Become a Guardian and save your friends in Skydance Interactive’s virtual reality title Archangel. Archangel allows players to take the helm of one bad-ass mech suit, mowing down enemies in a hail of bullets. While Archangel hasn’t been the first on-rails shooter to hit VR, it is worth experiencing.
Archangel doesn’t bring anything truly innovative to the table, but this doesn’t subtract from the overall game. The gameplay is simple: point and shoot. It maybe not a complicated mechanic, but for manning a mech Pacific Rim style and shooting enemies out of the sky while wandering through post-apocalypse cities, simple works. Shooting enemies is accomplished with both the gun and missiles provided by the mech suit. Players can also raise shields individually to the right or left to help protect their mech’s hull integrity. If hull integrity reaches 0, it’s bye bye Guardian. Hull integrity, as well as everything else related to the mech, can be upgraded with data at the end of every stage.
Archangel is an on-rails shooter consisting of slower movement than most other on-rails VR games (Until Dawn: Rush of Blood). The leisurely pace and lack of vertical movement lend itself well to those with motion sickness, so no puking in the mech. The only quick movement is that of the player’s head while they observe and target enemies. The button layout on the Move controllers took me some time to adjust to, but was easy to adapt to once I changed my physical sitting position. Archangel controls better when you give yourself more range of motion in your arms. When I was sitting down with my elbows closer to my body due to the restraint of being sunken in my chair, I often found my line of sight being blocked by the mech’s arms. This made seeing targets more difficult. Players with X-ray vision will not encounter this issue, but for all other players, ensure there is room to groove or play with the Dualshock controller.
While the environments don’t create a lot of atmosphere, the visuals within Archangel are stunning. There aren’t many VR titles out there with this level of graphical quality. The story of Archangel, however, is generic. A resistance under the name Guardian fights against the tyrannical corporation of HUMNX to save what is left of the United States. Inventive right? Skydance Interactive tries to pull at the player’s heartstrings with really uncreative story beats, including a cheap ploy to provoke sympathy very early in Archangel. However, without much character development, players aren’t likely to be emotionally invested enough to really care. I feel with a virtual reality game about a giant mech, trying to stir up deep emotions in the player was unnecessary. Not to say mechs and emotions don’t mix, as Neon Genesis Evangelion is a prime example of just that done to perfection, but Archangel cannot even begin to scratch that level of emotional investment. In time, when VR games start focusing less on the experience of the technology, we’ll see VR games with more engaging stories. This story as a whole, though, is uninteresting – a cookie cutter post-apocalyptic scenario.
The characters of Archangel are also drab and created from the same mold we’ve seen many times before. The characters may seem uninspired, but the voice acting isn’t. with the voice cast putting on a stellar performance perfectly portraying soldiers who’ve suffered emotional trauma but who must persist with their fight regardless.
Owning a mech isn’t cheap. While the price tag for the game is not unprecedented, players may find it steep for the short experience Archangel is, clocking in just under three hours. Except for me, who took much longer, as I apparently make a horrible Guardian. I hope the price tag doesn’t scare all players off, as the experience as a whole is enjoyable. Maybe lease a mech. The story may not be fantastic, but the visuals and just the pure pleasure of shooting projectiles while stomping around in a giant robot make up for it. Picture this: you turn the corner to see tanks staring back at you, raise the mech’s massive arm and gesture, “come at me bro.” Sometimes it’s the simple things that cause you to develop a fondness for a game.
Archangel is a worthwhile experience, but not a narrative one. Players who want to experience a slightly difficult shooting situation while sitting in the belly of a mech beast may find Archangel to be just what they need. For players looking for a strong engaging story involving mechs and emotions: watch anime.