Valve Index Review (PC/Steam/VR)

Valve’s newest headset brings virtual reality one step closer to reality.

Virtual reality, or VR as it is most commonly referred to, is not a new concept by any means. The idea of being completely immersed in a virtual space was conceptualised as far back as the mid 20th century, prior even to the existence of the home computer. With the first commercially available headsets made available in the early 1990s, it seemed like the work of science fiction where simply donning a headset could allow the player to enter another reality. Though it’s true that the applications of VR extend into areas such as training simulations, cinema, and even social virtual worlds, there is one area where VR has remained consistent, pivotal, and constantly advancing: videogames.

Virtual Boy VR Valve Index PC Steam Review
One of the earliest (and most infamous) commercially available VR headsets.

However, technical limitations have long held back VR headsets from achieving a true sense of reality. This is until recent years, where mass produced headsets coupled with the rapidly evolving technology of gaming consoles and powerful personal computers have finally managed to blur the line between reality and the virtual world. To be fully immersed in the world of a videogame is an experience like none other, and something that “flat gaming” (that is, games played on a regular screen) can never hope to achieve.

Having been invested in virtual reality for several years now, I’ve eagerly awaited a piece of technology that could truly take my breath away, or have me convinced I had left my living room entirely. Previous headsets, while incredibly entertaining and providing unmatched gaming experiences, would still regularly remind me of being firmly grounded in reality due to unwieldy controllers and unimpressive visuals. Though my most recent VR experience has begun to change my perception…

The Valve Index, manufactured by none other than Valve (the corporation behind Half-Life and Steam), is the latest virtual reality headset to launch in Australia. Released initially in 2019 for the US market, the headset is finally available for purchase in Australia next month, where the Index VR Kit officially launches available only through EB Games Australia. Alongside a hefty price tag, the need for a powerful PC, and several square metres of space, this impressive piece of technology provides the most definitive VR experience to date. So is the Index worth your hard-earned cash? Read ahead and find out.

VR Valve Index PC Steam Review

What do you get?

The Index VR Starter Kit, which is entirely contained within a single hulking black box, is jam packed full of almost all the equipment that you’ll need to dive into virtual reality. Almost is a very key word here, because there is something absolutely vital that any player wanting an Index will already need at their disposal: a powerful PC. Before you even consider purchasing an Index, be sure to run the SteamVR Performance Test to give you a sense of how well your computer will handle it.

So your PC passed the test? Good! You now have permission to open the box, which contains:

  • Valve Index VR Headset – the most important aspect, of course. This fancy, expensive hat lets you play cool games and houses two 1440 x 1600 LCD screens for your eyeballs’ enjoyment.
  • Valve Index Controllers (x2) – you’re going to want to treat these with respect, because these controllers are an incredible piece of tech and a pair of them will set you back a whopping $499.95AUD. So make sure to secure those handstraps; you don’t want to fling these into your monitor.
  • Valve Index Base Station (x2) – they’re watching your every move. These tracking stations are able to visualise the headset in virtual space and will need to see it at all times. For dedicated VR enthusiasts, an additional two base stations can be added to expand your play area.
  • Power supplies, power adapters, and charging cords – if I had to estimate, I’d probably say you get about 10m of cords with the Index, so try to keep them organised. Each power supply also includes an Australian adapter that slots in.
  • Half-Life: Alyx (digital download code) – this is more than just a tech demo, this is the most impressive VR game ever made. With 12+ hours of immersive gameplay, exceptional use of the VR headset and controllers, and a thrilling adventure set just prior to the events of Half-Life 2, Alyx is an absolute must-play and perfectly demonstrates the capabilities of the Index.
VR Valve Index PC Steam Review Kit Unboxing EB Games Australia
Opening this box definitely makes you feel like a kid on Christmas morning.

The Setup

It’s a considerable amount of gear and can be a bit daunting at first, but thankfully getting ready to use the Index is a smooth experience that requires minimal effort. Here are a few tips to consider when getting set up:

  1. Display port – does your PC have one of these? Well, mine didn’t (it has a display port mini), so be sure to purchase the appropriate adapter prior to setting up your headset to avoid disappointment.
  2. Power points – you’re going to need four of these at a minimum. One for your PC, one for the headset, and then one for each base station.
  3. USB ports – the headset needs to be connected to your PC via one at all times, and spare ports are preferable as well for charging the controllers.
  4. Space – an essential aspect of your setup. You’re going to need an area where you can stand and move freely with about 1 – 2m either side of you unobstructed. Set up in a cramped games room at your own risk, as I found out when I knocked several items off a shelf mid-game.
  5. Downloads & updates – as soon as you’ve got everything plugged in and ready to go, be prepared for a multitude of updates. Literally everything needs to update, including the headset and controllers. It’s also recommended to pre-install SteamVR and even Half-Life: Alyx to avoid needing to wait for these to download (on rubbish Australian internet).
VR Valve Index PC Steam Review Headset Gif EB Games Australia

The Headset

The quintessential piece of virtual reality equipment – wearing this headset will almost certainly convince players they’ve left their living room or office entirely. And the Index Headset is more than just a couple of screens and lenses; there’s an incredible amount of technology incorporated to provide as legitimate a VR experience as is currently possible.

Contained within the headset are two 1440 x 1600 LCD screens with a maximum framerate of 144Hz for silky smooth gameplay. These sit in the main body of the headset behind two lenses, which can be moved horizontally using a slider to adjust the inter-pupillary distance, a nice touch for fine-tuning the image. The combination of these particular screens and lenses allows for an immersive field of view, moreso than other headsets I’ve used previously, meaning that the gameplay fully wraps around you with fewer blindspots. Images on the Index are crisp and able to achieve a significant level of detail (if your PC will allow it).

VR Valve Index PC Steam Review Headset Key Visual

Though it’s not all about the visuals – the Index achieves an impressive auditory experience too. Two built-in ear speakers sit raised just beside each ear to create a surreal suspension of disbelief. Easily adjusted into place within seconds, the speaker design creates a proper sense of 3D audio without any physical intrusion of headphones or in-ear earphones. Audio quality is impressive, with a sense of environmental space that allows the player to detect sounds as if they’re coming from any direction, and noise leakage is almost non-existent.

VR Valve Index PC Steam Review Ear Speakers Headset
The ear speakers will truly surround you in the audio.

Finally, if you’re going to be wearing this unit on your head for hours on end, it’s got to be comfortable. My melon head stretched the index to its very limits! Thankfully, numerous adjustments allow the headset to adapt to suit players of all sizes. The size of the headset, angle of the screens, distance of the lenses and speakers can all be easily changed within seconds. During our play-testing we got the Gaming News Australia crew together to try out the headset, and adjusting it between each player took a matter of seconds. You’ll easily be able to play for several hours before the headset begins to become restrictive and uncomfortable, but fine-tuning the adjustments takes some trial and error.

The Controllers

With only a few basic buttons and minimalistic design, the simplicity of the Index controllers can be incredibly misleading. Despite how basic they appear, these just so happen to be some of the most technologically-advanced controllers you’ll encounter. However, the impressive aspects of the controller cannot be shown off in a gif, because it’s all under the surface.

VR Valve Index PC Steam Review Controller Gif EB Games Australia

Hiding beneath the sleek exterior are numerous features that aim to enhance the VR experience. By sliding the controllers onto your hands and fitting them into the hand grips, each hand is unknowingly mapped by 87 individual motion sensors. This allows accurate tracking of the position of each finger and any minute movements that are made. To deepen the experience, there is actually no need to “hold” the controller, as they comfortably attach to each hand and allow a completely open hand without fear of the controllers dropping. In addition to the motion sensors, the hand grip features a force sensor, which detects squeezing and grabbing inputs.

VR Valve Index PC Steam Review Finger Tracking Gif
Demonstrating the finger tracking of the controllers.

Tactile inputs are still utilised to complement the more advanced sensory controls. The analogue stick (though small) is smooth and easy to control, and the trigger and action buttons all have a satisfying clickiness to them. Each controller also has an oval-shaped track pad on its surface, which functions effectively as an input for scrolling and navigating in-game menus. While the ergonomic design can be adjusted for most players, those with bigger hands may have some trouble reaching the lower face buttons, as these can be awkward to reach.

VR Valve Index PC Steam Review Controller Key Visual
The sleek design hides a deceiving amount of technology.

Charging the controllers is as simple as plugging in a USB-C cable, no special docks or equipment required. Full battery life will last just over 7 hours of playtime, which is more than enough for the vast majority of VR sessions. They also charge quite quickly – getting to half capacity in around 30 minutes, meaning you won’t be kept waiting too long if they run out.

The Games

Bundled with every Index Headset is a download code for a game by the name of Half-Life: Alyx, the newest entry in the iconic sci-fi shooter series that helped Valve shoot to fame back in 1998. This is a tailored experience that has been designed specifically for virtual reality and a brilliant standalone Half-Life game on its own. Having played through the game in its entirety, I found myself regularly in awe of the clever gameplay mechanics, which showcase every single aspect of the Index to near perfection. Alyx is quite possibly the most polished VR experience to date, and an absolute must-play for fans of the series.

VR Valve Index PC Steam Review City 17 Half-Life Alyx Visuals
It’s a thrill to navigate through the treacherous City 17 in Half-Life: Alyx.

We tried out several other games to put the headset to the test, including rhythm games like the incredibly popular Beat Saber and the recently-released God of Riffs, both of which make excellent use of the controllers in a musical setting. Other notable games in different genres include Moss, Blade & Sorcery, and Vacation Simulator, all of which are unique VR experiences that are worth checking out. And if you’re looking for something more social, VRChat is easily the most popular service available where players can interact with each other using 3D avatars. It’s the future of socialising!

VR Valve Index PC Steam Review VRHome SteamVR Home
Home is where the headset is. Literally.

Strangely enough, one of the most impressive “games” is not a game at all, it’s SteamVR itself, which is more like a dashboard for loading up games. You can customise this to various different environments that are crafted by the Steam community. During my time trying out the headset, I turned my VR Home into “Bag End” from The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit and was able to explore through Bilbo’s iconic hobbit hole. The VR Home is also packed full of interesting Easter eggs, customisation options and virtual tools to keep new players entertained.

Other Thoughts

Before we wrap things up, there are just a few more points about the Valve Index that are worth mentioning. While the technology is evolving rapidly and this is one of the finest examples of virtual reality, there are a few limitations that hold the Index back from being a perfect experience:

  • Cords – be prepared for LOTS of them. While they are mostly unobtrusive and won’t significantly impact your gameplay, cord organisation is a must for any seasoned VR player, otherwise you’re likely to end up with an unsightly rats nest of cords on the ground (like me).
  • Space requirement – you’re going to be moving around during most games, so ensure that the Index is setup in an appropriate area. If you’re lacking in space, then VR may not be a viable gaming option.
  • Game library – while there are several superb VR titles and a growing number of creative uses for the platform, this is still a relatively new platform, so the library is quite small in comparison to regular games.
  • Price – the biggest limitation of the Index. The Index VR kit will set you back nearly $1900AUD, and players still need to have invested in a modern PC with the capacity to run the games. This is by no means an entry level headset and may be a hard purchase to justify for newcomers.
VR Valve Index PC Steam Review Banner

Conclusion

There is no doubt that the Valve Index is one of the most advanced pieces of gaming hardware that money can buy, and an incredibly impressive VR experience for newcomers and seasoned players alike. Clever design elements incorporated into both the headset and controllers provide the player with an unmatched sense of immersion that makes going back to regular games seem almost banal in comparison. The inclusion of Half-Life: Alyx makes the Index a near perfect experience to demonstrate the possibilities of VR and its applications within videogames.

While impressive, the Index is unlikely to be replacing traditional videogames any time soon. The need for a powerful PC in addition to a hefty price tag are both hurdles that will unfortunately limit many gamers from even considering the Index. The headset is clearly aimed at those already invested in the technology and suits this demographic as a worthy investment for those keen to spend the time in virtual reality. For those dedicated players, Index is a gaming experience like none other.

So, why should you buy it?

  • You’re a fan of VR and looking to upgrade from a lesser headset.
  • Accurate hand-tracking controls that allow creative and immersive gameplay.
  • You own a powerful PC and looking to put it to the test in new ways.
  • Fans of Half-Life will likely be blown away by Alyx.
  • Gameplay that blurs the line between reality and videogames.

But why shouldn’t you buy it?

  • Lacking the PC hardware to run games smoothly.
  • Requires adequate space to allow for a large enough play area.
  • Price tag means other cheaper headsets may be more appropriate for VR newcomers.

A Valve Index VR Kit was kindly provided by Valve for the purpose of this review.

God of Riffs Early Access Impressions (PC/VR)

Beat Saber, but make it metal.

Chances are if you’ve played VR, or even heard of it, you’ve probably encountered a game by the name of Beat Saber. This music/rhythm game took the virtual world by storm with its initial release back in 2018 and still has a massive community thanks to its simplistic but engaging gameplay and regular updates. However, one aspect of Beat Saber just didn’t grab me, and that was the genres of music available. There’s plenty of adrenaline-pumping EDM, synth, upbeat pop music, and even some punk rock, but one crucial genre (and my personal favourite) was almost entirely missing from the tracklist: METAL.

Well thanks to a new VR game by the name of God of Riffs, that guitar-shaped void is about to be filled! Developed right here in Australia by Boss Music Games, this rhythmic heavy metal VR experience has the player slaying hordes of demons to thrashing beats and face-melting guitar in several original songs produced specifically for the game. It’s what’s been described by the devs as a “heavy metal album cover brought to life” and it’s definitely the kind of VR game I can imagine Jack Black playing.

At the moment the game is in its early stages, but the team were kind enough to hook me up with an early access copy – so let’s dive through the gates of hell, pick up our mighty axes, and become the God of Riffs!

Gameplay

If you’ve played Beat Saber, you’ll be able to easily dive straight into God of Riffs. With a trusty axe in each hand, these act as your only defense against the onslaught of hellspawn that charge headfirst towards you. By choosing one of the four available tracks, you’ll have to destroy enemies to the beat of the songs, which is a simple gameplay mechanic to pick up and play, but difficult to perfect!

God of Riffs PC Vr combat gameplay gif

Swinging around the controllers feels really natural, and becomes seriously satisfying when you’re able to do so perfectly in time with the music. Bonus points are awarded for hitting chains of enemies in a row, but miss too many and they’ll deplete your health bar leading to the God’s demise. Each song lasts approximately 3 – 4 minutes, which feels like the perfect amount of time to get a hang of the rhythm without becoming too exhausting.

Several gameplay options are also available – modifiers to change the speed/intensity of your axe swings, changes to enemies, and an easy/medium difficulty to ensure that players of all proficiency are catered for (with hard being added shortly). Each song also features a global leaderboard to flaunt your hi-score, and though I didn’t get close, it was enjoyable to challenge myself and constantly work towards a better score.

Visuals

As you’ll notice, the visuals are pretty basic, with cartoon stylised enemies and environments. Though it’s not particularly visually-impressive, it works well in VR and is still successful in immersing you within the game’s world. Gameplay is fluid and looks crisp despite the basic details, though at this stage there aren’t many options to bump up the graphics – something that’s hopefully added in future!

God of Riffs PC Vr Review Environment visuals
This area just LOOKS metal.

One nice touch is the option to change the level environment for each song – several locales can be chosen and each have a distinct aesthetic. I’d recommend trying all of them out and seeing which level suits each song best. Tracks about fire and demons seem fitting in the lava level, whereas pirate-themed song absolutely has to be played on the edge of the sea.

Music

Now the most important part of any rhythm game – what’s the music like? Well I can happily say that even in early access, the music for God of Riffs impresses. At this stage there are four tracks available, each with distinct melodic style, and equally impressive as music that has been specifically composed for this experience. The tempos vary considerably to provide several different challenges; some are fast-paced thrash metal, whereas others are a bit slower almost to the point of hard rock. The title track is easily the most impressive, and even by itself is a catchy song that I’d happily listen to outside of the game! Here are a couple tracks that you’ll get to smash heads to:

So, what’s next?

Considering the game only recently launched as early access, expect regular updates and new content in the coming months. You can pick it up on Steam for $7.49AUD and at this price it’s well worth it for VR metalheads and anyone who enjoys Beat Saber/rhythm games in general. I’ll definitely be keeping eye out for future updates and keen to hear all the new music that will be added up to the game’s official release!

You can pick up God of Riffs here: God Riffs on Steam

An early access code was provided for the purpose of this article.
All gameplay was played and captured on a Valve Index headset.

WCTV Podcast #5: Diablo II Resurrected, Altdeus, Record of Lodoss War, Say No! More

Robert and myself are back again for another episode of the WindyCornerTV Podcast, where we talk all things gaming, recent releases, gaming news and an overview of the games we’ve played and reviewed. In this episode we have an in-depth discussion of the recent Diablo II Resurrected Technical Alpha, the VR visual novel Altdeus: Beyond Chronos, Robert’s experience with Record of Lodoss War, and the comedic NPG (no-playing game), Say No! More.

Watch/listen here, and be sure to check out the channel for more:

FYI, the car is a Lamborghini Diablo. Sadly not a playable class in Diablo II Resurrected.

Are you keen for Diablo II Resurrected, or have you tried out any of the other games we discussed? Leave a comment or reach out on our socials and let me know!

WCTV Podcast #4 – Hunting Season

Recently I’ve been invited to appear on WindyCornerTV’s channel to help record a podcast! Earlier this year we recorded and episode for the 10th anniversary of the Nintendo 3DS, and decided to make the podcast a regular thing!

In each episode we’ll discuss recent releases, games we played and reviewed over the last couple of weeks, and interesting topics from the games industry around the world. In this episode we discuss the biggest release of the last month: Monster Hunter Rise! Robert also dives into his experience with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 on the PlayStation 5, we chat about the recent VR version of DOOM 3 for the PSVR, and I discuss my time at the Hamburg Games Conference and recent review of Everhood on Nintendo Switch.

You can watch the podcast here:

Stay tuned for future episodes and be sure to check out WindyCornerTV’s channel!
In the next episode I’ll be talking about my weekend playing the Diablo II: Resurrected technical alpha.

Altdeus: Beyond Chronos Review – PSVR

The most visual of visual novels.

Have you ever read a book? You know, those compilations of physical pages that you have to manually read and turn in order to experience a linear plot? I’m going to assume you probably have.

Now, have you ever read a choose-your-own-adventure book? A book that gives you the option to make choices that dramatically affect the course of the plot. Usually it will require you to flip to a particular page where your choice causes the story to branch off in a different direction. Goosebumps books were some of the most popular. It was exhilarating to know the choices I made could make such an impact (even if it mostly resulting in my character dying).

A visual novel (VN) is the evolution of this concept – a digital version of a choose-your-own-adventure book. The visual novel is a staple of modern gaming in Japan and often features intricate plot, strong character development, and branching narratives. The genre emerged in the early ’90s thanks to the advances in computer graphics and continued to increase in popularity well into the early 2000s. Some notable titles in the genre include the tear-jerking Clannad, time-travelling banana scientist in Steins;Gate, and internet favourite dating simulator, Katawa Shojo. As a well-established genre, there are even some visual novels about dating pigeons, or ones I’ve played that I probably shouldn’t mention in public.

Above: Clannad, Steins;Gate, Katawa Shoujo.

Thanks to VR game developer studio MyDearest, who have created VR novels and manga, the visual novel has now moved one step closer to reality. In 2019 their first game Tokyo Chronos became one of the first VNs to enter VR, and was successful enough to justify a sequel. Released initially for the Oculus Quest in 2020, ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos garnered multiple awards and received critical acclaim. Now available for the PSVR, how does this version hold up? And is it good enough that it’ll make you want to throw out all your physical novels?

Plot

The year is 2280. The world has been ravaged by interdimensional aliens called Meteroa, which obliterate all life on the surface with weaponised sound waves. Humanity has been forced to withdraw underground into their last bastion, establishing a digital Tokyo with all of its citizens connected to a server. In attempts to retaliate, a group known as Prometheus recruits pilots for its Evangelion-sized mecha. You play as Chloe, an artificial human designed for the sole purpose of operating the Makhia and defending the remnants of Tokyo from complete annihilation.

Altdeus Beyond Chronos PS4 PS5 PSVR Makhia
Remember folks, if you ever need to pilot a giant robot, be sure to bring an idol with you.

Alongside Chloe at all times is the artificial-intelligence companion, AARC Noa, a part-time pilot, part-time idol, full-time sass machine, modelled off the consciousness of her recently deceased best friend: Coco Coconoe. Though Coco has been gone for 2 years after being devoured by a Meteroa, Chloe has frequent flashbacks of their time spent together, having learned the intricacies of human emotion from their many interactions. At times it feels as if Chloe can still feel her deep connection to Coco, hearing her voice whispering from beyond. Then, only hours into your journey, a fateful encounter with a mysterious Meteroa changes everything that Chloe has been led to believe…

Altdeus Beyond Chronos PS4 PS5 PSVR  Coco
The deep bond formed between Chloe (player) and Coco (pictured) becomes highly emotive.

Arguably the most important aspect of any visual novel is its plot, and ALTDEUS delivers one that is gripping, emotional, and has heavy themes of human connection despite the game’s many artificial characters. Featuring eight separate endings, choices made during character interaction and battle sequences bear significant weight and will drastically change your outcome.

Gameplay

If you’re playing a VN for its gameplay, you’re probably doing it wrong. As I discussed at the beginning of this article, this genre is akin to an interactive story where choices influence the plot. As such, gameplay in ALTDEUS is minimal and consists mostly of dialogue, character interaction, occasional use of the Move Controllers and the odd battle sequence. It’s fairly basic gameplay and completely approachable even to complete newcomers to VR – as most of the game is static, you’re very unlikely to experience any motion-sickness at all.

Altdeus Beyond Chronos PS4 PS5 PSVR Choices
Your choices influence the story. Just like real life!

Scattered throughout the game are sequences in which you pilot the Makhia: a giant robot controlled by a “Neural Link” (your VR headset) and “Mikani Links” (your Move controllers). In connecting with the Makhia, you work alongside idol/AI Noa performing various actions to form shields, analyse the opponent, or charge and launch your rail cannon. Though each of these actions is incredibly simple to perform, your choice and timing will decide how the battle plays out. Initially I was blown away by these sequences, which feel as if you really are in the cockpit of a giant robot, but by the end of the game I had seen the same thing so many times that the novelty had worn off almost completely.

Altdeus Beyond Chronos PS4 PS5 PSVR VR
Get in the robot, S̶h̶i̶n̶j̶i̶ Chloe.

Visuals

A virtual reality game set in a virtual Tokyo should look like a virtual Tokyo, right? Right. During the game you’ll get to stand in the centre of Tokyo’s iconic Shibuya Scramble Crossing which is quite surreal; I found myself pausing momentarily to admire my surroundings in 360 degrees despite the low-resolution textures. Most other environments appear quite bland with little detail, though the clean character models with their distinct anime design will draw your attention away from this.

Sadly the game’s visuals are somewhat hindered and result in low-detail, blurry textures due to the limitations of the PSVR, as can be seen below:

Left: PSVR, Right: PC.

There are however a couple of redeeming features to the game’s visuals. Sequences inside of the giant Makhia robots are impressive and look just as anime has led you to imagine: surrounded by with HUDs, screens and warning symbols. I was also blown away by the 360 degree concerts performed by Noa throughout the game, which transport you to a virtual concert space where you are truly immersed in the visuals during her performance as she sings and dances around you. It’s hard to fully describe and must be experienced first-hand.

Altdeus Beyond Chronos PS4 PS5 PSVR 360 Idol Concert
The 360 degree idol concerts are a visual spectacle.

Audio/Soundtrack

If you’re going to read through text for 15 – 20 hours, you may as well do so accompanied by some brilliant music. ALTDEUS’ soundtrack is a collaboration between multiple musicians:
– In-house composer Yosuke Kori.
– J-pop/electro musician kz(livetune) who has composed many anime openings.
– Kunuyuki Takahashi (MONACA), who arranged tracks for NieR and NieR:Automata.
– R!N who is well-known for her powerful voice in Attack on Titan’s vocal tracks.

Many of the background tracks convey a calm, wistful, and sometimes melancholic feeling, which is often reflected in the music that plays during the game’s frequent flashbacks. I’d relate this to the music in other emotional visual novels, think Clannad. This is juxtaposed by the high-tempo, upbeat idol-style songs that are scattered throughout the game’s virtual idol performances. I was most-impressed by the incredibly immersive, 360 degree anime opening that plays in the first hour of the game, which I imagine would be similar to attending a vocaloid concert.

It’s worth noting that the vocal tracks are some of the best I’ve heard in a game and are of such quality that they deserve their own standalone album. Below are a couple of my favourite tracks from the game:

An intense battle theme during the first Meteroa fight:

One of the catchy, upbeat idol tracks that Noa sings:

While I sing the soundtrack’s praises, it’s important that the voice acting too is up to scratch, as for the vast majority of the game you’ll be listening to character dialogue. You’re given the choice between an English and Japanese dub, and me being the weeb I am, I chose the latter. Not once did I tire of hearing any of the voice-acting, which has clear delivery, believable acting and even some serious emotional weight behind it during some of the more touching moments in the game. At times it felt just as if I was watching a quality anime production thanks to the voice acting of the game.

Conclusion

Having never previously played a virtual visual novel, ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos is a PSVR game unlike any other I’ve encountered, and one I would highly recommend for those looking for a unique VR experience. Fans of anime too are also likely to get a kick out of ALTDEUS, as it clearly draws inspiration from series like Neon Genesis Evangelion and Macross.

Altdeus Beyond Chronos PS4 PS5 PSVR Makhia
Yeah, I’d definitely skip a meeting to go see a giant robot too.

With 8 separate endings, a branching narrative, and a gripping plot, it will take you approximately 20 hours to reach the true ending which is well-worth it for those willing to commit. Admittedly some choices can be obscure and frustrating, requiring trial and error likely to put off many players. Though it could have simply been made as a normal 2D visual novel, being completely surrounded by the game enhances immersion dramatically, especially during the game’s battles and emotional interactions.

While this may be my first VR VN, having enjoyed ALTDEUS as much as I did, I highly doubt this will be my last. And it could be your first too!

So, should you play it?

  • You’re looking for a game with a gripping, emotional plot.
  • Piloting a mecha has always been your dream.
  • Are you an anime fan with a PSVR gathering dust? Time to dust it off.
  • A necessary game for fans of J-pop and idol music.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Not a big fan of long dialogue sequences or cutscenes? Stay away from VNs as a whole.
  • Playing through the same sequences may frustrate those with little patience.

A PSVR review code (played on PlayStation 5) was provided for the purpose of this review.

Rez Infinite Review – PS4/PS5

Take a trip through the infinite to experience true synaesthesia.

As most PlayStation 4 and 5 owners will (hopefully) be aware – Sony are encouraging people to do the right thing during the COVID-19 global pandemic by giving out a stack of 11 free games to motivate people around the world to stay safe by staying at home. The best part of this deal is that you don’t even need to be a PlayStation Plus subscriber to take advantage of this generous offer. Amazingly, as long as you add the games to your library while the offer is up, the games will be remain available for you permanently to download and play at any time in the future.

By the time you are reading this you have likely missed out on the first available game, Ratchet and Clank 2016, as this was only available to 31 March 2021. But this is your warning to get off your arse and go add the current batch of 9 games to your library RIGHT NOW…so you can sit back down on your arse to get in some quality gaming. Even if you don’t currently have access to a PSVR headset, there is literally no reason to not add the VR only games including the first appearance of the lovable PS5 mascot Astro Bot in Astro Bot Rescue Mission (a great game in its own right).

In addition to the aforementioned Ratchet and Clank 2016 there are some absolute winners here in Sony’s offering that deserve your attention. The survival indie classic Subnautica, atmospheric mystery/puzzler The Witness and bullet-hell rouge-like dungeon-crawler Enter the Gungeon are all high-quality games that have scored well with both critics and player communities alike. Even more crazily, from 19 April 2021 the game-of-the-generation contender Horizon Zero Dawn will also be FREE to download – and that is the ‘Complete Edition’ with additional DLC included!

But what I’m here today to tell you is that there is a better game on the free list. A game that in my mind is an outright classic across the entire history of video games. Yes, a game that is better than Ratchet and Clank, better than Subnautica and BETTER THAN HORIZON ZERO DAWN (I said it)- and that game is Rez Infinite.

Play at Home 2021 update: 10 free games to download this Spring
It is the first game on the list. Sony knows what’s up.

I should clarify that Rez Infinite is not the type of game that everyone will enjoy. The ‘on-rails shooter’ genre died out a long time ago as technology passed it by. But Rez it is a truly unique gaming experience that makes the most of the human senses of sight, hearing and touch to invite the player to enter the trance-like state known as ‘flow’ more than anything else this lifelong gamer has had the pleasure of playing.

Rez was originally released on the Sega Dreamcast and PS2 in Japan in November 2001, with western releases following on those consoles through early 2002. The original game saw an HD remaster release in January 2008 that was only available on the Xbox 360.

The version now available as part of the Play at Home package is the fully updated PlayStation 4 release ‘Rez Infinite’, which includes full PlayStation VR compatibility and a whole new game area created specifically for the Rez Infinite version that provides a whole new way of playing the game while also making the most of current technology of Unreal Engine 4. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to PSVR (or Oculus, where Rez Infinite is also playable) so I can’t provide comment on that mode of play. But I can say that when I do eventually enter the VR world, Rez Infinite will be the first thing I play.

PLOT

The plot of Rez is as bare bones as you can get. Set in the near future, an online network known as “K Project” is created to manage the massive amounts of data through the power of an AI called Eden. As you might guess, the AI is unable to understand the evil and corruption of the human race and begins to doubt its purpose and existence. Rather than going all Skynet, Eden escapes to the depths of cyberspace and shuts down. You play as a hacker attempting to ‘rescue’ Eden from digital infection (viruses) and wake her to fulfil her role in helping humanity.

…Lets be honest, you aren’t playing Rez for the Plot.

What does it want? To stop you moving forward. Why? I dunno…

GAMEPLAY

The simple controls of Rez have not been changed over the past 20 years. The left stick moves the small targeting reticule around the screen, when over your target you press X to shoot a single shot, or hold X to charge up to 8 shots across up to 8 separate targets. All shots ‘home’ in on your enemies or powerups, but don’t think that makes the game easy. This system comes with an inbuilt risk/reward play style. If you always try and charge to the maximum 8 shots then you might not have time to get another shot out to hit that newly spawned projectile coming your way. However, the process of charging is much faster than mashing out 8 individual shots, especially for the enemies that take multiple hits – some more than 8.

Locked on and charging up.

Through each level you may be lucky enough to pick up ‘Overdrive’ charges. Overdrive charges are your typical ‘bomb’ attack that will take out everything on the screen for about 5 seconds. You can hold up to 4 Overdrive charges at once, and there are some sections of the game where you will absolutely need these if you want to avoid taking a hit.

Old-school controls come with old school difficulty. There are no gameplay difficulty settings available here to make things easier for you. Starting from Area 1 your avatar will be level 1, meaning you can take a maximum of two hits. As you play through the game and shoot down your enemies, they will occasionally drop ‘progress nodes’. Collecting 8 progress nodes will allow your avatar to level up to a maximum of level 5, with each level allowing you to take another hit before dying.

Sometimes the enemy itself is the least of your problems.

There are 5 Areas in the base game each with its own unique boss. Each boss battle actually comes in three difficulty levels (Mega, Giga and Tera) which are based on your performance though the Area – the game adjusts somewhat to your skill level in terms of boss difficulty, though the easier ‘Mega’ bosses can still pack a punch. The Bosses are definitely a highlight of the game and challenge you while never feeling unfair.

Area 1 boss battle. Form of: psychedelic disco octopus.

On completion of the base game and reaching specific score ratings, you will unlock additional game modes such as boss rush and score attack. It will take new players, particularly those new to this sub-genre of games, multiple attempts to even finish the areas beyond Area 1, and even longer to get ‘100%’ completion ratings. At its core, like any shooter, Rez is an exercise in pattern recognition, memory, and visual awareness. The more you play the better you get, and the more of this magnificent title you get to experience.

The addition of ‘Area X’ to the PlayStation 4 version provides a new way to play Rez. Not only are the visuals and audio massively upgraded (even beyond the HD update), but you are no longer confined to the one-directional ‘on-rails’ control scheme, and can now rotate in full 360 degrees. There was clearly a lot of love put into the latest update to the team, and Area X almost feels like a sequel in terms of quality.

VISUALS/DESIGN/SOUND

THIS is where Rez truly shines. For this title it is impossible to separate visuals, design and sound due to the way they are so intricately intertwined. Furthermore, every element of the gameplay builds upon the core focus the game – to immerse you in the sights and sounds of Rez.

At the start of each Area the soundtrack, sound effects and visuals are minimal. As you progress each button you press, each shot that you fire and each enemy that you destroy builds upon the soundscape and atmosphere. Each Area contains 10 sections known as ‘Layers’. Cracking each progressive layer of security will further enhance the sound and visual experience of the Area, always for the better.

Unlocking the next layer, unlocking the beats.

What starts as the occasional snare drum hit and synth chord evolves as you play into a full-blown tune. And I mean TUNE. New instruments can be added to the soundtrack, the additional sounds you trigger when shooting enemies will change and the wire-frame visuals will twist and morph from simple lines into pulsating pyramids, forests and temples. All of the tracks are electronic music and that might not be your jam. But if you like a lick of EDM, a dash of Drum and Bass, or a sliver of psy-trance – this game is for you.

I find myself uncontrollably becoming a member of the Night at the Roxbury crew so often when playing Rez that I fear I will wake up the next day needing a solid physiotherapy session.

See the source image


Each of the core game’s 5 Areas and Area X contain a discrete audio-visual experience. Effectively giving you the feeling that you are inside a computer. Think along the lines of Tron…has anybody seen the movie Tron?

The pure sense of synaesthesia is most apparent the in the original Rez’s breathtaking final Area. It is one of my favourite levels in all of video games and it deserves to be preserved in an art gallery for future generations.

CONCLUSION

Rez Infinite is not a new game. It is a remastered version of a game from 20 years ago that was pretty much the swansong of its genre.

It is a niche retro experience that in all honesty is not for everyone. It can, at times, be brutally difficult. But if you enjoy a great shooter, if you are an audio-visual buff, or if anything said above piques your interest in the slightest, I urge you to give Rez Infinite a try.

Rez Infinite is simply the pinnacle of the rail shooter genre.

So, why should you play it?

  • Electronic music is your thing
  • You want to experience unmatched audio-visual synaesthesia
  • Um, its FREE

But, why shouldn’t you play it?

  •  …uh, maybe if you don’t own (or have access to) a PS4 or PS5

People, its FREE.

The current Play at Home selection of 9 games, including Rez Infinite, will be free right through to 22 April 2021, so what the hell are you waiting for?!

Note: I own this game on PS2 and I also paid for the Rez Infinite version loooong before the Play at Home games were announced.