Insomniac Games has an impressive portfolio. The studio has invented classics like Spyro, Resistance: Fall of Man and Ratchet & Clank for Sony, and more recently it boosted the Xbox One via the crazy antics of Sunset Overdrive. Next up is Stormland, the developer's attempt at perfectly designed VR gameplay. So let's jump in and see what it has to offer.
After being shown a booming Oculus logo that wouldn't be out of place in a Michael Bay movie, we were greeted by a well-known trick of video game storytelling whereby we awake in black nothingness, having lost our memory. In this case, it must be some kind of Random Access Memory problem, as our fully modelled body tells us that we are a robot. That being the case, we slowly take our first steps in this alien setting, which is teeming with otherworldly plant life. Our body is broken: a finger is missing, some core systems are offline. Piece by piece we reassemble ourselves and the first hour of the game turned out to be one of the most natural tutorials we've ever experienced. Over time we become more and more agile, and soon we're able to run, jump and climb.
Slowly, we are able to piece together what happened - why our base camp has been demolished, and why most of our fellow robots are missing or have been destroyed. Similar to what you might find in a so-called walking simulator, as we explore we discover fragments of our memory that play out in beautiful, well-acted animated sequences that help to establish a real connection to the characters.
Other gameplay elements are more typical VR fare; we pick up items, shoot our finger-laser, press buttons, and navigate a well-designed menu that features brilliant elements such as a wrist compass and a map. Many of our robotic functions are improved during the course of the story, during which we also come to witness some dark and gritty events, take part in epic gun battles, and use our thrusters to boost and fly through three huge environments.
After the mind-boggling introduction, the game develops into a kind of open-world RPG. Not in an overblown way, though - it's a lean and tightly designed campaign without too much in the way of filler. We always knew where to go next, but more often than not, we explored our surroundings to find new materials and marvel at the incredibly lavish environments. There were lots of little secrets to be found and lots of shootouts to be fought - for the latter, we amassed a fairly typical video game arsenal including SMGs, shotguns, and sniper rifles.
Still, we had the most fun just getting from point A to B. Insomniac has managed to deliver its trademark style of elegant map traversal, one which we've come to love in games like Sunset Overdrive and Spider-Man, taking that style and transplanting it brilliantly into virtual reality.
All in all, Stormland offers enough quality to call this a true system seller. Playing it took us as close as we've ever been to feeling like we're on a Holodeck or in The Matrix. Everything seems so physical and real, and the sense of immersion means that the hours just flew by.
The graphics are incredible, the story is engaging, and the whole thing was fascinating. Moreover, there is great voice-acting, spot-on sound effects and music, a lot of content to work through, all wrapped up with perfectly tuned controls and game systems. But that isn't all: the icing on the cake is the co-op-mode, which becomes available part-way into the game. Experiencing the world of Stormland with a friend dials the awesomeness up to 11.
And another interesting thing that remains to be seen in terms of long-term replayability is the endgame content. Almost like a roguelike, the world of Stormland will change every week, giving us more things to collect and invest into stats (with a boosted level cap). We'll see how this plays out, but it seems as though there will be plenty of fun to be had even when the story campaign, which lasts about six hours, is done.
Either way, Stormland already is a must-have for Oculus owners. What's more, it's good enough that players who own a decent gaming rig should really consider taking the plunge into VR so they can play it. It's not often that we come across such a gem of a game, no matter the platform. Also, isn't Christmas around the corner? What a huge coincidence!