The best VR games are the ones that use the medium to create an experience that regular ‘flat’ gaming couldn’t possibly provide. Unique experiences that take advantage of new ways of seeing, hearing and interacting with virtual worlds continue to appear on the many VR platforms on the market and mark an exciting new frontier for entertainment. Apex Construct is not one of these games, instead wasting a few interesting ideas on a decidedly pedestrian experience that’s made worse at times by its use of VR.
Apex Construct tells of a future where the fabric of the world has been quite literally torn apart and shifted at the hands of human experiments gone wrong. Two AIs named Mothr and Fathr, leftover creations of competing corporations, fight over what’s left of the twisted landscape. As the last known human, you wake to find yourself under the care of Fathr and with a cool bionic arm to boot. What follows is an interesting, if wholly predictable story that serves as a decent backdrop but never really grabbed me in the way that it tries to. Sitting somewhere between a walking sim and an action game, Apex Construct plays out in first-person across a series of missions set in a handful of interconnected areas. You’ll spend about half of your time exploring an abandoned research centre, scouring for objects and interacting with basic computer terminals, and the other half fighting Mothr’s menacing robotic enemies. Both gameplay concepts unfortunately suffer from the same issues, a lack of interesting mechanics and frustrating design.
Oh hi, doggy
First and foremost on the list of grievances is the game’s controls, which make exclusive use of the PlayStation VR controllers (no DualShock 4 option here). Movement can either be done with the staple ‘teleportation’ or (no doubt to the delight of most VR-heads) free locomotion, while turning can either be smooth or incremental. Having this flexibility is definitely a plus, but each method comes with its own serious caveats. Smooth locomotion and turning represent the most effective methods of getting around but will no doubt cause dizziness and nausea in a lot of players, while using the more comfortable methods create unnecessary frustration when trying to position yourself properly in order to interact with anything in the world. Especially annoying is the fact that you can’t step backwards at all, so repositioning to open a door better access a keyboard means turning around, walking forward and then turning back.
When you miss the Ropsten train and the next one is in like an hour
While a mild nuisance during exploration, things take a far worse turn in combat. Conceptually, fighting enemies in Apex Construct is solid. Your character is equipped with a cool robotic bow that can also be used as a shield and switching between the two modes whilst firing arrows at fast-moving enemies can be a blast… when it works. The reality is that most of the time you’ll just be desperately firing off arrow after arrow hoping that one of them connects with the seemingly tiny hitboxes of the enemies. Far too many times I saw a direct hit go undetected, adding unnecessary stress to late game fights where enemies come from all sides and must be taken down quickly and with certain arrow types. Switching between arrows or using health items is done in real-time through an interface on the left arm, which feels nice and sci-fi the first couple of times but quickly becomes far too unwieldy to be practical in combat. Unfortunately, though there’s no quick select option for anything, despite there being spare buttons on the Move controllers, making for many deaths while I fumbled around trying to equip things.
Who designed these buildings? They’re all crooked
Over the four-ish hours that it’ll take to complete the campaign, you’ll revisit the same parts of the same derelict facility multiple times in separate missions as you collect key cards (everyone’s favourite progress-gating trope) in order to explore further. Each mission will drop you into one part of the game’s relatively small setting and task you with something like finding a specific object or activating a particular machine before pulling you back to a hub area. It’s undoubtedly a novel design choice, to cut what would be one moderately sized, open exploratory endeavour into easily consumable chunks to allow for the shorter playtimes that VR often commands. Still, it’s hard to shake the feeling that there’s not enough content here to support the game’s length and structure. Apex Construct has a distinct look and feel that made me keen to get exploring at first, but I was let down by how little there is to do in each area besides picking up mission items or typing the same sets of commands into identical computer terminals. After finishing the main game it’s possible to jump back into any of the missions and explore for secrets and pieces of story that were missed the first time around, but at that point the game had already outstayed its welcome.
Apex Construct takes a potentially interesting setting and promising gameplay and fails to deliver on either. By revisiting the control scheme and making more thoughtful use of everything VR has to offer, this could have been an enjoyable if slightly forgettable adventure, but instead what’s on offer here just isn’t worth the hassle.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro | Review code supplied by publisher