Space Rift Episode One Review - Mining For Glory

Space Rift: Episode 1

PlayStation VR is off to a great start, but if there’s one thing it’s missing, like the other VR headsets on the market, it’s deep and full story-rich experiences. There are some available for sure, but there’s just as many quick “experiences” that don’t provide that meaningful gameplay we’re looking for.

Enter Space Rift, a story-based science fiction title that takes place in a future where Earth is nothing more than a smoldering ruin and contractors must mine materials to survive...literally. It’s a brave new world and a bold claim for a PlayStation VR title. So, does Space Rift hold up under pressure, or should it be sent out the airlock? It’s time to dive into its world and find out!

Mine or Die: This is The World Now

Space Rift has a promising setup. After a meteor shower decimates the Earth and leaves it uninhabitable for human beings, humanity relocates to Mars to start fresh. Corporations take hold, the chief ones being WEYSS and PANDORA.

These companies live luxurious and happy lives aboard a mothership while the rest of humanity works in what essentially amounts to slave labor. Your character, Casey Black, is a pilot for WEYSS. He mines ores and minerals from asteroids to quite literally pay for the air he breathes.

That’s right, if you work for WEYSS, your payload powers your life support. Talk about a villain that’s easy to hate. On a routine mission in the game’s opening level, you are swept up in a recruitment message that when triggered causes your ship’s computer to think you’re a traitor.

As you can imagine, the punishment for treason is death. You barely manage to make it out before this happens and find yourself recruited by a team of rebels who are working on a device called the S.E.E.D. It’s capable of establishing an atmosphere on a barren planet that could otherwise sustain life.

In other words, it’s the key to humanity’s future, but they need supplies to finish the project. That’s where you come in. What follows is a solid story that takes you across the stars and into some hairy situations. Between missions, you can talk with your fellow rebels and listen to the inner thoughts of Casey as he gazes out of various windows on the station.

Overall, the story in Space Rift: Episode 1 is really solid. The writing is good and while the voice acting can dip into the cheesy side here and there, for the most part it’s well done. As the title suggests, this is the beginning of a journey, but you’ll get plenty of lore and story in this first chunk. I, for one, would absolutely play additional games in this series, especially if the budget is increased to include more features and enhancements. What’s here is pretty impressive on its own, however. Let’s talk gameplay!

VR Spaceflight: Ultimate Immersion

I love games that place you in the cockpit of a ship or behind the wheel of a car in first person, but on VR they take on a whole new form. The 3D depth and immersion when you’re quite literally sitting in the pilot seat is just amazing. It’s so much more engaging that watching it on a screen.

Gameplay starts out simple but quickly gains some variety. When you’re flying around, you can freely look around the cockpit and interact with various screens by simply looking at them and pressing the X button or using the directional pad to select items.

A typical scenario would involve me approaching an asteroid and laying off on the throttle until I came to a stop. I look to my right and press the button on the screen below me to deploy a drone. As it circles the space rock, I can see the mineral deposits. With a tap of the X button, I set the trajectory and the drilling begins. I press X again when it reaches a large pocket of minerals, and presto! The minerals are mine!

In other situations, I will look above me to see several buttons for a flashlight, scan, and a jump to warp speed. All of your interactions in the game involve your character physically reaching out and pressing what you select.

Furthermore, when you look down you see your torso and legs beneath you. These little touches add a lot of presence and further contribute to the rock-solid immersion the game offers.

When combat happens in the game, you're targeting is relegated to a reticles that moves with your head. While it took some time to train myself to steer the ship and look at the enemy, it became intuitive fairly quickly.

Weapon upgrades can be purchased between missions and range across things like laser weapons, homing missiles, and rockets. Enemies consist of simple drones, but they prove to be a quite a challenge when things get hairy.

Your ship gets around, but it’s not the most responsive fighter I’ve ever piloted. That being said, standard tactics like slowing to take tight turn feel good and work well. Aiming with your vision is reliable as well.

Beyond that, the scanning, mining, and drilling all work well. I had a few technical issues with jittering on the tracking and some drift, but these could easily be attributed to flaws in my setup and they were very few and far between.

What’s here is a solid gameplay experience. The combat isn’t incredibly in-depth and the enemies could certainly use some variety, but the functionality of it all is very solid. It’s certainly one of the more fleshed out experiences on VR, which is saying something.

When it works, it works extremely well. I got very engaged with the game after the first few missions and really felt myself immersed in the world and the story. The extra conversations you can have with your fellow rebels gave me some depth to the proceedings, and the recordings you can listen to while flying in the eternal silence of space gave me something to do in the vastness between asteroids.

Most of all, it made something as tedious as mining fun, and the combat was solid to boot. Most games fail to check even these most simplistic of boxes, but Space Rift Episode One has the fundamentals down pat.

Sharp Graphics, Lacking Certain Detail

Space Rift: Episode 1

The presentation in Space Rift Episode 1 is one of the better looking VR titles in terms of resolution and aliasing. The graphics aren’t incredibly complex but they do look very good in the headset. There’s very little in the way of blur or aliasing, so the overall picture comes out very smooth and crisp.

The character models are simple as well, but they have enough detail to make them stand out as unique characters. When you’re in space, the sense of scale is perfect, with asteroids that range in size, and gargantuan planets offering stunning vistas to behold as you fly by.

Similarly, the music lends a very lofty and epic feel to the gameplay. It has a strong sense of scale in and of itself, with intense tempos kicking in during combat encounters. The mysterious and awe-inspiring gulf of space requires a very particular type of soundtrack to properly convey the visuals on-screen and Space Rift’s composer nailed this aspect of the presentation.

As mentioned earlier, I like the writing, but the voice acting can be rough in some places. The on-board computer in the beginning was particularly grating, but the mainstay characters all do a fine job of playing their parts.

My only other complaint is the lighting. When you have your flashlight on, most objects are nothing more than a black blob until you get extremely close, at which point the light illuminates detail. This was frustrating when trying to navigate large structures and being unable to see anything I needed until I was right up on it.

In terms of length, Space Rift should take you around 4-5 hours to complete, depending on how many times the PANDORA drones hand you your proverbial posterior and you have to restart.

While there’s no solid confirmation on a second episode, the 8-person team at Vibrant Core is clearly passionate about VR and has made numerous comments in the community about how they would love to continue the story if the game sells well enough to justify it.

I would play another game in the Space Rift saga without question. Unlike space-fighter Eve: Valkyrie, Space Rift: Episode 1 brings a full single player space sim experience to the PlayStation VR headset, and in doing so reminds us all how truly immersive VR can be.

If you like sci-fi space adventures and you want to see more of them in VR, Vibrant Core has you covered. Show them your support by picking up this title and let’s see what they can do with their next game.

Whether you play it or not, this is one VR studio you should keep your eye on. If this is what they can do as a first attempt at VR, I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Final Score: 8.5/10

Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 11/21/16

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