Sometimes a break is needed from mutilating zombies, capturing outposts and saving the world. Downward Spiral: Horus Station, from 3rd Eye Studios, takes us on an immersive journey through environmental storytelling. Whether you love to experience space in VR or want to traverse a ship with a controller, Horus Station is diverse and begging to be explored. Here is how I felt about this eerie space thriller.
Developer: 3rd Eye Studios Oy Ltd
Publisher: 3rd Eye Studios Oy Ltd
Genre: Adventure, Indie, Action, FPS
Platforms: Windows PC, PlayStation VR, Oculus, Vive and reviewed on PlayStation 4
Length: 6-7 hours
What can you expect?
Depending on how you’re feeling in the moment will determine how you experience the game for the first, second or even third time. You get the choice to jump straight into the story or give your multiplayer moves a test. Unfortunately, what we have here is not the next winner among FPS shooters, however, you will be able to kick butt in an eight-player PvP and PvE experience. It was a little barren, so the Multiplayer hasn’t been completely tried and tested but with the choices of modes including Deathmatch and Horde, it has certainly peaked my interest.
If you want to share the experience on a more intimate level, then Co-Op play is for you and in my opinion is the definite choice. I played solo and although it made the isolation feel so much more real, the gameplay would certainly be more fun with a friend. Furthermore, the lack of guidance throughout would be so much less frustrating with a fellow crew member.
If you aren’t feeling in a social mood, then story mode is the place to be. You can play this experience in both VR or merely with your controller. The game gives you an ‘Engage’ or an ‘Explore’ option which determines whether you play with hostile threats or without. The pace is determined solely by your own preference and I was so pleased with this. These options alone widen the range of audience and leads to replayability.
Furthermore, you can choose three levels of difficulty: mild, standard and oppressive. The main changes being the DPS and the speed of the enemies. There are 7 Acts, all a substantial length, to journey through.
The game’s main selling point is the ability to create complete immersion through environmental storytelling. I would agree that there are aspects of this which are done amazingly. However, if I can be completely honest, I had absolutely no idea what was going on until, perhaps the 4th Act. It was a lot of fumbling around trying to deduce my purpose on this desolate ship.
You can grasp the basics very early on… you need to get your ship back online. Anyone who has played Alien Isolation may experience the same kind of vibes. Complete and utter loneliness as you explore Horus Station with the anticipation of being attacked at any moment.
You will experience flashbacks of a desert land, clones, robots that appear to have gone rogue and you will need to piece everything together. You are given a sense of freedom to uncover your situation at your own pace which I liked. With the absence of speech or documents, you are completely free to interpret the circumstances in your own way.
On the other hand, the absence of any tangible story meant that parts were not memorable. However, the immersion can’t be denied. I ensure you that your attention will be on your surroundings and there will be a point where you become hooked to finish the story and see the end goal.
Gameplay and Graphics
Due to the VR capabilities, the graphics aren’t the best in the world. However, they certainly aren’t the worst. Everything is very simplistic but genre specific. During the flashback sections, the world is again very basic but through these environments, you will be able to draw conclusions about what is happening and where you might be.
You will be floating around this ship in zero gravity. I must admit this was extremely frustrating when I was learning how to move effectively. The game encourages you to use your surroundings to push you to where you need to be by using the left stick to pull and release you. Although it felt realistic in a space environment, it was very hard to get the hang of and I felt blessed when I found the ‘Tether Tool’ which I could shoot at surfaces to drag myself where I needed to be.
If you found yourself in an area with little to no tangible objects to use to move, you would end up just floating extremely slowly in one direction until you hit something. This increased the length of time playing considerably and left me feeling quite aggravated.
Sometimes my character would not grab things when I needed them causing certain parts to again, drag out and get annoying and I’d spend time trying to set myself up perfectly as not to miss the object again. I found the mechanics to be exhausting and I may have enjoyed them more in VR but when using the ‘flat mode’ it just wasn’t for me.
The range of weapons and tools you can acquire is tremendous. I found myself trying and testing them all as I picked them up and whittling my favourites down. They all have their own advantages, for example, a wrench can help open doors. All weapons are effective against enemies if you hit them on their ‘sweet spot’. Enemies are brutal across all difficulties but with the right technique, they are easy to overcome.
There is a multitude of different foes. You will come across large robots, small robots, robots that go invisible and this was a nice variation. They all have unique ways of being destroyed which you will need to work out and you will die… a lot. Yet, the respawn rooms are in abundance, so you will not be put miles away from where you die. This was extremely helpful, and deaths were not that big of a deal.
The world is very interactive with the ability to push buttons/turn dials even if they don’t do anything. As well as being able to grab any weird and wonderful items that float around the space station. There are some interesting objects I’ve come across from teddy bears to a poop emoji.
There are no obvious objectives throughout the game, instead, your aim flashes on the screen briefly and really, it’s your responsibility to work out what you need to do. There are no tips or an ability to see what your objectives are after it’s flashed on the screen which can cause a lot of confusion. However, mini puzzles you come across are fun to solve and not too difficult.
The best way to know if you’re going the right way is by the game’s logo, which is an Eye of Horus, that will flash up on a screen in front of a door or a corridor thus giving you a subtle sign that you are on the right track.
For the explorer in you, there is an ability to find collectibles. There are 20 to collect and they aren’t completely hidden that you’d drive yourself mad to collect them. In my one playthrough I managed to collect around 17 of them without veering too far from the storyline path. They don’t seem to add anything to the story or give any extra information, but they are a nice addition.
The music is amazing. The soundtrack is composed by Ville Valo who is the platinum selling front man for the Finnish band HIM. Most of the time there is no music which adds to the isolation of exploring the abandoned vessel. However, when music does play it is appropriate to what is happening and does nothing but add to the experience.
If you find yourself outside of the ship, there is no sound, making it very realistic to be in deep space. It can become very eerie and even though this is not a horror genre of game, I did jump at certain noises that happened unexpectedly.
Adam’s VR Experience
Fellow Loot Gaming writer and PlayStation Division Head Adam Llewellyn gave Horus Station a go in VR Mode to compare with how I felt about the game. Here are his thoughts:
“Horus Station’s PS VR mode has impressed me due to one aspect. The traversal. This is simply due to the fact that I’ve been floating around in zero gravity virtual reality for the best part of the last three hours and haven’t felt sick once. At all. Considering I felt ill from just walking around the Baker mansion in 2017’s game of the year Resident Evil 7 PSVR this is a genuine feat.
You move around my grabbing hold of the environment and pushing/pulling your way from obstacle to obstacles. This works for all of the scenery and works well. It’s really cool, you do feel like you’re in Space. I played standing up so I had a wide space to move around in and this made the world feel more interactive. The game features the usual VR tropes, you can pull levers, pick items up, place items where they need to go, shoot and more. The shooting works well, just look where you want the bullet to go and pull the trigger.
Everything else is by the book, the traversal really isn’t. From what I’ve played in VR so far (which is quite a lot) it’s a totally unique experience and to pull it off well first time is a triumph. It can sound silly but just slowly pushing your way up a shaft or pulling yourself along a railing is immersive. 8.5/10 for VR Mode”
Downward Spiral: Horus Station does environmental storytelling wonderfully. Although in ‘flat mode’, the mechanics were not up to scratch it seems VR Mode is the way to go. You will have fun the entire 7 Acts as you float around, destroying enemies and solving mini puzzles. The ability to replay this game in so many different ways is a huge thumbs up from me and I think that if you’re looking for a role-playing, FPS game where you can live your dream of being in space… this game is for you.