right now and is perhaps a little short on personality. The two-man team have worked wonders in the short time they’ve had since the title was successfully kickstarted back in December last year. The game looks polished and plays extremely well, not forgetting that ingenious level design, but variety in gameplay and environments as you progress is lacking currently.
That said, the set pieces are simple yet effective (and extremely tense in virtual reality) and the VR experience extremely immersive and eminently comfortable. Sound is excellent and music is evocative. But it’s the level editor that breaks new ground and shines in this early access release version. That one component could be the key to Crystal Rift‘s success and it’s longevity and as a result, the game is more than worth your pennies – especially if you’re a fan of the genre and own an Oculus Rift headset.
Crystal Rift can be had on Steam via the Early Access program right now for £18.99, but if you move quickly it’s on offer for launch at £16.14. The team do have plans to support other headsets as they appear, in particular a Gear VR version which is planned for release later in the year, although this will lack the editor due to limitations of the device.