Usually known for impressive, but short-lived experiences, VR games at their best can be intensely immersive. So when I heard the developers of the superb Metro series were making a VR shooter, I was hopeful that 4A Games' stellar reputation for crafting powerful and foreboding worlds would translate well to VR. Arktika.1 doesn't break the mold, but 4A Games' creative strengths are on full display.
Arktika embodies the Metro series' grim futuristic feel despite not being a Metro game, taking place in the frozen wastelands of Russia where environmental disasters have reshaped both the land and its inhabitants. Some unfortunate humans have mutated into nightmarish monsters, desperate raiders roam the land fighting for survival at all costs, and you’ve been brought in as a hired gun to protect a remote military outpost from these looming threats.
Arktika isn’t a first-person shooter in the sense of Metro or Doom so much as it is a throwback to classic coin-op light gun games like Time Crisis or House of the Dead. Over the course of about five to eight hours, you’ll lean, duck, and dual-wield a variety of firearms while regularly teleporting short distances to advantageous positions and out of harm's way. Arktika is not a sedate game, and requires enough room to move from side to side, duck behind cover and pop out to line up your next kill.
There isn't much enemy variety, but they are different enough from each other to require a solid mix of strategies during any given scenario. Normal soldiers can be shot up fairly easily, while snipers rely on distance and cover, and heavies must be shot in the head to take down.
Arktika's weapons consist of different types of pistols, from a classic revolver to sci-fi energy guns. Different guns require unique reload gestures, which is confusing at first and sometimes unresponsive, but it feels like a fun throwback to the reloading mechanics of Time Crisis and other similar games. You even holster your guns by placing them on your shoulders. Using Oculus Touch controllers as your weapons and moving your actual body to hide behind cover, engagements are intense, making a successful pistol juggling act feel consistently rewarding.
While the main focus is definitely on gunplay, there are other VR-specific touches as well. Using the Touch controllers, you’ll reach out and virtually grab and pull switches, push buttons, interact with screens, and even solve puzzles. Puzzles include tasks like searching for door codes, accessing terminals, changing fuses, and even redirecting the flow of power to systems by plugging in cables. Most of these elements are really just an excuse to provide a brief respite from shooting sequences and certainly aren’t overly challenging, but succeed in breaking up the gameplay enough so Arktika doesn’t entirely feel like mindless blasting.
The shooting galleries are detailed and full of animated elements that can be used to your advantage with proper timing, like the unsteady motions of trunk lids on old sports cars that can be used for cover. Since the enemy is also smart about using cover, it’s vital to keep moving from point to point to get the best possible angle. Some of the cover is also destructible (like glass walls or crowded shelving), but 4A Games has designed its sets with a frenetic, active sensibility. The game goes out of its way to force you to make creative shots, leaning out from cover to aim between sweet spots of crowded landscapes. The end result is exciting and even tense action that ensures you'll stay on the move.
The action is enhanced thanks to the excellent graphics, which offer a terrific sense of depth and scale. Arktika uses the 4A Engine (used in Metro 2033) to create one of the most visually impressive action games on Oculus Rift, where even the mission selection room looks cluttered and palpable, and the outside environments, like the abandoned parking lot, show off the apocalyptic nature of the world without needing any exposition.
While Arktika relies heavily on familiar mechanics, it definitely uses the unique powers of VR to create a shooter with a tense atmosphere and exciting gunplay. The mix of excellent graphics and surprisingly intense battles makes this one of the more enjoyable action games available on Rift.