Other critics may be tepid about this hilarious arcade shooter, but that’s why they’re not on my level.
Developer: Supermassive Games
Format: PlayStation VR
Released: October 13, 2016
Copy provided by publisher
If there’s any one game that’s come close to convincing me of virtual reality’s merit, it’s Until Dawn: Rush of Blood.
It’s ridiculous, bordering on stupid, and it’s nothing like the critically acclaimed Until Dawn from which it takes its name. It’s also a hugely entertaining on-rails shooter with hilarious scares and arcade shooting that works surprisingly well.
Rush of Blood is quite literally on-rails as players find themselves sat in a twisted carnival ride. With a gun in each hand, players fire at a variety of targets ranging from cardboard cutouts to severed heads on spikes, all painted in gaudy colors. As the players’ carriage trundles through what appears to be Until Dawn‘s mountainous retreat, things get progressively spookier.
The masked “psychopath” from the original game shows up to torment players, joined by clown-faced monsters, shrieking ghosts, and spiders that aren’t shy about getting right up in somebody’s face.
Being a PlayStation VR launch game, Rush of Blood naturally does the same thing many 3D movies did when that temporary craze took over Hollywood – it throws a lot of stuff at the camera for cheap thrills. Surprisingly, however, it works quite well, since Rush of Blood convincingly establishes itself as a tacky horror ride and can subsequently get away with pulling off tacky jump scares – some of which can be legitimately scary.
More than that, however, the environments in which these scares take place are utterly horrific. The second stage is a gigantic slaughterhouse full of screaming pig corpses and saw blades that must be physically avoided by tilting the PSVR headset. Shrieking noises surround the player while the imagery is simply grotesque, creating a nervewracking atmosphere which porcine-headed monsters happily manipulate to terrify their audience.
With a Move controller in each hand, players get an effective lightgun-style game reminiscent of House of the Dead. Enemies leap into the world and pace toward the player, needing to be quickly gunned down lest they grab onto the carriage and start dealing damage. Thrown objects can be shot out of the sky, and there are – of course – plenty of exploding barrels on offer to clear out crowds.
Different weapons can be picked up by shooting crates, granting temporary use of armaments including shotguns, uzis, and revolvers. Creepy clown babies litter the world, and a sub-goal is finding and shooting them all in any given stage. You’ve got to shoot the clown babies. Shoot them all.
Shoot the clown babies.
Firing feels responsive, with the PlayStation Camera tracking movements fairly well to create satisfying gun combat.
Rather than use crosshairs, Rush of Blood affixes flashlights to each gun – it’s an interesting move that gives players a fairly reliable way of gauging their aim but isn’t so direct as to guarantee they’ll always hit their target – its just vague enough to require some added care and skill while fighting.
What I really enjoy is how the game works well as an arcade shooter independent of its status as a PSVR title. While the VR chicanery undoubtedly makes it scarier and – to borrow an overused phrase – more immersive, it’s still a fun arcade shooter in its own right, with all the gaudiness and overemphasized action that comes with it.
I believe Rush of Blood could easily be retooled as a more traditional lightgun shooter and still be a heck of a lot of fun.
While tracking works well and the combat is immediately gratifying, VR limitations can cause trouble. Missing bonus targets like clown babies can be frustrating as the player’s natural inclination is to turn around and try to shoot them from behind, but the PS Camera can only handle front-facing aiming.
It’s a special kind of sadness to watch a clown baby disappear because one’s in-game arms are having seizures the moment they’re turned.
Some sequences force this kind of problem on the player. One section in particular features monsters attacking not just from the sides, but from above as well. Aiming up to shoot at them is essential, but often leads to a huge warning box blocking the view and stating controllers are “out of the play area.”
I was reduced to aiming up and just hammering the fire button, hoping to hit the enemies quickly so I could get back to feeling like I was in the game’s world as intended. Fortunately, this issue accounts for a tiny portion of the overall production, but it’s galling regardless.
Each stage is a themed ride through some nightmarish world and I love almost all of them, but the final level is absolute crap.
Initially exciting with its huge monster swiping down at the railway tracks, it quickly devolves into an uninspired and overly punishing series of repetitive battles against boring tentacles that can one-hit kill the player if they fail to shoot its weak spot enough times within a brief window of time.
These instant deaths are especially annoying given how far back checkpoints can be and how formulaic the situation becomes as a result.
It’s a shame the final stage is little more than a generic “lava world” romp littered with dreary and annoying enemies, because up until then it’s a very genuine blast.
Easily the best looking PSVR game I’ve tried so far (though admittedly I’m still getting games as they’re drip-fed to me), the world is richly detailed with creepy accoutrements and the monster designs are excellent. Of particular note are the wraith-like screamers who blink and skitter around rooms – they look mesmerizingly intimidating in motion.
Oh, and the spider-themed level… the way that one ends… oh God.
Until Dawn: Rush of Blood may be a brief and silly spin-off, something far removed from 2015’s fantastic adventure game, but it’s the most fun I’ve had with a virtual reality game to date, and it’s just a brilliantly entertaining pop horror experience with enjoyable shooty-bang-bang combat.
Save for the final act, each level is a ludicrous and enthralling ghost train that builds to a delicious setpiece or freaky boss battle. It’s ostentatious stuff that never allows for a moment of subtlety, but that just makes me respect it more. This is a game that commits to being overindulgent B-grade horror fluff, and it does it too well to hate.
There’s also something clever about how you can “spoil” the game for yourself if you look down – that’s not a spoiler from me, because you’ll look down eventually, and you’ll immediately go “aaaah.”
Until then, you’ll likely be yelling “NOPE!”
In a good way, of course.