Here we go, it’s the big one, the one that we’ve been waiting for since the VR revolution started four years ago… a full on Star Wars game. Not a quick level tagged on to completely different game (as awesome as the X-Wing mission in Battlefront was), or a fancy model viewer. No, this time it’s a big swinging lightsabre production bearing the name of the galaxy’s most ruthless villain and promising to bring the Force to living rooms around the world. ILMxLAB have worked on a canonical story that describes some of what the Dark Lord of the Sith has been up to since the end of the Clone Wars, putting you right in the quaking boots of someone who really doesn’t want to get on his bad side. Can it live up to the weight of expectation now that it’s finally made its way to the PlayStation VR? Will it bring the universe to life in a new way? Does Vader Immortal stop you from trying to poke your fingers through the big fellas mask? C’mon, it’s the first thing you’d try, admit it.
Set in the prequels era after Revenge of the Sith, you’re playing a smuggler who’s managed to rip off the Hutt’s for a shipment of spice, yet gets their ship the Windfall nabbed by the Imperial fleet over Mustafar. Thinking that you’re being boarded to have the contraband confiscated, you and your companion droid ZO-E3 are locked up and are expectantly awaiting torture when in walks Vader himself. He’s got a proposition for you – open the box he’s holding or die painfully. It’s not much of a choice and soon you’re running into the depths of the planet, guided by ancient Mustafarians, stealing lightsabres and uncovering one of the biggest secrets the planet holds. Vader Immortal is a showy, bombastic piece of storytelling designed to expand on Vader’s frame of mind and motivation straight after he’s donned the life saving armour. It also does the job of distracting you from the outside world, just not for long enough.
Vader Immortal is actually three separate games related to the way it was originally released in episodes. It’s not completely clear why they weren’t joined together for the PSVR release, though it might be something to do with forcing an exit and load so that the game seems a bit longer than it is. For a full blown Star Wars story it’s short, clocking in at just over 2 hours for the main campaign, and considerably longer in the lightsabre dojo’s if you tackle every challenge in all three of them. That’s the disappointing part and there’s no way around it. It also doesn’t help that the third part feels elongated with enforced static shootouts which get repetitive about 10% of the way into them. The last episode feels rushed, and whilst it’s got some good moments it lags behind the other two by some way. Arguably there’s more action than the others combined, it’s just not metered out in a satisfying way. That’s it for the negative bits because despite the length this really does deliver on its promise.
The opening sequence and introduction to the environment is just what you want to experience. Under fire you’re flipping switches in the cockpit of your ship and blasting into hyperspace, watching the stars streak into bars of light all around. Dropping out of that over a planet sets up an amazing view through the window whilst the Windfall is in orbit. Then there’s the impending doom as a Star Destroyer glides overhead and blocks all view. Within the first few minutes it embodies the vibe of the films and succeeds in plonking you in the middle of this galaxy, then uses that to propel things forward. There’s a surprising amount of free movement to be had (teleportation style), and interaction with objects is clearly defined with tracking and handling working as they should. What impresses in the opening episode is the amount of detail in the environments and the assets that have been used. This looks and feels right from the visuals to the score then to the voice acting, and on PSVR at least, it sets a new bar. There’s also a lack of loading during the actual gameplay so it’s seamless from the start of an episode to the end.
Whilst you might be expecting a pure lightsabre game, there are a lot of other elements at play with puzzle solving using hydrospanners, climbing and traversing, and yes… force powers. Everything is mapped decently and is responsive throughout, including the combat. Of course you’re static so it’s not Yoda levels of dynamism on display, but it does feel solid and with the right amount of feedback through the Move controllers. Getting through the episodes opens up more abilities so that where starting with simple blocking and swiping felt pretty good, deflecting blaster fire, force pulling the weapon into your hand, then shooting stormtroopers whilst wielding a glowing laser sword at the same time feels fantastic. It works, there’s no doubt about that, and Vader Immortal keeps pulling surprising stunts throughout giving the interaction options a real work out. It gets extended in the Dojo’s as well which are like challenge levels, and they’ll really test your spatial awareness after a while.
There’s something special about Vader Immortal, it lands its story, style and variety very well. There’s a high production value and it shows what’s achievable with the kind of resources that Disney Interactive Studios has at its disposal. For fanboys it’s grin inducing material, particularly the first episode, and it’s compelling all the way through. It even manages to make Vader scary again after the prequels arguably neutered him as a villain. Here he towers over you, breathing mechanically and commanding you menacingly, and you understand or remember why he is feared by the Rebellion. I wanted it to be longer, it left me wanting to know more about Darth’s plans, and I wanted more (surprisingly) of the smuggler running their ship elements. Maybe it’s because I’d never tire of pushing that hyperspace lever and seeing the sky light up.
Vader Immortal is out now on PSVR and Oculus Quest for around £22.