In Vader Immortal, Oculus Quest users are thrown into a thrill ride smack in the middle of a galaxy far, far away with you an official character. Its three-part story adds new lore to the franchise’s canon set between the events of Revenge of the Sith and Rogue One.
At $11.99 per episode, this is something best played all together in a marathon, bringing your wildest childhood fantasies to life in a 90-minute action-adventure storytelling experience. To emphasize, it’s designed as both a movie and game. To top off your wish list, you even get to relive a few magic moments from the movies and face Darth Vader without getting your hand cut off.
Stormtroopers fire their blasters at me while I keep a lightsaber in motion. A deflected bolt knocks one of them back. I reach out with my other hand, using the force to catch their weapon in mid-air.
My droid companion tells me to keep taking them out as we fight our way through Imperial forces. After escaping, our air skiff flies over the bright, fiery hellscape of Mustafar. Darth Vader’s castle sits over a cliff as a life-draining engine shoots up in the atmosphere. The only thing standing between The Dark Lord of the Sith and wiping out the planet? You and me.
Ever since the release of the Quest in May 2019, Lucasfilm’s immersive entertainment team ILMxLAB (creators of Avengers: Damage Control and Secrets of the Empire) took the opportunity to give players a story-driven Star Wars experience exclusively through Oculus’ first truly wireless headset (and later through other headsets).
Following a short demo called Trials on Tatooine in 2017, director Ben Snow and writer David S. Goyer were convinced the dream of wielding a lightsaber could be fully realized in VR.
This was the starting point for Vader Immortal’s feature-length “experience”. Together, each episode employs a deep narrative driven by quirky characters and of course, interacting with one of history’s most recognizable villains (and Vader is truly terrifying up-close).
After the signature “a long time ago” message fades, you start inside a cockpit as an unnamed captain of The Windfall, a smuggling ship under attack by the Hutts (who want their spices back). After performing a hyperspace maneuver, your vessel is stopped by the Galactic Empire who pull you into the volcanic atmosphere of Mustafar (where Anakin fought Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith and lived there in Rogue One).
Notable elements of the Star Wars franchise are re-created by ILMxLAB, who effectively marry recognizable sounds and aged mechanical décor of the original Lucas trilogy for authenticity. The world looks like a giant Star Wars movie set if you stumbled into the production and believed in what you saw.
From the haunting screeches of TIE Fighters to the hovering of an IT-O Interrogation droid and straight-up being stunned by a stormtrooper, you’re immediately feeling hopeless before Darth Vader comes with a terrifying proposition; help him cheat death or be force-choked.
The Sith Lord serves as a looming presence as you explore his castle. In Episode Two, he becomes pivotal as you unlock The Force, which you’ll later use to survive against Imperials and Mustafar’s creatures.
But in true Star Wars fashion, you’re almost never alone in the galaxy and a handful of friends come in unexpected places to guide you through the story. Your main companion is a droid named ZO-E3, or “Zoe” for short. Voiced by actress and comedian Maya Rudolph, she also adds the franchise’s humour under tense situations.
In all three parts of the experience, you’ll be faced with a variety of puzzles that keep you engaged. Hacking elevator panels and activating a ladder to climb are just some ways Vader Immortal makes use of the Quest’s six-degrees-of-freedom control as you sneak through Mustafar.
It also means you’re required to have enough space to walk, turn and swing your arms around (so try not to force-push anything over in real life).
But obstacles aren’t just overcome with your floating VR hands. You can also use the force to move obstacles with your hands. It’s a responsive, natural feeling that almost makes you feel like a real padawan once Vader teaches you how in Episode Two.
Vader Immortal does what many Star Wars titles don’t and lets you wield the lightsaber, an elegant weapon that becomes central to the story and its replayable challenge mode. From Episode One, ILMxLAB faithfully nails its design-to-feeling from emanating glow to its vibrations which course through your hands when you deflect, block and strike.
For the purest of Star Wars fans, they can live out their Jedi power fantasies in the Lightsaber Dojo, an open-ended combat arena mode that gets better with each installment. Episode One’s dojo allows for different maps while Force powers and other abilities are reserved for Two and Three. In these versions, you can combine force abilities to throw your lightsaber, activate traps and even toss enemies around.
Each mode takes on a three-star based set of challenges that require you to eliminate enemies in the fastest time possible.
If you’re motivated in unlocking some rare lightsabers and gloves, the harder “Unleashed” survival levels can be frustrating. This is made worse by fast movements the Quest’s tracking can struggle to keep up with. Reacting too quickly can also result in taking damage even though you were blocking. Using the force can also be unresponsive if you aren’t steady with your reach.
But despite the setbacks, unlocking everything is possible and perseverance brings satisfying rewards. In Episode 3, you can even use dual lightsabers and access some legendary ones, including Darth Maul’s saber staff and Kylo Ren’s crossguard.
It’s easily the best part of the experience, adding replay value while setting itself apart from other lightsaber-based games, including Jedi: Fallen Order (which was released a week before Episode 3).
Vader Immortal’s limitations as short VR thrills leave plenty of potential for a full-length game in the future. It’s impressive attention to detail can be appreciated by new and long-time fans escaping into The Outer Rim. As the story pushes its limits to innovative heights after Episode One, a few hitches in gameplay can be distracting in very demanding moments. But despite some of these flaws as you uncover the mysteries of Vader’s castle, each chapter improves with engaging mechanics that shine in the dojos.
This is a Star Wars title worth looking for, as ILMxLAB has taken a major step into a larger world.