Archangel, the latest title from Skydance Interactive, is available now in the PlayStation Store for 39 U.S. smackers. That’s more than us VR gamers are used to paying for digital titles, so I started out a bit skeptical. That skepticism started to fade the minute the game loaded up. I didn’t know if Archangel was going to be any fun at this point, but I could see it had a level of polish that most “stage one” VR games don’t have. The opening cinematic looks quite nice, top-tier in VR, with believable acting and decent writing. During this scene, with a father and son on a futuristic subway, most of the world building is either shown to us through the subway windows, or the posters on the wall, or through dialogue exposition, which thankfully, didn’t feel forced. I’m not going to ruin the story, but I will say that, despite a well done fifteen minute opening scene, Archangel doesn’t waste time in getting to the action, and the act that begins this war is satisfyingly emotional.
You’ll play as Gabe, the pilot of a giant six-story Mech. The surviving members of your team will accompany you through the missions, while flying spaceships. It works story wise, as they provide you with information on the world and how to play the game, while also helping to draw enemy fire and to offer their own fire support when needed. Plus it’s cool that you are the only one with the badass giant Mech.
Speaking of giant Mechs, Archangel is on rails, meaning you don’t move. The game takes you on the ride, while you control both of the Mech’s giant mechanical arms, including a shield for each arm, machine guns with the right hand, and missiles with the left. Plus, you can ball your fists and punch some of the environments to bits. This may be my favorite parts. Sadly, you don’t get to simply walk around and smash the world to hell and back with your giant banana hands … because that might be too awesome. No, instead they only allow you to destroy certain set-pieces. But when the opportunity does present itself, it feels really good.
In between levels, you’ll have the chance to add upgrades to your Mech and/or your weapons. Will you choose to focus on upgrading your firepower, or does increasing the amount of time you’re allowed to wield your shield sound like a better strategy? Maybe you’re an “increase-the-amount-of-damage-my-hull-can-take”, kind of player. I don’t know. The choice is yours. Whichever route you take, you’ll probably spend much of the next level feeling under-powered. Not because the weapons are weak, or your six-story exoskeleton isn’t a giant killing machine, but because the game is pretty freaking hard. I believe some of you players will be able to beat Archangel in as few as three hours, but I sure didn’t. On normal difficulty, it took me over four hours. I can say I was in no hurry to get through it, but mostly it was just because I died. A lot. Although, it was difficult, thankfully, the frequent checkpoint system kept it from getting overly frustrating.
Aside from being able to add upgrades between levels, this is also where the story really advances. You’ll be able to speak with your Mech’s AI, along with being able to have conversations with each surviving member of your crew. It added to the heft of the game’s story and truly highlighted the polish that they put into the game’s story. Some will (and already have) balk at the price tag for a game of three to five hours long, but the production value in Archangel is apparent from the first scene to the last, and that doesn’t come cheap. The replay is admittedly low, but if you jack up the difficulty level to hard or permadeath, than I’m sure that would keep you busy for a good long while.
Although you can play Archangel with the Dualshock 4, the best way to play the game, in my humble opinion, is with the Move controllers. Each Move controls one of the Mech’s arms. Pressing the X or Circle button brings up an energy shield for that arm, that you’ll have to position as if you were holding an actual shield. When the firefights become intense, you can (and will need to frequently) hold up both shields at once. But beware; the energy shields time out after a few seconds, so they must be used wisely. Additionally, the Move button clenches your fist for punching, and the trigger button fires the weapons, whether that’s missiles on your left hand, or machine gun fire from your right. After upgrades, you’ll be able to switch between different missiles on the fly. Both of the Move controllers will bring up a unique reticule on the screen to aid you in aiming. The good news is the tracking I experienced was flawless, but the bad news for me was despite the obvious difference in the reticule for the missiles and the reticule for the machine gun, I would still get them confused and crossed from time to time. During the heat of battle, this mistake, along with the mental task of holding up and directing my shields, occasionally switching fire modes, and aiming two different weapons, it’s a wonder that I ever lived long enough to write this review. It’s the complexity of the control scheme that made me never really miss that I wasn’t also able to control the Mech’s movement.
I’ve always felt that on-rail games are a legitimate genre of games and not simply a crutch used to disguise a shortcoming, and Archangel is one of the best on-rail shooters I’ve ever played on any platform. On-rail games may not be your cup o’ tea, and that’s fine. I’m not here to change your mind. But if you do like them, or at least have an open mind towards them, than I think Archangel is a no-brainer, despite the higher-than-some price tag.
Archangel PS4/PSVR Review
Overall - Very Good - 7.5/10
With a level of polish not always seen in the early wave of PSVR titles, Archangel really shined. Thankfully, it was also a helluva a good on-rails shooter.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a digital copy of the game bought at the expense of the reviewer. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using base PS4.