Stormland Review – IGN
Imagine being able to fling yourself over any obstacle or ledge with your own two hands instead of a pair of thumbsticks. Stormland, developed by Insomniac Games for the Oculus Rift, gave me a first glimpse into how the open-world shooter format can be morphed and reshaped for the better when brought into virtual reality. It’s brief, only presenting a grand total of four different regions across a roughly five hour campaign, and the combat isn’t nearly as strong as its exploration, but it was exciting when Stormland finally took the reins off and let me loose to propel myself through its eerie alien landscape.
Stormland’s plot isn’t its main draw, placing me into the generic robot shoes of Vesper, a lost android searching for his missing friends amid a violent robot uprising. While the story is decently told for a virtual reality game, what’s really exciting here is some of the most fluid movement mechanics and the coolest vertical world design in a made-for-VR game to date. You can climb trees, rocks, cliffs, and even up the sides of buildings. When you leap off of a surface, your rocket shoes kick in and you can control your flight path by sticking your arms out. And it’s great that you can do all of this with an online buddy at any time, which is definitely the better way to experience Stormland – though it’s a drag you have to complete the first hour before two-player co-op becomes available.
Fly Like an Eagle
Feeling like you have the complete run of a sprawling world is an immense source of joy, and Stormland delivers on that premise better than any other VR game out there, even Windlands 2 or No Man’s Sky. While those games make use of one or two gimmicks – grappling hooks in the case of Windlands 2, and jetpacks in the case of No Man’s Sky – Stormland let me grab and climb any obstacle, fling myself into the air, glide with my jetpack boots, and ice-skate my way to freedom on the Slipstream. It all felt great, and is easily one of the smartest uses for VR controls thus far.
You can also upgrade yourself to jump higher, climb faster, and glide longer by collecting Aeon Buds and Growth, both of which try to work as two separate stand-ins for experience points but ultimately end up conflicting when it’s made unclear why certain upgrades cost Aeon Buds while others cost Growth.
Feeling like you have the complete run of a sprawling world is an immense source of joy.“
There are a few kinks left to be worked out in the movement system itself. Grabbing objects sometimes lacks an intuitive flow; for example, it’s too easy to grab the world when you mean to pick up an object, or vice versa. And the few objects in the environment that aren’t climbable aren’t clearly defined, making it frustrating to occasionally miss a connection when you’re flinging yourself between surfaces.
Stormland has a convenient wrist-mounted interface and map display that makes it easy to find information on objectives and world lore. But it doesn’t hold your hand: there’s no marker for your location on the world map, so you have to rely on your own sense of direction and your own ability to triangulate based on landmarks. It compels you to stop and drink in the vastness of the world. It’s the kind of game where you pick a direction to start running, and then you might find something interesting. Stumbling over an abandoned human habitat will sometimes result in a new weapon, audio log, or interesting piece of memorabilia. Climbing a tower gives you a bird’s eye view of the entire zone, allowing you to spot dynamic enemy movements around the map or climb aboard a patrolling barge. It all makes the world feel more alive than it would otherwise.
How you get from point A to point B is the real fun part, but when you get there you have to take out enemy robots called the Tempest. Stormland’s combat system is competent: each gun feels weighty and carries enough punch to make it easy to feel like a badass when casually blazing your way through an enemy outpost. When you run out of ammo, you can simply pick up a dead enemy’s gun and continue shooting, or use elements of the environment to your advantage. Exploding crates, loose rocks, and bomb-shaped fruit are plentiful and make for great distractions. Sneaking around in patches of tall grass, getting the jump on opponents, and opening treasure chests containing weapons and grenades scattered around enemy positions are all ways in which the environment itself creates opportunities for you to choose how you want to approach combat. You can also use your limited Growth and Aeon Bud points on a decent selection of combat-related upgrades, including one that lets you shock enemies just by being in close proximity to them.
But while it’s flexible, the combat is far from perfect. Guns in Stormland are more rigid and unfriendly to manage than in other established VR shooters that handle weapons and recoil similarly, like Onward or Pavlov VR, especially when you grip your gun with both hands. For one thing, your weapon is forced into a set position when it comes near your shoulder, to simulate ironsights in a traditional non-VR game. This usually resulted in me wrestling with my weapon when attempting to aim with precision, and I eventually gave up and defaulted to shooting every gun from the hip. It wasn’t too much of a problem, as I’m a fan of short-range weapons anyway, and the weapons in Stormland work well enough to make me feel like an effective gunslinger. But the strange aiming controls did make the two available long-range rifles less viable and fun to use.
Guns in Stormland are more rigid and unfriendly to manage than in other established VR shooters.“
In fact, I wish there were more of them to play around with. Stormland doesn’t differ much in its selection of six weapons and a smattering of grenades and arm-based abilities, like invisibility or summoning drones to help you fight. Furthermore, enemies will frequently stop and stand in place while you shoot them to bits, not offering much of a challenge. The most dangerous encounters were with sniper enemies, which I resigned to blasting apart in close-range anyway. As a result, combat felt repetitive by the end of the first several hours, after I’d already dismantled so many robots and toppled so many outposts. It’s also annoying that you can’t easily throw your weapons or use them in melee attacks as an impromptu defense, and can’t reach out and disarm opponents outright. After using very tactile moves like those in games such as Superhot VR and Robo Recall, it’s hard to go back.
It’s disappointing that the four to six-hour main story quest in Stormland is over so quickly, but once you’ve completed that, you’re sent off into the Cycling World. This post-game-lite of sorts mimics the always-on and frequently-updating nature of games like Diablo, Destiny, and Monster Hunter World by randomly switching around the layout of the map every seven days.That does refresh things, but it doesn’t offer anything in the way of large boss battles or quest variety.
The Cycling World is broken up by the occasional discovery of some cool collectible on an unmarked island. But literally all of the structured tasks involve going from point A to point B, clearing out enemies, collecting resources, upgrading your equipment, clearing out more bad guys, and then ascending to the next visually spectacular open-world zone. All leading up to the destruction of the current cycle’s Terminus, which sets you up to “ascend” into the next cycle, meaning that your progress carries over and enemies become harder to kill. This is fine for a little while, but it runs out of steam pretty fast. Of course, bringing a friend along to face off against tougher versions of the same enemy rotations and find new collectibles each week is the far preferable way to experience the Cycling World; Stormland is all about exploring and charting an uninhabited alien world, and that wonder shines best when it’s shared.