I have always been a huge fan of VR and the promises it holds for the future of gaming. Not only has VR taken the gaming world by storm in some respects, but it also presents many interesting possibilities for developers. I was given the chance to play a game that Scott had seen this year at E3. Arca’s Path is an game developed by Rebellion Games that is entirely gaze-based. For for the first time in my life, I was treated to a game that I could play in its entirety without ever having to take my hands out of my pockets. I was not sure what to expect, however I was most certainly surprised with the results.
The game begins with one of the most interesting storytelling elements I have experienced in quite some time. The story is told through a unique style of animation that has no words or voiceover. It instead uses still images told almost like a deconstructed comic book. Each still is a framed picture and leaves the words of the story to be interpreted by the player. Your character is a young girl who finds some manner of headset in a junkyard. The girl then puts on the headset and you are then transported to a game within the game that takes place in a the world of Arca.
Use Your Head
In this game you must help guide a small object along a path from Point A to B solving small puzzles and obstacles. This small object follows a reticle which is entirely directed by the movement of your head. The game functions similarly to the wood box Labyrinth games of days gone by. With that toy, you navigate a small silver ball through a maze by tilting the playing field. Instead of navigating your object with knobs tilting the playing field, you point your head in the direction you want the object the go. The distance of the reticle from the object determines its speed. If the reticle is just past the object, it moves very slowly. Conversely, pointing the reticle a greater distance from the object increases its speed.
As the game progresses, the levels get more difficult as new challenges arrive. There are bridges that need to be placed, walls that can be broken through, and even sections of the floor that drop right out from underneath your object. Once you clear the first set of maps, you are greeted with another comic cell cut scene. The story is very open to interpretation, but there is a very noted growth of the girl’s character by the end of the game.
Relaxing, Then Challenging
At first, the game is very relaxing, almost Zen-like. But after the initial levels, I found myself concentrating much more to the point of being on edge consistently. That’s nowhere near a criticism. On the contrary, I found that it not only offered me a fresh gameplay perspective, but also gave me a mental exercise I never knew I could have. I even found myself tensing other parts of my body despite the fact that all I needed to do was tilt my head to play. Near the end of the game, I found myself biting my lip at almost every turn of the object.
Arca’s Path is one of the few VR games to give me a serious sense of vertigo. On several occasions I had to take the helmet off of to regain my balance multiple times. Even more surprising was that my coworker was watching me play on the TV felt off while I played. He found himself feeling dizzy on several occasions even though his perspective was in 2-D.
The controls with the headset are spot on to the point of being almost perfect. Every time I fell of the platform, it felt like my fault, not the game’s. It is very responsive and stops on a dime. Navigating the sphere becomes a game of trust, as you have to consistently rely on the headset to do exactly what you want it to. I found myself going back and forth between watching the “ball and watching the target reticle, which was fascinating.
Graphically Arca’s Path is a decent-looking game. It’s nothing over the top and lacks the polish of other titles like Moss or VR Batman. But it has a certain aesthetic to it that is ,in its own, right charming. The music is very serene and peaceful. At times I found myself wanting more depth and drive to push me on in the game.
There is a lot of potential replay value with time trials. The trials are unlocked by collecting crystals that are set along the path in each level. After conquering the first time trial level I did not happen to come across a leaderboard. The time trial mode does have a “ghost” mode, so you can “race yourself” to try to beat your best times. I know this would be a tall order, but I would love to see a level editor in this game. There’s a ton of potential with this concept, and I would like to see it taken even further somehow.
Arca’s Path Final Verdict
Overall I really enjoyed playing through this game. Despite its flaws I came to the end of the path pleased with the experience that the game had presented. This form of gameplay relying entirely on gaze-based movement feels like the potential for future adaptation into other areas of the VR gaming world. If a sequel or expansions for Arca’s Path ever became available I would love to play through them. I feel this style of gameplay could be adapted into other games like a VR walking simulator. So if you are in the market for a fun and slightly challenging VR experience I would say give Arca’s Path a try. You won’t be disappointed because this game is a real head turner.
This review is based on a PlayStation VR code provided to The Gaming Outsider by Evolve PR for coverage purchases and is also available on Oculus Rift, Oculus GO, HTC Vive, HTC Focus, Samsung Gear VR, and Microsoft-Windows Mixed Reality.