[VR Game Review] Edge of Nowhere: Lovecraftian Third Person Horror-Adventure in Antarctica
Edge of Nowhere is notable for being one of the first “real”, fleshed out AAA games for Oculus. Opinions vary on the quality but it is very much like any other big budget action game you might expect to see on consoles. The most common comparisons I see are to the Uncharted series.
I don’t object to the comparison. Certainly, you will do a lot of climbing in Edge of Nowhere. a lot. It doesn’t quite become tedious, but gets very close by the end. It seems like they put a lot of work into getting the physics of it just right and wanted to utilize it a lot. The other thing is, you are in Antarctica after all.
Edge of Nowhere is very plainly based on H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness. I say based on because while large elements are lifted straight from it like the Antarctic setting, the cave dwelling aliens and their sleeping master, a lot of license was taken with the human side of the story and with the design of the creatures.
Are there tentacles? Oh, you bet. But they are not overdone. Usually “Lovecraftian influence” is code for “a whole mess of tentacles” but few enemies are of the predictable aquatic morphology. Instead they resemble a mixture of Flood zombies from the Halo games, and various mutations of The Thing from the John Carpenter film. In most cases the tendrils are jointed, like the “fingers” of a facehugger. It isn’t just straight up squid monsters like you’d expect.
The animation is what really makes the enemy design pop. I have nothing but praise for this aspect of the game, wow. Whoever animated these things somehow knows exactly how terrifying alien monstrosities should move. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen. Fast, frantic, writhing, seething. And the sound design! If they fell down on how the monsters moved or sounded it would kill the scare factor. Thankfully they absolutely nailed it.
Stealth is the name of the game here. The aliens have no eyes and “see” by echolocation, limited to about ten feet in front of them in a narrow cone. But there is also an organic carpeting found in their subterranean dens which sends out far-reaching signal waves through it, into the feet of nearby aliens any time you step on it. The only way to limit this effect is to crouch and carefully sneak along, which sends much weaker, shorter signal bursts.
All but the lowest two tiers of alien are one-hit kill. This really drives home the need for stealth. Each “stealth arena” is separated from the rest in the sense that aliens patrolling one will not pursue you into the next, so running past them is a viable strategy, but if there’s more than two or three your odds of making it through alive are poor. They are lightning quick.
You are not defenseless. You have your pick, which you can perform a one hit kill melee attack on the lowest two tiers of enemy, but only if you successfully sneak up behind them. You can distract or summon them to a particular location by throwing rocks, which at first you can carry only a few of.
Environmental hazards like spike-shooting blobs take the place of explosive barrels. Lure an enemy near to one, then set it off with a thrown rock and it’ll insta-kill them, even the most powerful enemies you face in the late game. There are in a very few locations literal boxes of dynamite, but they can only be set off with the shotgun.
Yes, there is a gun in the game, but don’t expect to use it much. Ammunition is scarce on all but the easiest difficulty level, and firing a shot instantly alerts all enemies in the area to your location. Before you pull that trigger, you’d better be damned sure you have a plan for dealing with the rest of the baddies around you.
Your rock storage, ammunition belt and shotgun each receive one upgrade in the course of the game. If it sounds meager that’s because the game lasts about four hours in total, less if you hurry. I recommend playing it on hard, as it wasn’t actually a burdensome challenge, the less common ammunition makes it more tense and the game will last longer.
The feel of the shotgun going off is very satisfying, the combat is actually surprisingly fun. The developer should’ve added a wave shooter/survival mode like in Resident Evil 4 for people who just want to blast an endless horde of alien monstrosities. It would have added some measure of replayability.
Environmental variety comes late game in the form of a brief nod to another H.P. Lovecraft story, The Shadow Over Innsmouth. After trekking through snowy wastes and caves, the new sights and sounds were very welcome, but it’s all over in the span of ten, maybe fifteen minutes.
It was still a delight as you face loads and loads of the hardest enemy in the game here. This is where, if you didn’t git gud at stealth in the preceding level, you’re not gonna make it any further. Some might be frustrated by hitting this brick wall after dashing past enemies in prior stealth sections, but that’s what you get. Lrn 2 stealth.
There’s also another brief level that acts as a stealth skills exam, wherein a giant beast resembling the six legged behemoth from Stephen King’s The Mist looms over you. It can see only in a narrow visible cone of echolocation, which it sweeps around like a spotlight. Wherever one of the little tier 1 aliens is caught in that spotlight, it is promptly skewered by a sharpened tendril-like tongue shot out from the beast’s mouth.
These sections interrupt the otherwise repetitive stretches of ice climbing and cave sneaking, which still comprise the bulk of the game. The narrative comes in the form of Eternal Darkness style, sanity-questioning hallucinations.
This is a really clever way to tell the story using the environment without taking control away from the player except during a scant few cutscenes. If anything they might’ve done away with those cutscenes, and told those parts of the story as hallucinations too.
While those mercifully few cutscenes aren’t optional, the log books are. On occasion you’ll find a dead body from a failed expedition you’ve come to investigate. You can choose to read it or run straight past. If you do read it, there is an option to listen to it narrated while you continue so it doesn’t break up gameplay. Much appreciated.
Some have understandably asked what the point is of a third person game in VR. Let me tell you, it is more compelling than you think. You just become the camera instead of the player. It gives you a wider view for better awareness of what’s around you. It lets you see your cool player model and all his well done animations. It’s hard to imagine how ice climbing would look in first person. Don’t imagine VR can only do first person stuff! It enhances nearly any genre.
Edge of Nowhere debuted at $40, and has since dropped to $20. Is it an excellent game? Absolutely, I’m giving it an 8.5/10. But it is hard to recommend even at the reduced price because of how short it is. I finished in two sittings. My advice is, wait for the price to come down further. But when that happens, snap it up, because it’s a wonderfully polished single player adventure rich in details, of the sort which is currently scarce on this platform.
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