While we've had VR for a while now, full first-person shooters are still rare. Last year saw games like Farpoint and Doom VFR provide a sample of these experiences. Kicking off this year, we have Apex Construct, an FPS where you'll be using a bow and exploring a weird world full of robots. Is this construct at its apex, or was more work needed?
The game opens up with you finding yourself trapped in a dark and empty void. Luckily, an AI that goes by the name Fathr finds you and pulls you out, albeit without your left hand. What is less fortunate is that the world you're pulled into has been totally wrecked by a mysterious event, and there are killer robots looking for you. Right away, the game sets up a conflict between Fathr and an opposing AI named Mothr, and your goal is to figure out what their deal is while discovering what happened to the world.
On the one hand, Apex Construct doesn't even try to pretend either has your best interest at heart. It's almost refreshing to see a game just lay out on the table that you're just a pawn to greater forces and you just got to sort of deal with it. On the other hand, the story ends before much has happened, with many of the plot strings not having enough time to actually develop. Worse, the game doesn't really have much of an ending, and I was only really aware of finishing the game because of a Trophy literally called "This is the End".
At first glance, Apex Construct may remind a casual observer of Horizon: Zero Dawn, though it's a linear affair rather than an open world game. You'll use two Move controllers, and the game offers both teleportation and smooth movement to get around. The game clearly expects teleportation movement, as smooth has several issues working correctly. You can't change elevation at all with smooth movement, making staircases impossible. Since the game lacks a jump button, it's clear it expects you to teleport to higher platforms. Smooth movement is also annoying to use as the game's walking speed is so slow that getting anywhere takes forever. On the other hand, teleportation's distance limit is far too short and the number of jumps you have to do to even get through short distances borders on ridiculous. By the end, I felt like there was just no comfortable way to get my character from point A to point B.
Combat didn't fare much better. You have a bow to fight enemies with, complete with a couple different arrow types. The bow also doubles as a shield to block attacks. What's weird is that you don't actually need to pull back the arrow and use the bow like a real bow. So long as your arrow is vaguely close to the back, you can keep firing the bow endlessly. Of course, none of this helps with the game's weird mechanics. Sometimes arrows would just bounce off of enemies for no discernible reason, while other times they would hit enemies and do no damage.
Later in the game, you'll also get electric and explosive arrows added to your arsenal. New shielded enemies appear at this point, and you need to hit their shields with electric arrows to shut them down. Much like before, sometimes arrows will just bounce off their shields and do nothing. This becomes especially problematic because, unlike normal arrows, electric and explosive arrows use actual rechargeable ammo. For some reason, arrows only start recharging after you're completely out of ammo, so it's really easy to wander into a fight with not nearly enough ammo for shielded enemies.
Things get even more frustrating thanks to the game's XP system. You earn XP for killing enemies, but you retain that XP only if you finish the level completely. Get killed, and you lose all the XP you've earned so far. There's absolutely no way to get this XP back, and you'll leave emptyhanded if you fall to one of a level's last enemies. This means that, unless you feel like grinding, late game levels can become disproportionately difficult. Even if you do manage to claim all the XP in a level, you may still not level up as the cost of leveling is way more than the amount of XP you earn usually can provide.
When you're not in combat you need to explore the levels to keep moving forward. You can find computer terminals that you can actually type on. You can even explore their folders for hidden passwords or data logs. The idea is cool, but it wasn't long before I found myself frustrated by this mechanic. Slowly typing folder names with imprecise controls wasn't much fun. Worse, Apex Construct is prone to glitches. Got a code written on a clipboard? Better hold on tight to it, as putting it down may cause it to phase through the world. One level loaded with all of its doors missing, making the whole thing a hilariously easy to bypass joke.
Besides all this, something about Apex Construct didn't sit well with me. Literally. I couldn't go more than 30 minutes without feeling slightly motion sick, and I'm unsure why. There's nothing about the game that I could put my finger on as the cause. The game plays at about the same pace as similar first-person shooters like Farpoint, Arizona Sunshine, and Raw Data, and at a slower pace than Doom VFR, yet none of those games made me feel this way. I know everyone reacts to VR games differently, but it put a damper on my personal experience. Not like the experience was really great to start with.
If nothing else at least the game is a visual treat. A strong art style makes Apex Construct stand out and look good. Enemies have cool animations like the robots who have "feathers" in the back that stand up when they spot you. Fathr and Mothr have well-done voice acting, and both characters fit into the game's world quite well.
Apex Construct Review | Final Thoughts
Just being graphically good to look at isn't nearly enough to save Apex Construct. From a story that goes nowhere to gameplay that's more frustrating than fun, Apex Construct does not feel ready for prime time. While VR could use some more options for full FPS games, this isn't really what it needed. Hopefully next time the construct will actually be the apex.
Apex Construct was reviewed on PlayStation VR using a copy provided by the developer. The game will be available on HTC Vive and Oculus Rift on March 20th.
- Good Graphics and Voice Acting
- Interesting Set Up
- Story Ultimately Goes Nowhere
- Annoying Gameplay Mechanics
- Clunky Movement
- Numerous Glitches