Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series – Episode 1 Review
VR alters the deal; I pray it alters it further.
By Dan Stapleton
After so many hours of Beat Saber, I have to say it felt damn good to have some officially licensed sound effects as I swung my honest-to-goodness lightsaber around in Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series – Episode 1 (of three). This 45-minute Star Wars game (which is exclusive to the Oculus Quest at launch) is fairly simple mechanically and the story hasn’t yet gone anywhere all that interesting, but it delivers on what’s promised: to put you into the Star Wars universe. The story has Vader scooping up your generic smuggler stand-in character and sassy droid sidekick (voiced by Maya Rudolph) as part of a quest he began in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith; he needs someone of your Force-sensitive bloodline (“Surprise!” said no one) to seek out a cliche magical artifact from Mustafar’s distant past. I wouldn’t call it especially interesting thus far, since the stylized cinematic that tells the mystical tale of the artifact’s origin and your family ties to it feels like it could’ve come from any fantasy tale with no Star Wars association, but it takes us where we need to go.
Once you’re inside Vader’s castle, it thus far doesn’t feel terribly distinctive next to your typical Imperial fortress, but the good part of that is that it’s certainly nice to be immersed in so many familiar Star Wars sights and sounds. That is, after all, what we’re here for! The Oculus Quest’s limitations are hard to miss in places, though, and I couldn’t help but stare at some incredibly low-polygon TIE Bombers in the hangar bay when I first arrived. “ Coming face to face with the Dark Lord of the Sith himself is pretty impressive. Coming face to face with the Dark Lord of the Sith himself is pretty impressive – you really get the sense of how imposing he is in his glossy black armor. (I’m 6’4”, and I had to look up at him.) The animation is a little stiff and the Quest’s texture quality doesn’t let much detail come through on his suit and chest panel, but voice actor Scott Lawrence arguably sounds more like the original performance than James Earl Jones did when he reprised the role in 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It’s a shame they’re likely reserving the moment of crossing sabers with him for the second or third episodes, but it’s certainly something to look forward to. There’s a new Imperial character who feels pretty redundant to Vader, considering his distinctive trait is a cyborg arm and partial cybernetic face that gives him a deep, muffled voice. Also, he doesn’t really do anything. We meet some Mustafarians as part of the story as well, and though they would fit right in as extras in the Mos Eisley Cantina, they haven’t yet done much to set themselves apart from the rest of the Star Wars menagerie. Very little of what Vader Immortal: Episode 1 does will feel mechanically new or innovative to anybody who’s been around the VR block a few times, but the various activities do feel well put together. It has a handful of pleasingly tactile puzzles for opening doors that involve ripping open and reconfiguring control panels, climbing ladders and pipes by reaching out and pulling yourself toward handholds, deflecting incoming blaster bolts that are lobbed at you like a Little League softball pitch, and of course, lightsaber combat. (Yes, one of the first things I did with the lightsaber was to point it directly toward my face and ignite it – I was only slightly disappointed I did not die.) “ The lightsaber battles feel amazing at first. The lightsaber battles feel amazing at first. You watch your droid opponent telegraph its swing and deflect, which gives you some rewarding haptic vibration feedback from the controllers and a responsive animation from the enemy’s locked blade, and then strike back when their guard is down. Sadly, they don’t slice apart like a Fruit Ninja melon on the first touch, but everything at least sounds spectacular and it’s fast enough to be a light challenge. The problem is there are only two types of enemies you fight, and while one of them only shows up for the training session, the other appears by the dozen to fight you one after the other with the same exact attack pattern for way, way too long. Before that fight sequence was done I had given up on the fantasy and was stepping forward to wiggle my lightsaber hand around inside their faces to end it as quickly as possible. As far as controls, Vader Immortal offers the now all-but-standard options for either teleportation or free move, with some customizations in between. The one thing I found annoying when using the free-move control option is how often control is taken away, locking you in place. Finally, there’s a lightsaber training mode where you fight waves of the hovering drones that Luke fought when he first held his lightsaber. You’re not made to do it with a helmet blast shield down to blind you as he was, so it’s fun for a few rounds to bounce back blaster fire and slice them in half when they get close, but I don’t expect to trade in Space Pirate Trainer for this.
Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Story – Episode 1 does a fine job of letting you bask in Star Wars surroundings and the impressive presence of Darth Vader himself. Its mechanics are simple and nearly ubiquitous among VR games but refined well enough, and the story is a serviceable excuse to run through them. Lightsaber combat could’ve used more than one main enemy type to face off against, especially in the final scene, but it does feel and sound wonderful for a short while.