We analyzed the PlayStation VR version of Vader Immortal, the latest Star Wars and Lucasfilm game for virtual reality. Quite a return to Mustafar.
Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away … The only good Star Wars movies are from the original trilogy! Jar Jar Binks’s tongue would have to be cut out and used to hang George Lucas from the ceiling and his continuous tinkering, to see if the midichlorians save him. What do we do with Leia’s bikini? Well, Ewoks are cool to me. It’s all Disney’s fault, since they bought Luscasfilm they haven’t given one. Hello, my name is Rey, Rey Loquequieras, delighted. But how many death stars do these guys have? Stormtrooper blasters have their barrels deflected. Jedi ghosts are missing here. It was done by a magician, I mean, this, the force, the force did it! And all these Imperial destroyers? The one behind it was actually Darth Plagueis, I read it on a forum. Rogue One is a movie that lives up to the first. The last Jedi? A misunderstood masterpiece. Who shot first, Han or Greedo? Blame the council for not “promoting” Anakin. Star Treck sucks.
They are all, right? All the clichés, cliches, and clichés that come out of any Star Wars conversation. All debates and controversial topics. The things we haven’t gotten over yet. The ones we will never overcome. We thought it was important that they were all there because today at FreeGameTips we analyzed the version for PlayStation VR of Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series, a game whose best definition is precisely that, that of a cluster of clichés, clichés and common places … but in your case about virtual reality. So short that it looks like a tutorial. With such simple mechanics that some will prefer to call it “experience” or minigame. Paladin of motion sickness and teleportation as a form of movement. Possessor of some discreet graphics that pray to the atmosphere and the capacity of immersion. The title fulfills most of the stigmas still attached to technology. And at the same time it fulfills its great virtues. It offers unique, new and unforgettable sensations. Videogames on a different scale and dimension. Too bad we already know that you can aspire to the latter without needing the former. Because Vader Immortal is like Batman Arkham VR, but three years later and with “things” like Astro Bot or Half Life: Alyx in between.
Where does Vader Immortal come from?
It is important to know that Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series came to Oculus Rift and Quest in 2019, and that it was divided into three parts released in the months of May, September and November. This allows us to establish a link with Telltale Games or Dontnod Entertainment titles, also episodic, and perfectly anticipates what we can expect: an eminently narrative experience. Behind it is ILMxLAB, a small Lucasfilm division founded in 2015 and focused on virtual reality. His resume is reduced to a handful of projects that last no more than ten, fifteen minutes and that hardly consist of looking at a stage (Jakku Spy), waving a lightsaber (Star Wars: Trials on Tatooine) and pulling levers or pressing buttons. (Star Wars: Droid Repair Bay). That is to say, minor projects, often mere experiments that were also destined for YouTube, the official Star Wars app and different stores and escape rooms scattered around the globe. Vader Immortal is the first work of a certain entity in the studio, the first video game as such, and it carries the defects that were repeated in that history: it is short and not very interactive. However, it represents an important leap in terms of resources, ambition and quality.
The story is part of Star Wars canon and sits between Revenge of the Sith and Rogue One. It has to do with Mustafar, Padmé, and the Death Star.
This leap is reflected in the end credits, in which three external studios (including Ninja Theory itself) are thanked for their collaboration and in which we also find a truly luxurious artistic and technical team. A dream team led by Ben Snow (director of the three episodes) and David S. Goyer (screenwriter). To give you an idea of the level, the first has been working for more than thirty years at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), the Lucasfilm section dedicated to visual effects and computer-generated graphics. As an ILM supervisor, Snow has collaborated on dozens of films and has even been nominated for Oscars four times (for Pearl Harbor, Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, Iron Man and Iron Man 2). For his part, David S. Goyer wrote the Batman trilogy: The Dark Knight with Christopher Nolan, he did the same with the Blade trilogy and has been participating in the script of the most recent adaptations of Superman (The Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice). He even has experience in video games, as he helped with the history of Call of Duty: Black Ops and Black Ops 2. Such effort and power of convocation can be seen in the final result, at least at the narrative level.
A new story within the Star Wars canon
The story of the game, although simple and, we repeat, tremendously short (in its entirety it does not exceed three hours), it is entertaining and has a great sense of rhythm. Delves into the lore of the planet Mustafar (scene of the mythical battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan), helps explain where the idea for the Death Star came from, and features emotional nods to Padmé. In general, it does not bother within the canon, in which it is located between Revenge of the Sith and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. In it, the climaxes of each chapter stand out, fast-paced action sequences; the character of ZO-E3, a funny droid played by the wonderful Maya Rudolph; and a part that is told in a very special way and that reminds us of the segment on the legend of the Deathly Hallows in the Harry Potter films. It is not essential and it is nothing to write home about, let no one be fooled, but the story of Vader Immortal works. The only thing that has squeaked at us (apart from that mute protagonist who dominates the force overnight) is the absence of the main theme of John Williams and the voice of Vader, who this time is interpreted by Scott Lawrence and not the mythical James Earl Jones. Being a licensed product, we do not know the reason for both absences. The result without them is not bad, but it lacks the impact and force of the nostalgia factor. And in another vein, the game comes translated into Spanish, but it is not dubbed into Spanish (and it should, being the franchise that it is). The subtitles have some flaws in the second chapter and seem invasive and annoying, but better than nothing. (To achieve a greater immersion, we recommend that you remove them as soon as you control English).
Our character doesn’t speak, but ZO-E3 does it for both of us. It is the hilarious droid that accompanies us and is played by Maya Rudolph.
In any case, if the game has been nominated for the Emmy 2019 (Outstanding Innovation in Interactive Media category) it is for the so-called “VR effect”, which makes our hair stand on end when we meet each new creature and each new location. Vader Immortal’s great strength resides there, in the “goosebumps moments.” Anyone who has put on virtual reality glasses will know what we mean. No matter how many times we have seen Darth Vader in film and video games, where the poor man is multi-employed, the first time he stood before us in VR our hearts stopped and he seemed more imposing than we had ever believed. It makes you want to get down on your knees and pay homage to the dark side for life. The feeling is unique. The immersion, total. But the same thing happens to us when we are near a stormtrooper or a Mustafarian, not to mention many other characters and enemies that we will not mention so as not to spoil the surprise. In the same way, we will go from here to there with our mouths open while we admire the height and depth of the stages. It does not matter if they are the controls of a ship, the hangar of a destroyer or the ruins of an underground temple. It does not matter if we knew the Mustafar region years ago from the beautiful prism of David Tattersall, director of photography for Episode III. With PlayStation VR (and with Oculus) all those places already visited feel like something completely new and awe inspiring.
Worse combat than Star Wars Kinect?
It is curious then that, being its setting so intoxicating and captivating, we do not feel the same when it comes to handling the lightsaber, a blaster or the powers of the force. The first time we use each of these elements is very, very exciting, we will not deny it, and we will be playing and fooling around with the saber all the time, but the charm evaporates after a couple of fights . It doesn’t take too many minutes to realize how extremely limited the playable mechanics are. We did not ask for the sword duels that Red Steel 2 and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword gave us, but Vader Immortal’s are there with those of Star Wars Kinect, and these were … well, let’s leave it in room for improvement. With the PlayStation Move the control is superior to that, where it goes, but at the level of depth and complexity the battles are just as flat or even more. To begin with, the character cannot die and it does not matter whether we defend ourselves or not (the title of the game is not even painted). But if we want to do it, if we want to defend ourselves, we only need to learn two movements: put the sword horizontally and raise it when the enemy attack comes from above; and put it vertically, covering the side when the blow comes from the side. Our opponents have no more attack patterns and they also do everything in slow motion (very slow) so that we can anticipate and block. They seem to be crying out for us to kill them. When we block them they remain immobile, as if in shock, and we have to wave our arm in any way to finish them off. No matter what movement we trace or where and how it impacts them, their reaction is always the same, so we will end up moving our wrist like crazy and holy Easter. It doesn’t feel fluid, nor real, much less spectacular. There is no challenge of any kind, there is no opponent. It is a play of light as beautiful as it is empty.
The lightsaber combat is downright disappointing. Our character cannot die, everything goes too slow and the enemies only have two or three attacks.
As sad as it sounds, in the end the funniest thing about the sword is turning it on and off out of combat. See the smoke that the crystal of the lightsaber gives off, listen to the sound of its vibration as it slowly waved before our eyes, see how it illuminates the stages and, of course, threaten the NPCs with it when they start giving us the turra. But the fight if such another day. The mechanic of returning enemy shots has a pass, in fact it is the best with the saber, but it happens more of the same. The stormtroopers are not only blind, they fire one at a time, even seven, take about a year to pull the trigger and do so in bursts of three widely spaced shots. It’s ridiculous. With the powers of force it is the same. If we stretch our arm in the direction of certain objects on the stage, we will lift them and we can throw them at the enemies. Sounds good, but when push comes to shove, we are allowed to move four wrongly counted stones, those highlighted with a special aura. We can also lift the stormtroopers themselves with force, but taking into account that the power is infinite and that as soon as they are lifted they die, doing so is like ending up taking away from the matter what little grace it already had. It does not matter if we throw them at others, if we drop them down a ravine or if we deposit them on the ground very slowly, delicately. When using force, they die suddenly and become broken dolls. That is, if we face four, for example, we raise our arms four times and it’s over. The difficulty is insulting and the gameplay is broken.
The rest of the mechanics are that of an extremely linear and corridor walking simulator. So much so that sometimes we won’t be able to overtake our teammates even though there is room for it and there are times when we even have to place ourselves on a specific tile to activate an animation and be able to continue. Then if you press some buttons here, pull some levers there and little else. There are grenades and turrets, but with a testimonial presence. And using blaster rifles is like playing skeet at a fair. With the PlayStation Move it is very difficult to aim well. It is not a matter of adapting everything to the Aim Controller and following in the steps of Farpoint, where if we brought the weapon close to our eye we would look through its peephole, but a minimum should begin to be required. The PS Move are much more precise when using the lightsaber than when throwing objects or shooting, although everything is so easy and simple that it does not matter, because we will advance almost without meaning to. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the entire game is the climbing system. You often have to climb ladders and hover over the void as you side along a wall or pipe. It is a series of incredibly careful movements, very real and satisfying. They recall the great The Climb and some passages from Robinson: The Journey (curiously, both from Crytek Studios). To be clinging to the ledge of a Mustafar cliff, to let go of one hand in Mission Impossible plan and to look down, into the depths of an abyss in which there is only lava … is another of those indescribable sensations.
The dojo, which emerged at the last minute, almost as compensation for the duration of the game, is one of the most satisfying modes at the playable level. An endgame more than worthy.
A surprising endgame
Once the story mode is finished, as beautiful as it is simple, we will find a surprise in the sea of great pleasure: the so-called “Dojo of the lightsaber”. It is a game mode in which we will face more than a hundred challenges and in which, contrary to what happens in the campaign, we do have a life bar and there is a good level of difficulty. It serves as an endgame and allows to considerably extend the duration of the game. In fact, this is where most of the trophies are unlocked and if we go in search of 100% Vader Immortal’s lifespan shoots up. In the dojo we have to defeat ever larger waves of enemies and we are rewarded and scored based on the time it takes and the number of times they hit us. Obtaining the maximum score in all the tests is a challenge up to very few. A challenge worthy of a Jedi, addictive and exhausting. We are going to sweat more than in a fitboxing session.
As we go through phases, we will unlock new handles and crystals for our lightsabers, such as Kylo Ren’s. But the most striking of all is that inside the dojo there are, incomprehensibly, powers, abilities and even enemies that do not form part of the story mode. In these times it is rare that they have not sold something like this separately, because it is possibly the longest and richest part in mechanics. Works perfectly as a standalone minigame. It may not be the reason why you bought the game, but it will be the reason why you get hooked and do not abandon it after an afternoon. It is an additive of great weight that was gaining importance during development. Too bad he didn’t have it from the beginning, because that makes him drag the gameplay problems of the story mode, which bind him, make him simple and in the long run make it very repetitive. On the other hand, taking into account that Vader Immortal can only be purchased in a single pack with the three episodes, contrary to what happened in Oculus, where they were loose, several questions arise. Why not unify the entire experience in a single menu? Why are three different games downloaded (one for each chapter) and why are there three different trophy lists? It’s a strange and somewhat annoying decision. Not only does it mean saying goodbye to the existence of a platinum trophy, but it is very cumbersome when, for example, moving from one dojo to another. If we want to do it, we will have to close the application of the dojo we are in and launch another’s application, with the heavy loading time that this entails. As if they were different games. In addition, when going separately, the rewards from one dojo cannot be used in another and therefore all have the same rewards, which are repeated. It gives the impression that the details have not been taken care of with this port … The packaging is not up to the task.
With no health bar and infinite force powers, the difficulty is insulting. At least it is varied, but more because of the short duration (3 hours) than on its own merits.
An improvement port
At the level of adjustments and personalization of the experience, an effort has been made to preserve the Oculus options and allow each user to tailor virtual reality to their tastes and needs. We can choose whether to play standing or sitting, how pronounced the vignette effect is when we move, if we want to be automatically taken up the stairs, if we remove the option of falling … and so on. But not even for that reason has this version been prevented from having the option of free movement. It is mandatory to pull teleportation and the turns are limited, not being able to turn suddenly. There are no 180º turns, for example. In addition, the detection of the PlayStation Move is not the best and, as we said before, it can cause problems, especially when shooting and throwing objects. Some final phases of the dojo are to get a good piss off with the adaptation. And even when the controls are properly synchronized, our character’s wrists will continually adopt strange postures, as if they were broken, breaking the magic of the spell and taking us out of their universe. In that sense, it is a fair port and it shows that the title was not originally intended for PlayStation VR and PS Move. The same happens with the graphics, which beyond the (great) models and some effects, is not as impressive as you would expect from a game this linear and dark. Missing details, animations, textures, lighting, FX, backgrounds. The graphical downturn is linked to the technology that accompanies it, we know it, but in PS VR it has impacted us less than Rogue One X-Wing VR, the mission in VR that Criterion Games released for Star Wars Battlefront (in 2016!). It is far from being the best we have seen and handled with the device.
Vader Immortal is a game that comes too late. It would have worked very well in its day as a first contact with the world of virtual reality. Now however it seems too short and simple. It tastes like little. Their biggest similarities are with titles from two or three years ago, like Batman Arkham VR. From when virtual reality glasses were still testing their limits and possibilities; from when their games experimented with many mechanics and did not delve into any. Vader Immortal is like that, he does a bit of everything and nothing comes out particularly well. Its playability is poor as it is alone and some proposals are even insulting at this point, not because we have seen things like Astro Bot or Hal Life: Alyx, but because we thought we had surpassed Star Wars Kinect. It is an extremely linear and corridor adventure, with a disappointing combat system and on top of that the PlayStation VR version does not seem to have a special pampering and affection behind it. You can see that it is a game designed for Oculus, suffering here a graphic cut and another even more painful at the level of options and movement controls. But still, it’s business as usual, the setting will drive any Star Wars fan crazy. It allows you to immerse yourself in a wonderful universe and its story is frenetic for the three hours it lasts. Not to mention the endgame, which has its crumb. In short, why are we kidding ourselves, even though it is not the eighth wonder, over the years we have spent much more money on Star Wars fan service that was infinitely worse than Vader Immortal. As a game it is fair, but for warsies it can be a good option. Wood, if we even paid to see The Rise of Skywalker.
- The story is canon and it delivers. Varied and with a great sense of rhythm.
- The setting, pure Star Wars. Moments like meeting Vader are simply incredible.
- The dojo, a more than interesting endgame.
- The campaign does not last 3 hours.
- The mechanics are simple to rage. That lightsaber combat is most disappointing.
- Graphically unobtrusive.
- Less movement options than in Oculus, specific problems with the PS Move …
- That is sold as a unit, but then behaves like three different games. Three trophy lists, three dojo with the same rewards …
It is not the latest or the most original, it does not have the best execution either, but it can be fun if you like the genre. Good, but room for improvement.