The immersive nature of virtual reality is often best experienced through the medium of first person shooters. Virtual reality headsets are built with a wide field of view (FOV), meaning that when you look through them you see a very large space in front of you. The problem with this design is that it doesn’t let you see any of the periphery. The result is an experience that’s too limited. Go ahead and test it—look around while wearing one of the most popular VR headsets, the Oculus Rift, and you’ll likely be disappointed.
The year is 2050. People are living in huge VR arcades, where they can test all sorts of virtual reality sports and recreational activities. These arcades are so popular they have become a part of the daily lives of most people, and they have been an inspiration for the developers of the new VR game “Sacralith”. The game is a bow-shooting virtual reality simulation. The game’s bowgun is powered by VR bows, which fire a projectile that looks like a CGI bullet.
Virtual reality, or VR, is a world of its own. Most of the time you spend in a VR world is spent immersed in a vibrant, rich universe, where you can meet new people, explore new worlds and shoot & hunt for birds, all while pretending you’re somewhere far away.
Odd Meter, a Moscow-based independent developer, isn’t yet a big name in VR creation, but that may change with their newest game, Sacralith: The Archer’s Tale (2018). It’s a really smart bow shooting game with wonderfully polished graphics, firmly establishing itself as a AAA title.
Sacralith begins with three lifelike crusaders singing and playing a cheerful tune about my new reality, a world of dragons, evil kings, wizards, and magical stones—the standard medieval-inspired sword and sorcery fantasy that fans of Skyrim and the Witcher series will recognize, but built specifically for VR. My new crusader friends, who appear in cutscenes throughout the game, are clearly the product of meticulous attention to detail, as they play and sing with a natural flow due to motion capture and what I can only assume is excellent character design.
I learn from the song that a magical stone called the Sacralith grants control over Dragons, and it’s my job to fight my way through hordes of enemies to prevent King Hlodwick from using it to wreak havoc on the world, using my trusty bow and a quiver full of arrows with various abilities, each collectible through an unlockable tech tree.
Eight increasingly difficult levels await me, and after numerous failures, I quickly learn that the game, which functions somewhat like a one-man tower defense, relies on quick, accurate shooting and the strategic use of the numerous power-ups and magical arrows unlocked through expert shooting and combo kills.
Hordes of enemies will arrive from various lanes, requiring you to stop one with a freezing arrow, slow another with a ‘mud pit’ arrow, break a hulking tank’s full body armor with a special armor-braking arrow, and so on – all while protecting your two sword and warhammer-wielding buddies Duff and Kaiden who melee their way to the end of the path. The level will fail if you lose a single companion, but you may fortunately continue from where you perished last.
In the Immersion section, I go into more detail on the bow shooting mechanism, but suffice it to say that Sacralith nails the pleasure of knocking arrows and killing adversaries of various kinds and models.
There’s also a diverse set of opponents, ranging from basic unarmored peasant fighters who fall in a single hit to super tanks who can take several headshots and inflict significant damage on Kaiden and Duff. Finally, when 20-odd monsters rush your friends below, you’ll have to employ a variety of techniques to attempt to halt them long enough to fire a slow-motion healing arrow at whomever needs it the most, or a lighting arrow to electrify a tiny impacted area to keep the heavies from lurching in. Hitboxes aren’t any better, with arrows often flying between legs and arms.
You might argue that it’s too tough since there’s no clear aiming mechanism and sight acquisition is mainly a sense you acquire through many tries at landing precise long shots, but VR bow-shooters come with this as standard.
Some players may object to the node teleportation-only locomotion system, but it simply does not function any other way in the context of the game (jumping from viewpoint point to vantage point). The focus here is on carefully paving the way for Kaiden and Duff as they attempt to blast their way through by shooting from lofty, otherwise unreachable vantage positions. Furthermore, opponents never seem to stop pouring out of the map’s corners, so your only objective is to keep moving ahead.
Odd Meter provided this image.
Expect to spend many hours banging your head against the wall as you try to navigate your one-way journey across the globe map in quest of the Sacralith stone. Players may also repeat stages at any time in order to get the best score on the scoreboard, although most players are unlikely to do so; the game is tough enough as it is.
Sacralith is stunning from head to toe, with a world of medieval grime contrasted against towering and equally beautiful architecture. Character models almost make the jump into “human enough” realm at times, owing to the Odd Meter team’s natural-looking motion capture.
Even though you never directly engage with people outside of battle, despite the game’s less-than-immersive node teleportation, the total of its pieces produces a very compelling and immersive experience.
In general, I like the VR bow shooting mechanism, and Sacralith is no exception. While it lacks certain much-needed haptics, it provides a gratifying method to knock arrows out of your many (many) enemies by reaching behind your right shoulder, pointing, and letting the arrow fly. Apart from haptics, which would ideally mimic a firm bowstring pull as in Valve’s The Lab (2016)’s archery game, my only other small complaint can be found in the Comfort section below.
Positional audio, which isn’t properly articulated in the 3D world for maximum immersion, and the absence of realistic hand models are two flaws that I noticed in the game. Hand models are strangely positioned in space, don’t open or close correctly, and don’t respond to button pushes on Vive motion controllers or Oculus Touch’s many capacitive sensors. While your sole goal is to teleport, pick arrows, and shoot them, having precise (or no) hands might have been preferable than the lifeless hand-shaped blocks you’re given.
Sacralith is a highly pleasant experience in terms of artificial motion-induced nausea due to node teleportation, which is a very comfortable method to move about in VR (aka sim sickness).
While Sacratlith allows you to restart your run from where you last died, this does nothing to alleviate any arm weariness you may have developed throughout your run. You may wind up shooting hundreds of rapid fire shots in a single level since you’ll be firing arrows as quickly as you can knock them down. As the abnormally high number of opponents streamed at Kaiden and Duff, this got a little tiresome after a time.
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