Today at E3 I got the chance to sit down with publisher and developer Skydance Interactive to check out the new VR title, Archangel, among other things. While Skydance Interactive is a relatively new studio, created in 2016 after Skydance Media acquired Workshop Entertainment, Archangel was created with the level of care of a more veteran studio.
Archangel corrects one of VR’s biggest wrongs, there simply aren’t enough mech VR titles to satisfy my Pacific Rim cravings. In the full-length story, players will control the Archangel, a six-story walking weapon, as resistance fighter Gabe Walker. The Resistance rebels against a totalitarian corporation across post-apocalyptic, midwestern America, and they’ll need the Archangel and any help they can get if they hope to succeed.
If sitting in the cockpit of a giant mech sounds badass to you, well, that’s because it is. I have been and will continue to refer to this as an unofficial Pacific Rim game on rails, except with soldiers and giant robot dogs in place of some mean kaiju. At first, the fact that the Archangel follows a predetermined path was disappointing, it allowed me to focus on refining my piloting skills and absorbing the details of the cockpit.
Details and story are what many VR titles miss out on, but not Archangel, at least not in the broad sense. I did notice a few muddy textures or obviously hand-drawn elements in a 3D world, but overall the experience was immersive and fleshed out. While moving my head around the window of the cockpit moved with it while my hands remained wherever I held them. When looking around my cockpit I noticed a photo of the protagonist and his daughter, as well as other minor details that make the cockpit feel lived in. While trotting through enemy combatants, the overarching story of the campaign was referenced and discussed in live feeds from other members of the resistance.
The gameplay is admittedly simple, although the mechanics feel deliberate as opposed to restrictive. Each arm controls a weapon and a wrist shield, both have limited energy and require semi-frequent cooldowns. The Archangel’s left arm is equipped with a heavy missile launcher, while the write arm is equipped with the mech equivalent of a light machinegun. Besides weaponry, Gabe has the ability to punch things with the Archangel’s house-sized fists. As I mentioned before the game is completely on a rail system, meaning the mech moved in a predisposed manner, but firefights are so hectic and the story elements are strong enough to make up for it.
Archangel is one of many games this year that is looking to usher in a new wave of VR adopters. The gameplay is simple, but empowering. Easily playable, but has physical skills to improve and master. While beginning my demo I found myself shielding, shooting off a few machinegun rounds and then shielding again. By its end, I was bounding through the American desert spartan-style, shield in one arm and rockets in the other, bringing down boss-enemies with relative ease.
My VR demo ended with my character’s neural link suffering some kind of glitch, and the small band of resistance fighters celebrating their small victory before marching off into the golden sun. All the while, I was busy gawking and my giant robot fists that I’d just used to demolish a bridge.
Archangel launches on PlayStation VR, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift in July 2017, with early access for PlayStation VR users.