Rebellion are no strangers to producing VR games, the rather good Battlezone being evidence of that, and now they’ve tied up with developer Dream Reality Interactive for their next foray into the virtual world – Arca’s Path. Billed as a sci-fi puzzle game, it’s a tantalising prospect coming from a studio with pedigree in the technology having former Sony London Studio employees at the helm, and backed by the biggest independent studio in the UK. So, should it be a well worn trail, or does it need kicking to the curb?
Set in a futuristic land with a story told through static animated panes, Arca’s Path sees a girl discover a mysterious mask in a garbage dump that shows her a vision of a strange land and transforms her into a ball. Only by navigating the landscape can she find her way out and back to the physical world. It’s a lite-touch tale, one that leaves most questions unanswered, yet gives up just enough to keep things intriguing, and to provide motivation for going back into the VR realm and solving the puzzles. The purpose here is to guide the ball across a series of obstacle courses to the exit… and yes, it does sound a lot like Super Monkey Ball, but that’s sort of missing the point.
The unique selling point is the control method. There’s no control pad, wand or joystick to fumble about with, every action in Arca’s Path is managed simply by moving your head. Centred in your vision is a reticule that the ball follows, and a bit like a cat going after a laser pointer, wherever you look is where it’s going to move to. The further ahead of the ball you are, the faster it will go, and looking at it dead on will stop it in its tracks. It sounds simple enough, but you find out very early on that the ball also has weight and momentum, so it’s not going to do exactly what you want all the time.
Getting to grips with the controls is something that comes pretty intuitively, and it’s quickly possible to zip along pathways and use elevators without too much effort. The opening environments are quite tranquil and with the chilled ambient soundtrack pulsing in the background, it’s actually a relaxing experience. Arca’s Path doesn’t stay like that for too long though as it starts to build in the different obstacles that define the challenge. Firstly the edges of platforms are taken away leaving sheer drops to nothingness. Then collapsing tiles appear that need slow speed navigation to survive. Switches, rotating platforms, ramps and moving blocks all get layered in to create levels that might look simple on the surface, but need some effort to master.
There’s a nice touch in that the virtual world of Arca’s Path is a VR simulation itself, and as such the geometry, colouring and simplicity are instantly familiar. The way forward can be seen right from the beginning of a level as a hazy, winding line that fleshes out with detail as progress is made. It weaves its way between floating platforms and items that have no logical connection to each other; upwards, downwards and off into the distance. It serves as an enticement to get going and see what can be discovered. The aesthetic also links into performance and means the same experience can be scaled across a variety of different hardwares.
Arca’s Path has 25 levels to roll through, and as expected with any difficulty curve, they get more challenging the further on they are. There are moments of frustration where you find yourself glancing off into the distance or scanning for a collectable, and accidentally roll off into oblivion. Yet, because the team haven’t put a time or life restriction in the campaign mode, it’s a quick matter of reloading a checkpoint and carrying on, and you’ll always recognise that it’s your lack of attention that’s causing the problems. All progress is saved immediately too, so pathways opened or puzzles solved remain that way. It’s a handy way of picking off the crystals that open up time trial variants as it makes you more daring in going for some of the precarious ones.
The are only two issues that come to mind with Arca’s Path: 1. the head tracking drifts a bit which causes some discomfort in looking off at unnatural directions, and the standard PSVR button reset doesn’t fix it, only a full reboot; and 2. it’s just too short. Level, sound, graphics and story design are all excellent and really offer up a great game that lasts under 3 hours. Heading back to collect all the crystals will add a bit extra, and going for gold medals in the time trials is sure to eek it out further. However, the way it builds to a crescendo of obstacles in the latter stages, encompassing everything that’s been taught along the way is superb… I was just left wanting more from it.
A PSVR review copy of Arca’s Path was provided by the Rebellion PR team, and the game is available now on PSVR, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Windows Mixed Reality and some mobile devices. You can also find out more about the game from lead designer Albert Bentall here.