Some video game scenarios just need to be experienced in virtual reality. Like escaping a haunted house or flying through space. Third Eye Studio’s first title Downward Spiral: Horus Station brings a new must-try experience to the virtual world: zero gravity. Of course, you can play Downward Spiral without the PSVR headset and with only your trusty PS4 and Dual Shock, but I’m focusing on the VR version of the game for now.
The game begins with our character floating in zero gravity aboard Horus Station, a derelict space station. We begin with no cutscenes and no dialogue. In fact, through five hours of gameplay and 8 levels, there isn’t a single syllable of dialogue spoken. The story here is delivered through gameplay and common sense. Instinctively, you understand that the space station is dead, and it’s your job to fix that unless you want to end up like one of the random dead bodies floating around. Video monitors hold clues on what to do, but mostly those aren’t needed. We all know the drill here: retrieve X and return to Y to solve the puzzle.
Downward Spiral isn’t just a space exploration game, however, you better pack some heat, because there are some droid sentries that didn’t get the memo that the war is over, and that you’re there to help. You don’t have weapons, per se, instead, your left scavenging for tools that shoot projectiles. It turns out that Space-age staple guns are much more powerful than any staple gun I’ve ever used, which is good because these droids mean business. The problem with shooting in Downward Spiral: Horus Station, is the zero gravity. It’s difficult. Firing on the drones as you’re constantly drifting brings something a little bit different to one of the most familiar video game pastimes: shooting stuff.
But if you think aiming and shooting is off, wait until you try moving. I don’t know if you know this, dear reader, but it’s impossible to walk when you’re floating and your feet don’t touch the floor. Instead, you’ll be using your trusty Move controllers to grab walls, pipes, etc. to propel yourself in the direction you want to go. It’s a fairly intuitive mechanic, but it’s maddeningly slow and cumbersome. You’ll find what amounts to a grappling hook early in the game which spits out a line and hooks to most solid surfaces and pulls you along. It’s better than nothing, but in a game where your only job is to explore and get from point A to point B and back again, it can try your patience. Thankfully, you’ll eventually find another grappling hook that speeds up the process even more.
When playing the flat version of the game, you’ll still need to grab walls or rails to propel yourself along, but doing so with the DualShock 4 is much less intuitive, making a frustrating move mechanic even more so. Even after acquiring the grappling hook, you’ll still need to grab the occasional railing for a boost, and after using the Move controllers, trying to accomplish this with the sticks on the DualShock 4 is no good. In fact, I’d go so far as to say Downward Spiral is probably not worth your time outside of VR.
The eight different levels take about an hour each to complete, although if you could walk, they would probably take less than half of that time. The puzzles you’ll be solving are on the easy side, but I found the combat on the difficult side, so I guess they even themselves out. Shooting in zero gravity never really clicked with me, but it was nice to break up the monotony. You can actually turn off the combat if you only want to explore the space station and finish the story, which is a nice option, but I chose to keep it in. I died a lot, but there was no real consequence as you respawn pretty much where you left off after you die.
The graphics look okay in VR, as you can see in the pictures and videos, but they are not spectacular. The space station decor was everything you expected it to be, if you’ve watched any sci-fi in the last decade or two. The sounds of Horus Station do a nice job of building immersion and selling the tension. The sounds of futuristic doors opening, fuel cells sliding into place and other space-age things happening have all been done before, but these simple touches add that bit of immersion a good VR game needs. One quirk (bug) I found, was that the dual shock needs to be powered on, even in the VR mode. The game doesn’t recognize the Move controllers unless the DS4 is powered on. Every time my DS4 powered off due to inactivity, the screen would go black and I’d see a message telling me to plug in a controller I wasn’t using. I had to change my controller setting to stop it from happening. Strange.
There is also an online co-op mode and some PVP modes, although I mostly found it hard to find a game. I did play some co-op and PVP with a friend, and we were both pretty terrible at the mechanics. As I said, zero gravity combat isn’t easy. I can imagine that a multiplayer FPS in zero gravity could be a real blast once you master the mechanics around it.
In the end, the game looks good, it sounds good, and the addition of co-op story mode and multiplayer is an awesome and welcomed addition to any game, especially one in VR. Plus its zero gravity in virtual reality, man. If all of those things interest you, then I think Downward Spiral: Horus Station is worth a try. For me, traversing through space in zero gravity was a cool experience that, unfortunately, wore off a little too fast.
Downward Spiral: Horus Station PSVR Review
Experiencing zero gravity in virtual reality is almost worth the price of admission in this space exploration game from Third Eye Studio, but it just didn't bring enough of anything else to keep me coming back for more. However, If your poor grades kept you from becoming an astronaut, and your parents couldn't afford space camp, then Downward Spiral: Horus Station may just be the consolation prize you deserve.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using base PS4.
When Jeremy isn’t writing books or playing video games, he’s living his life one random movie references at a time.