Insomniac Games is one of gaming’s most creative independent developers. So, when they invited me down to their Burbank headquarters to show off some new projects they’ve been working on, I couldn’t cut through the LA traffic fast enough. Upon arriving, I was shown by Ted Price and company five games they have slated to drop to in 2016—an unheard of number for a single developer—and got to go hands-on with most of them. Here is why 2016 is shaping up to be the year of Insomniac Games.
Sure, Ratchet and Clank is a game that’s already out, but that didn’t stop Insomniac from showing it off in case we’d missed out on the release—and to help set the stage for their release calendar. Instead of talking about this brand new reboot/movie tie-in Ratchet and Clank, I’ll instead direct you to our own Spencer Campbell’s review, and leave you with an interesting tidbit of info Insomniac imparted. After only about a week of sales, this Ratchet and Clank game is the fastest selling in the series’ illustrious history. Let’s hope the movie is as good as the game when it launches on April 29.
The first of three Oculus VR exclusive games from Insomniac, I got a more in-depth look at Edge of Nowhere. On the surface, Edge of Nowhere blends a lot of elements from other series like Dead Space, The Last of Us, and Tomb Raider to create a high-tension exploration experience. When your character is sent down to Antarctica to find an expedition team gone missing, you end up coming across something much worse: an alien race that had once been frozen in the ice, but which was now living among us. You’ll need to survive the encounter with limited tools and weapons, stealthily navigating past enemies. Smaller alien creatures can also lurk inside deep crevasses in the ice, and can pop out at any moment, so you’ll want to always have your pickaxe at the ready as a makeshift weapon. Even worse, the stress to your sanity at finding out aliens are trying to take over the world begins to take its toll on you, causing you to suffer hallucinations at the worst possible moments.
Being an Oculus game, it’s a bit odd that Edge of Nowhere uses a third-person camera. Your head takes the place of the camera, not the character, looking all around for clues or potential threats. As our protagonist moves through the frozen wastes, however, it provides an equally weird sensation. You could be looking one way, but feel like you’re being dragged through the environment as your character moves, almost like an unwilling child being shuffled through the mall by a parent running errands—which can get complicated even more by the camera always being tethered a certain distance away from the hero.
That said, in what can best be described as the start of an arms race when it comes to VR exclusives, Oculus and Insomniac partnering for this adventure seems like an exciting prospect—even if the game’s hallucinations, exploration of icy caverns, and limited resources to combat entities more powerful than yourself will feel like things you’ve seen and done before.
I saw Song of the Deep a couple of months ago back at DICE, and the demo I experienced at Insomniac’s event was similar to what I saw then. The major difference here was I got to complete all of the light puzzles at the end, and was given the opening cinematic this time around. I’m still in love with the look and style of this metroidvania, though, and if you need more proof, check out the new video of my demo playthrough.
There was one game Insomniac showed us that wasn’t playable, but we were promised hands-on with the Oculus-exclusive project later this year at E3. That game was Feral Rites, a new adventure that takes place on a tribal island that has been in constant turmoil since its wise and benevolent chieftain was slain 20 years ago. Players take on the role of that chieftain’s child, who was sent away from the island as an infant so that he or she—you can choose your sex at the start of the game—could grow up away from the flames of war. Now, you are determined to reclaim your father’s throne, and will use fantastical powers and fisticuffs to do it.
Taking a step away from the insane weapon pedigree Insomniac is known for, Feral Rites is a brawler that blends elements of Far Cry, God of War, and Altered Beast. That’s right, the SEGA classic where a man rises from the grave and can transform into were-creatures. I mention this because besides being able to customize your armor and pull off insane strings of beat ‘em up combos, your character can also transform into were-monsters to extend those combos and deal extra damage against enemies.
Whether or not this all comes together as Insomniac is hoping is yet to be seen. It’s another third-person camera in VR, and I’m not sure how that will work, especially since all we have to go on is a trailer right now. I’m definitely intrigued by the concept, though, and I guess we’ll have to wait for E3 to find out more.
The second new IP of the day, The Unspoken, closed out the Insomniac Games event, and it also looks to close out their epic year of releases. Another Oculus exclusive, The Unspoken is a PvP arena magic casting game.
The Unspoken is set in modern Chicago in a world that exists just in the periphery of your vision. Only those attuned to the “real” world, the magical world, can sense it, and it seems you are amongst the lucky few. Players will be trained in all sorts of magic and wizardry, using the Oculus’ Touch controllers to cast spells and attack other trainees. From throwing fireballs and magic javelins to calling upon a flock of crows or crafting immense golems, far flung corners of the familiar urban cityscape serve as your battlefield while you teleport around each arena.
I tried out a few different spells during my playtime, effortlessly using the Touch controller to force my opponents—including Insomniac Games founder/CEO Ted Price—to submit. I enjoyed the variety of offensive, defensive, and passive spells, but each player has the same six spells in their roster, so I’d love to see some customization in the future to give each loadout some variety.
I was also impressed with the intuitiveness and response of the Touch controllers. Ducking in and out of cover, I’d change my throwing mechanics to launch spells at unsuspecting angles, catching opponents off guard. I was pleasantly surprised to see the Touch react to whether I was throwing over the top, underhand, or sidearm.
Of all the titles I saw, it seemed to take the most advantage of VR. The demo only contained online versus and the game’s tutorial, but I sincerely hope there’s more to it because the setting and gameplay has me extremely excited for the potential of The Unspoken.