An Action-packed Chiller

Game Title: ARKTIKA.1
Developer: 4A Games (Review code provided courtesy of them)
Platform: 
PC VR (Oculus Rift)
Price: $29.99
Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Ml2Miskj84
Video Showcase: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mm6P4NR8454

What is it?

ARKTIKA.1 is a VR shooter from 4A Games (Metro series) in the same vein as Epic Games’ Robo Recall, in that it provides a mission-based structure from a small hub area and provides-teleport based (mostly) stationary combat as its primary form of gameplay.

While Robo Recall is a bit more light-hearted and purely science fiction, ARKTIKA.1 provides a more captivating story that is set over a 100 years into the future during a new ice age that has left limited equatorial regions of the Earth in a habitable state.  Others still manage to survive in the frostbit northern and southern regions, a risk they are willing to take due to the resources which are up for grabs.  As the player you’ll find yourself in one of these regions and be tasked with missions where you’ll encounter marauders who want the resources for themselves in addition to mysterious otherworldly looking creatures.

Like I mentioned, the game is structured similar to Robo Recall and as such you’ll pick missions from a small hub area and then head out in a large vehicle after taking an elevator to the garage area.  Missions will always have some main objective in addition to side objectives which you can earn extra credits by achieving.   These credits will be used for buying gear and upgrades which I’ll touch on shortly.

Unlike Robo Recall, you don’t have full freedom to teleport around levels in this game, rather they have created select points where it is possible.  These are typically conveniently placed behind cover, flanking locations, or where some type of player interaction needs to be done.  The points themselves will also be glowing either blue or orange depending on the amount of cover they provide.  This feature gives it the feel of a on-rails arcade shooter, but with more player control since they can decide when and where they want to progress.

While a good chunk of the game has this arcade-style feel, there are also other segments that shift the overall style to keep it from getting too repetitive.  Occasionally you’ll transition to brief periods where you’ll be tasked with solving interactive puzzles which sometimes will even require a bit of investigating by hunting down passwords and reading text at computer terminals.  There are also portions of the game which trade the action in for tense horror, leaving you on the edge of your seat as you make your way down eerily silent dark hallways, lighting the way with glowsticks.

As I mentioned, you will be earning credits from completing missions and bonus tasks which can then be spent on new weapons, devices, upgrades, and weapon attachments.  This is all done through a Armory location within the hub that has a high-tech futuristic 3D printer to create anything you purchases.  It doesn’t take long to fully upgrade your initial basic weaponry and armor, however if you are a completionist it will probably require some mission replaying to unlock every last weapon, fully upgrade them, and buy all the attachments.

What Did I Think?

Gameplay

What’s Good:

  • Arcade style action-packed gunplay that has you actively ducking and leaning behind cover.
  • Levels also include interactive puzzle and investigative segments in between the action.
  • Handful of weapons, mods, and upgrades to purchase with credits earned from missions.
  • Crawls a fine line between action and horror that keeps you on the edge of your seat
  • The horror sections stood out in particular for me with their realistic darkness and the dreaded feeling that you aren’t alone.
  • It was nice to see parts of levels that actually ask you to physically move out of the way of hazards.  This was a nice change from the game’s sometimes frustratingly limiting teleport movement.
  • Most missions have a decent length to them, giving proper time to become immersed in each one while also not dragging on too long.
  • The missions tend to introduce new mechanics and puzzles that give them all their own unique feel.
  • Multiple difficulty options

What’s Bad:

  • Movement is extremely limited as the game is designed entirely around specific spots which you can teleport to and interact with objects.  The fact that they did handcraft this experience around the points makes it forgivable since they tailored it in a very quality way, but I wish I had something like this that gives the player more freedom.  They developer also shared a video explaining this decision in detail which I have a lot of respect for even if I wish it was less restrictive.
  • Limited amount of levels make it a shorter experience than some may like unless you are up to repeating missions to master side objectives and earn more credits.  There are small handful of different locations you’ll unlock as you progress, each area typically having no more than two mission options.  For those wondering about the exact playtime, you can expect to get five hours of gameplay at the very least I’d say.
  • Single-player only.  I would have liked to see some kind of multiplayer implementation.  The way a lot of the game’s sections are designed aren’t very fitting for co-op, but I think the arcade-y shooting portions are very co-op friendly and would be a lot of fun.  A separate gunplay-focused multiplayer mode that has you going through the environments in the single-player with randomly placed enemies would have been a great addition.
  • A few puzzles that required keycode passwords could be bypassed because of a bug that lets you reach through the case you unlock with the password to access the switch inside.  The player could of course actively choose to play the proper way, but is a funny flaw that I’m surprised made it through to the final build.  I actually accidentally did this so its not necessarily something you’ll run into just by trying to be clever and devious.
  • Limited boss encounters, with one fight in particular being repeated more than once.
  • I found myself having to reset my play area more than once because objects would be out of reach.  I think it may have had to do with the play area not moving properly when the player teleports.  If you are moving around too much in a roomscale play area then I imagine you could run into this problem.

Neutral Thoughts:

  • If you are hoping for some in-depth open campaign this isn’t the game for you maybe.  It’s more similar to the mission-based structure of Robo Recall and as I mentioned the movement is very restricting preventing the player from going off into areas the developer didn’t intend you to.

Controls

What’s Good:

  • Full Touch controller support (required)
  • Roomscale support (Not required)

What’s Bad:

  • Teleporting to the specific spots was sometimes finicky for me, not selecting the point unless I was looking at it at a specific angle.  Other times it was much smoother though so I’m not sure why sometimes it was more frustrating.  I wish it was based on where I was aiming my controller rather than headset vision based.
  • Grabbing my guns I had some frustrations as well since my hands needed to be in a specific spot near my shoulders.  The grab box for the guns should be much larger.  I wish they could be locked in your hands without having to hold grip the entire time too for comfort reasons.

Graphics/Performance

What’s Good:

  • A visual VR treat that has fantastic lighting effects, weather effects, and animations.
  • Solid performance with no immediately noticeable hiccups on the highest settings.

What’s Bad:

  • Experienced a mid-mission crash at one point
  • The game can be quite blurry unless you crank it up to the highest settings, so as long as you can handle that it’s a great looking experience.

Sound/Writing

What’s Good:

  • Solid 3D sound design all around whether it be the guns, machinery sounds, monstrous roars, footsteps, or wind.
  • A serviceable story that keeps you connected as you progress through and in between in mission.
  • Despite me not being a fan of teleport-based movement, I liked that it was actually tied to the story and technology instead of just going unexplained.

Verdict: Recommended
Numerical Score: 8.0

ARKTIKA.1 is an experience that is nearly on par with fan-favorite Robo Recall in terms of overall quality and gameplay style.  While I enjoyed its impressive visuals, environments, interactive puzzle segments, and horror elements, it had some shortcomings with its limited movement system and other minor frustrations.

It’s a premium VR experience that of course comes with a premium price.  Whether this price is worth it to a particular individual is difficult to say, since replay value is limited unless you are interested in replaying missions.  I wasn’t very interested in heading back into missions for a second go considering it would be more or less the exact same linear, somewhat on rails experience all over again.  Taking on harder difficulties might make this a bit more tolerable though.  It’s an immersive VR spectacle though which will be nice to have available in your library to show to friends and family that want to see what all this VR hubbub is about.

You almost have to think of many of these premium priced AAA quality VR games as passes to an amusement park.  They are designed to provide a contained one-time experience that will thrill and impress players within a typically shorter period of time.  If you are looking for something you can easily keep coming back to for a long time, you need to look for different types of VR games that provide that type of always replayable gameplay such as Soundboxing, Fruit Ninja, or even the popular free game Rec Room.

If you are VR enthusiast that wants to try out the latest and greatest content, then you may want to give ARKTIKA.1 a shot, just don’t come in expecting something revolutionary as it still is constrained to the limits of other similar experiences due to the lack of locomotion.  With the freedom of a proper locomotion system and reworked levels to accommodate that, this could have been a huge leap for the VR shooter genre.  Unfortunately there is still an ongoing fear that such systems will not accommodate many players thanks to motion sickness.  Regardless it is easily one of the best of its kind in this limited movement variant, providing some of the most immersive and terrifying experiences I’ve had in VR to date.