Crowe: The Drowned Armory VR
Based in a small neighborhood nestled in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley, in spitting distance to the local mall and a massive Costco, is The Rogue Initiative. And no, it’s not an underground group of civil disobedient teenagers looking to upend society, but rather a dedicated group of storytellers from all manner of Hollywood origins coming together to work with the latest tech to explore VR and immersive entertainment.
The Rogue Initiative has quite a bit going on under their roof. For gamers, the company offers up Crowe: The Drowned Armory. Billed as “A Cinematic VR Game Experience”, Crowe is a blend of Myst-like puzzles and Legend of Zelda-like combat on an alien world with a fantasy theme. As the first installment in a series of episodic titles, players are first tasked with opening the doors to a long forgotten armory that houses a massive defensive weapon, capable of driving back the invaders that threaten the planet and its resources.
Once through the doors, players will fight off waves of enemies to protect the power crystals that re-energize the weapon, armed with only a shield and a bow. This is a tracked motion control title, so expect to make some room and a get bit of an arm workout letting fly dozens of arrows and thrusting your shield forward to deflect enemy projectiles.
In fact the most impressive aspects of the title were in how natural the controls felt. I’m not an archer per say, but I’ve pulled a few bowstrings back in my time and this virtual version felt pretty natural, if not much easier, lacking the actual strength required to pull a real one back. It’s a bit reminiscent of Wii Sports Resort Archery but far more fluid and more challenging since the targets are firing back and you’ll need to balance whether you shield yourself or holding steady to lock onto multiple targets for a more effective attack.
The game ends in a boss battle with an attack by a leviathan, that is as impressive visually as it is benign interactively. You’ll largely be watching the fight from your cliff side perch while the previously mentioned ultimate weapon introduces itself in a big way.
What to Expect
Gamers prone to motion sickness shouldn’t have any trouble with Crowe. Instead of travelling from place to place, players are teleported to each play location, eliminating most of the disorientation associated with VR gaming. Additionally, the vast majority of the action will be right in front of you. You’ll need to turn around a few times during the puzzle solving portion, but all of the combat will be front and center with barely a need to even turn your head. In a way, I would have liked to have enemies coming at me from all sides since that’s basically what VR is all about. Seems like a missed opportunity
Visually, the game’s graphics were a bit under par, especially for one an experience that lasts for only 20 minutes (more on that in a bit). The lush, overgrown and otherworldly ruins are like something out of Avatar with some genuinely convincing environmental effects like fog and water spray. This was offset by occasionally flat, pixelated textures that I feel could have been easily remedied since the player is effectively locked in place, by pushing lower resolution elements further from view. This was especially obvious in the menu screen before the game begins. It might have been possible to adjust these settings, but wasn’t possible to check at the event we attended to demo the title.
My biggest criticism is in value and replay-ability. It’s pretty safe to say that VR interest, right now, is reserved for only the most hard core gamers, considering the expense associated with the equipment necessary. A gamer with that kind of experience is likely to blow through Crowe in about 20 minutes, maybe less. I was a bit taken aback to learn that the demo I played was actually the full game, out now on Steam for the HTC Vive (Oculus mid-June, PS4 in July).
I had very little guidance, partially because the noise of the event drowned out the game’s fairy guide, AMI. Despite initially having to suss out the controls on my own and being pummeled by enemy fire, I was still able to reach the finale in around 25 minutes. Even at the currently discounted price of $14.99, this seems a bit much for what amounts to an entry level tutorial on what’s to come. The Rogue Initiative is promising some free content add-ons, including survival and exploratory modes in coming months that should help to boost its longevity before follow up episodes are released. The challenge will be in getting VR owners to invest in an unknown IP among a market of episodic gaming that already has strong franchises (Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead) offering much longer playtime for as much, or less money.
The Bottom Line
Hype aside, VR is still very much experiencing growing pains and developers will continue to struggle to find the balance of quality and value needed to draw a larger audience. The Rogue Initiative has done a decent job in demonstrating the huge potential for VR and interactive storytelling with Crowe: The Drowned Armory, but doesn’t quite hit the mark where titles like Resident Evil 7 or Batman: Arkham VR really knock it out of the park.
Crowe: The Drowned Armory is available now via Steam for the HTC Vive – http://store.steampowered.com/app/543410/Crowe_The_Drowned_Armory/ and is coming soon for the Oculus and PS4 VR.