Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a bioengineered robotic Superman!
I’m in the middle of a high-speed surf across an endless sea of white clouds, my arms extended forward like Superman as I steer towards a nearby island littered with eroded structures. I arrive at the base of a large cliff and immediately begin climbing my way up the 90-degree rock wall. Using an arm attachment I discovered earlier in the game, I’m able to whip myself up large portions of the 1,500-obstacle with ease, reaching the summit in a matter of seconds.
There, I crouched down into a stealth position and crept my way to the opposite ledge where I discovered four Tempest bots patrolling an area below rich with valuable loot and resources. Before making my way to ground level, I pulled a futuristic-looking grenade from my chest, pressed the trigger with my opposite hand, and lightly hucked the green cylinder right in the middle of the patrolling unit. Two of the bots immediately fell to the ground, their parts scattering throughout the battlefield in the process; the other two, damaged from the blast, stumble back to recover.
As I leap from my perch, Batman-style, I once again extend my arms forward, gliding smoothly towards one of the damaged bots. While still in the air, I grab a shotgun-style weapon from my hip and finish off the enemy scout with a single blast. When I land, I immediately turn to the final enemy and activate my holographic shield to absorb incoming fire. As it stops firing to move positions, I reach for my two-handed automatic rifle and finish off the straggler, taking only a moment to soak in my flawless assault before looting the area and continuing towards my primary objective.
Insomniac Games’ Stormland is a VR sci-fi RPG that prides itself on its lack of boundaries and restraints. Set during an unknown time somewhere in the far future, the game places you in the role of sentient android that was, somehow, brought back to life after your adorable robot community was invaded and destroyed by a mysterious force known as the Tempest. Over the course of the 5-hour campaign, you’ll travel to multiple locations to learn exactly who this enemy is, why they’re attacking, and where the humans have gone; most importantly, you’ll look to reconnect with your lost friends.
Stormland includes, without a doubt, one of the most satisfying and fully-developed narrative campaigns currently offered in VR. As you explore the various strata that comprise the Stormland universe, you’ll discover artifacts and audio logs from both humans and androids recounting the events that led to this bleak future. Remnants of advanced structures are scattered throughout each location, housing both knowledge, and valuable resources. As you continue to complete objectives, you’ll learn more about the fate of your friends. The story, while brief, does an excellent job of building an emotional relationship between you and the in-game characters. Androids speak and act like human beings, which allows you to empathize better with each character throughout the story.
Of course, not everyone you come across will be friendly. Enemy synthetics, referred to as the Tempest, have nearly wiped the area clean of Android life and are now patrolling most areas. Using an assortment of futuristic weaponry, such as pistols, automatic rifles, shotguns, grenades, mines, and other projectiles, you’re offered a ton of variety when it comes to taking down bad guys. Enemies can come in all shapes and sizes, from small hovering drones, to bad-ass humanoid sentinels. Those favoring stealth will want to hide within tall brushes of grass to sneak up behind enemies to remove the batteries from their chassis; this will instantly deactivate the synthetic without you even having to fire a shot. For more of a “guns blazing,” approach, jump into the action head-on with one of the many weapons at your disposal. Take cover behind a structure and aim down the sights of your two-handed rifle for a long-distance headshot, or vault over an enemy and take him out with a point-blank shot to the chassis; Stormland offers an immense amount of freedom when it comes to approaching firefights. You’ll also have a variety of upgradeable attachments at your disposal as well.
As you progress through the campaign and discover new attachments, you can continuously augment your robot body to upgrade your in-game abilities. Sometimes this is a matter of simply picking up a small enhancement chip and snapping it to your corresponding part right there on the spot; other times it means physically ripping your arm off and attaching it to one of the many workbenches located throughout the game. Stormland offers a ton of options for upgrading your robot self, so much so that it can actually be overwhelming.
At certain points during my time with the game, I had so many different attachments and upgrades going on that I was ignoring half of them during combat; but I guess that could be considered more of a positive than a negative. These upgrades can including everything from a holographic shield and static pulse arm, to a conical heat attack weapon and Buzz Lightyear-style laser beam, just to name a few. As previously stated, these attachments can be accumulated by exploring new areas, collecting resources, and progressing through the main campaign.
In order to unravel the mystery, you’ll travel to different environments using a multitude of transportation. When traveling through different “stratospheres,” you’ll hop into a flying elevator which will automatically transport you between levels. These massive environments are filled with floating islands of varying shapes and sizes separated by a suspended sea of clouds. Using the aforementioned Superman pose, you can skate between landmasses with ease, using wrist-mounted rocket propellants as well as floating booster beacons to propel yourself faster. It’s an insanely fun locomotion mechanic that adds an immense amount of fun while traveling to distant objectives. While on land, you’ll come across different topography, structures, plant and animal life, and various other environmental elements; sometimes you’ll be exploring the scattered remains of an abandoned above-ground facility, other times you’ll be navigating the dark confines of an intricate cave system.
Along with single-player, Stormland features online multiplayer co-op, though there is a catch. In order to access multiplayer functionality, you’ll first have to play through a short portion of the main campaign in order to discover and unlock the communications transmitter. This device will then allow you to connect with other players remotely and continue both the main story and post-game content cooperatively. Speaking of post-game content, let’s talk about the Cycling World.
Once you’ve completed the main campaign, you then unlock the Cycling World, a massive post-game area featuring the same traversal, combat, exploration, and progression you experienced in the main game along with new locations, upgrades, and story lore. Most interesting about the Cycling World, however, is that it runs on a schedule of rotating cycles, each of which lasting a single calendar week. Every cycle, which begins every Tuesday at 9am ET, features a new global condition, which includes new Spire effects and Tempest strategies.
New cycles will also bring changes to both the in-game world and enemies, including the constituent of biomes and islands, the player mission list, the makeup of enemy resources, and various other in-game elements. Daily changes add even more diversity in the form of new alloy and fruit positions, weapons and chest locations, and Tempest squad compositions.
The overall goal is to conquer the Tempest command tower in Terminus by beating all three open-world strata within a single cycle by completing Storm Portal missions. Those who defeat the Terminus within the allotted time will face even tougher enemies during the next cycle; players who complete the task again at a maximum “escalation level” of 2 will unlock an additional special ending.
Whether it be the compelling narrative experience, insanely fun locomotion mechanics, intense gunplay, or expansive post-game offerings, Insomniac’s Stormland is a near-perfect VR experience. Honestly, there’s just too much included in this game to cover in one post. At a time when VR is battling to earn the hearts and minds of mainstream audiences, titles like Stormland and Asgard’s Wrath prove that AAA VR gaming has most definitely arrived.
Insomniac Games’ Stormland is available now for $39.99 exclusively on the Oculus Rift and Oculus Rift S.
Feature Image Credit: Insomniac Games