In Death: Unchained is a loving port of the original with many enhancements that makes it a recommended title that’s worth downloading onto your Quest.
Procedural medieval VR shooter, In Death, first appeared on PCVR in 2018. Overall reviews on Steam are Very Positive yet sadly its original developers, Sólfar Studios, iconically left it to die and the game didn’t receive the love that was requested from its fans. Fast track into 2020 and the game’s IP has been passed over to a new developer, Superbright, who has thoroughly extended the game with new content, new experiences and has added the kind of love that this title deserves.
In Death: Unchained comes to the Oculus Quest in a similar package as its original game, albeit with a quiver packed full of enhancements and added depth to the game. If you’re not familiar with the original game, In Death: Unchained is a rogue-lite experience in which you travel through procedurally generated levels of Heaven, Purgatory and Hell. All you have is your bow, a selection of unlockable arrows types and your sharpshooting skills to get through to the final boss that’s located at the end of each proceduarally-generated level, oh…and without dying of course.
After a quick tutorial of the game’s main move, shoot and arrow type mechanics you find yourself in the Sanctuary, the game’s lobby entrance to its three playable worlds. It’s here where you can view leaderboards, read the achievements that are locked and unlocked, and more importantly, enter into one of the three available worlds, each with their own enemies, difficulties and bosses at the very end of them.
Being procedural, each level your playthrough is different. You could be scaling long walkways at the start, or climbing stairs and entering courtyards the next time you enter the world. As you attempt to complete each of the three worlds, the enemies you face will get more challenging each time you play them. The enemies you face do not necessarily get better in their skill, the type of enemies you face begins to evolve and so does the number of them.
This starts off all well and good, as the game slowly introduces the types of enemies you face. But, if you die near the end or during the first boss battle, you will have unlocked a number of achievements and in-turn this means it will unlock new enemy types, earn new more powerful arrows and also unlock the fast-firing crossbow weapon. Your next visit into Heaven will seem a lot different, with more enemies facing you than before as well as a more varied cast of enemies that will stand in your way between reaching the final boss.
This is both a blessing and also a curse of the game, a problem many games face with dynamic procedurally-generated levels. Its a blessing in that the game feels fresh and different every time you place, but it’s also a curse when you didn’t beat the boss in the first playthrough, because your memory of the last playthrough is now a whole lot different and way more challenging the second, third and fourth (etc.) time you try and reach the boss – which is also now a whole lot harder. Queue the scream of frustration.
As things grow harder, so does the power of your arsenal. As achievements unlock, you begin to unlock more powerful arrows. There are too many arrow types to simply list in this review, but these ‘special’ set of arrows come in a limited number, compared to the infinite number of standard base arrows that come with your bow. Each special arrow type varies in their effectiveness and they can also change how you play. For example, Freeze arrows will give damage as well as freeze your foe, allowing you to avoid them or slow down high damage enemies. Fire arrows will set enemies on fire and continue to apply damage over time, allowing you to fire once and move onto the next target. The Barrage of Needles arrows fires a wide, shotgun-like spray of damage, so you can tackle multiple enemies at once, whilst the Cataclysm arrows can be fired into an enemy and have it explode a few seconds after, causing a radius of damage to any nearby enemies. My favourite arrows, the Cupid’s Wrath, look and feel a little sci-fi than magical, but these homing arrows are very much a fire-and-forget arrow, so when things get a little intense, they have been my go-to as they can be the most effective.
Being a rogue-lite game, if you die, that’s it. You find yourself back in the Sanctuary, observing a summary of your past progress and all the achievements you’ve unlocked, there’s also a wall of every single enemy that you’ve dispatched along the way. If you get passed 20% of the game, you can enter into the Purgatory world for something a little more challenging and different, and with 40% of the game completed, you can enter Hell, which is much more of the same but with a red filtered twist on its levels and its enemies. You have the opportunity to save your progress by entering portals located throughout the level that takes you to the Reliquary. It’s here where you can also heal up and buy special arrows with the gold you have collected along the way.
Combat in the game is super intuitive with the bow and crossbow mechanics being on-point and very accurate. At first, you might find yourself loosing more arrows into the background than at the enemies in front of it, but after some time in the game you’ll soon be shooting like Robin Hood, and boy is that satisfying! Bow and arrow games are one of my favourite VR games to play, it works just so damn well, and with In Death: Unchained it’s no different. You also have a shield on you too, so any arrows, axes or balls of fire that fly your way can be blocked by bringing up your wooden shield. The size of your shield will also block your view, so I found myself dodging attacks and countering with an arrow than cowardly hiding behind my shield like Eric from the 1980s TV cartoon series Dungeons & Dragons.
Getting around the world can be done in three ways, the first is by firing a Move arrow at a point in the world and be teleported there. This is great for long-distance travel and to quickly get to places that are out of reach, such as a rooftop or high-up ledge. The second is by throwing shards at the floor. This is used for more short-distance travel and it also gives a feeling of sidestepping, because it is a great way to avoid incoming volleys of arrows and flying axes. Finally, there is the more common way of getting around in VR, and that’s locomotion. This is a new addition to the IP, a mechanic that its fans were highly vocal for and it is a standard VR mechanic that its loving new developers have kindly added at the very launch of the game on Quest. I still find getting around with the Move arrows to be the better way to get about the world, but having the added extra of locomotion enhances the game’s main cornerstone of survival – finding cover and clever positioning – thanks to the small adjustments you can make to align long-distance shots, to peek around corridors and corners, or use it defensively to back away from oncoming enemies whilst blind firing in their general direction.
There are a few varying enemies in the game that you will face, or more likely, be running away from. Their main aim is to stop you from progressing and with some enemies being a little more cunning than others, you have to keep your eyes and ears about you in order to survive. The low hanging fruit of floor-running enemies starts off with the Abominations. These zombie-like beings are stronger in packs, otherwise, a single shot will have them out of your way in no time. Archers are next-in-line. Their ranged attacks keep you on your toes if you’re not aware of them, I found a long-range headshot does the most damage. If you startle them and run away, they can also teleport, much to your own surprise! Then there are the Knights, these are strong bruits who will charge directly towards you, some wielding shields, and they begin to throw axes at you if you position yourself at a distance or out of reach.
As difficulties increase with each session you begin to see more floating and vertical firing enemies. The Cupids are cunning little enemies who will attack you when out of sight and the Bancheses will fire a volley of homing orbs that you must dodge or block. Then there are the Ghosts and Exploding Heads, who both will sneak up on you silently, or during the heat of the action, and surprise you in such an alarming way that you cannot fail to curse them when you see them or scream into your death when you notice them at the last second.
I’m truly glad that we’ve seen In Death: Unchained come to the Oculus Quest. Its developers, Superbright, has lovingly ported and enhanced the original game to bring us another recommended title that’s worth downloading onto your Quest. Its newly added depth will have you playing for many hours with long-term support also promised for the game. If it’s not for earning its vast amount of achievements that have you coming back for more, it’s the rogue-lite procedural gameplay keeps the game feeling fresh, as well as frustrating, when you suddenly die and you make the promises to yourself to enter one of the three worlds once again for that one more go.