Apex Construct comes from Fast Travel Games, a Virtual Reality game developer with a view of creating games that people won’t forget and will come back to time and time again. This is a lofty goal but with a team made up of former DICE, Bandai Namco, Guerrilla and EA developers they have the potential to meet their aim. Does their debut, Apex Construct succeed in satisfying the companies’ mission statement?
Release Date: Out now! There is also a demo available.
Genre: Action, Puzzle
Developed By: Fast Travel Games
Published By: Fast Travel Games
Platforms: Reviewed on PSVR on a PS4 Pro, also available on Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Windows Mixed Reality via Steam, Oculus Experiences, Green Man Gaming and Viveport
The game immediately introduces you to its strange and beautiful world via the narration of ‘Fathr’. Fathr is an AI who guides you in the beginning of the game, teaching you the tutorial and generally filling out some of the lore of the world that you’re in.
It appears that you’re the last human in a world overrun by robots. These robots are immediately hostile to you, as is a second AI, ‘Mothr’. With Fathr seemingly trying to guide you and Mothr seemingly out to kill you, the story begins to unfold.
As the story develops mysteries start to arise. Throughout the beautiful, unique world there are terminals scattered. These can be accessed and the files can be searched through to give background on the story and reveal some key information. These files also include voice logs which fill out some of which came before, giving the impression that you might not quite be who you think you are.
This information is well presented and easily readable, blurry text is a pitfall many VR games have fallen headfirst into, so kudos to Fast Travel Games for leaping that gap. A data bank in your Hub is also available to collect information.
The story is laid out in a way that encourages multiple playthroughs as every time you play there’s potential to find a secret story element that you missed the first or second time round. The fact that the story and setting are interesting enough to pull you back into the headset for a second time through at least is a fantastic achievement in its own right.
Apex Construct’s gameplay revolves around an incredibly cool combat mechanic: the Bow & Arrow. The developers knew this weapon would be able to anchor a VR title and it really does. By utilizing a shield and the ability to dodge sideways in real life combat, it genuinely feels fluid.
It is incredibly satisfying to block a projectile then fire off multiple arrows rapidly to defeat your foes. It’s even more satisfying to dodge from side to side avoiding enemy fire while returning arrows of your own. It is incredibly intense, at certain occasions I was legitimately sweating from moving so much. This really is testament to the immersive nature of the combat. The controls work magnificently in combat, firing the bow feels proper, the way it would in real life. There’s a sense of impact to loosing arrows using the move controller and Fast Travel Games have nailed this. As you progress you unlock other types of arrows outside of the infinite standard ammo which adds variety to your play style.
The other side of the combat is the enemies and again, Fast Travel have nailed a great VR enemy. The robots are interesting in their design, nothing over the top or ridiculous but totally believable and deadly.
Again these grow more varied as you progress, the teleporters are a genuine nuisance to handle. This challenge adds a lot of tension to fights, which, as you are totally immersed in the game, is an incredible accolade. Tension in VR games feels unique, it really challenges the player to be at their best and Apex Construct yet again nails it. Even the game’s boss fights are excellent, the design is magnificent and they have a wonderful sense of scale. It’s a real shame that they’re underutilized.
The flip side to the enemy growth is the game’s difficulty. On Normal mode I did struggle in certain encounters. However there is an Easy option so this is easily solved (no trophies are locked behind difficulty!). There’s also a Hard one for anyone who really wants to sweat. The difficulty is amplified by the punish of death; upon death you lose all of your RP (next paragraph for details). This isn’t a Souls game though, even when your reach your point of demise, you aren’t getting back what you lost. Once it’s gone, it’s gone for good.
The campaign is told through a series of missions. These are mostly fetch quests. This is not a negative at all though, VR games are much more suited to having an objective to work towards. After you beat the mission, you choose when to return to your safe house. From the safe house you spend the currency (RP) your earn from defeating enemies, finishing levels and discovering secrets. You can upgrade your weapon, ammo and shield. These upgrades are vital to in game progress, one level in particular I died on several times. After going back to previous missions and exploring more, I was able to beat the mission with ease.
Apex Construct is set up as a ‘closed Metroidvania’. The world is not open and free to explore but split into areas. In these areas there are plenty of locked doors and other obstructed paths that you’ll have to return to later. Despite missions reusing the same areas they never feel stale. There’s something about being familiar with your environment that is comforting in virtual reality, recognizing areas and the path to take makes you feel accomplished.
Graphics and Sound
Apex Construct has a very striking, colourful aesthetic. The world manages to feel real but also unique due to the level design. Buildings are contorted, there’s destruction all around but there’s also natural beauty. The amount of greenery perfectly juxtapositions the robotic factories that you’re exploring.
The sound design is intriguing. Fathr and Mothr are very well voiced, they are robotic although they have a personality. You can feel their emotions in their dialogue at times, whether it’s a moment of triumph or desperation.
The music that kicks in as you fight enemies is also excellent. It really ramps up the sense of excitement and accompanies the combat perfectly. One issue is with enemies movement. The sound effects are not taken advantage of to show an enemies position. For example if an enemy is to your left, you won’t be able to pinpoint that using sound alone. This is particularly troublesome in a tower defense mission about half way through the game. There are three points of entry for enemies but if you aren’t facing the right way you won’t be able to know there’s an enemy coming.
For a VR game this category is incredibly important. Apex Construct performs very well in this regard. To heal you drink cans of juice, you can imagine how this would work. Tilt it towards you and away you go. The bow and arrow is fantastic as covered. The terminals that contain passwords and story lore require you to type on a keyboard. This could have been a massive annoyance. Thankfully it works great here, only once or twice did I clumsily hit the wrong key. You can interact with the world well for the most part, objects can be picked up and examined and you can toss things you don’t want away. Apex Construct really succeeds in making you feel part of the world.
This is a high calibre VR experience. The developer set out to make a triple A game with a Virtual Reality spin and hit the nail right on the head. They make concessions where required and understand what makes a VR game fun as opposed to what makes a traditional game fun.
If you own a PSVR this really is a must have for your collection. Despite the usual VR gripes like controls being occasionally unresponsive and this game’s difficulty spike in the middle, it really is worth your time. There’s actually a demo on the PS store which has been linked into this review so you have no excuse not to give Apex Construct a go!