'Edge Of Nowhere': Insomniac Games Delivers The First Great VR Adventure

Edge Of Nowhere
Edge Of Nowhere Photo: Insomniac Games

“It is absolutely necessary, for the peace and safety of mankind, that some of Earth's dark, dead corners and unplumbed depths be left alone; lest sleeping abnormalities wake to resurgent life, and blasphemously surviving nightmares squirm and splash out of their black lairs to newer and wider conquests.”

― H.P. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness

Lovecraftian horror isn’t exactly new to the world of video games, having inspired a variety of titles over the last several decades, but Edge Of Nowhere , a new virtual reality project from Insomniac Games, might be the first to really capture the surreal horror and psychological terror at the heart of H.P. Lovecraft’s beloved writing.

In Edge Of Nowhere, players follow the journey of Victor Howard, a young scientist who finds himself stranded in Antarctica while searching for his fiancée, Ava Thorne. The soon-to-be Mrs. Howard disappeared on the world’s least hospitable continent during an expedition led by the couple’s boss, Simon Edwards, a renowned scientist believed to have discovered evidence of ancient civilization based in Antarctica. But it turns out some things are best left undisturbed.

Rather than aim for the kind of first-person immersion we see in games like Elite: Dangerous or Project CARS, Edge Of Nowhere uses virtual reality to bolster the presentation and storytelling we’ve come to expect from narrative-focused action games. It still runs into some of the same familiar pitfalls, like the impression that the game’s map is one never-ending hallway, but Edge Of Nowhere is one of the few current VR releases that feels like it was designed specifically for virtual reality instead of being adapted near the end of development.

Like many Insomniac releases, Edge Of Nowhere meshes a variety of gameplay styles and mechanics, from third-person shooting and stealth action to ice wall climbing and platforming segments that see Victor lunging from one sinking iceberg to the next. If there’s one area where EON absolutely excels, it's using virtual reality to make the player feel like they’re a part of the game’s biggest set pieces. On one occasion, I even steered Victor to an intentional death, just so I could replay a scene where he rides a hunk of ice to the brink of a waterfall.

Gameplay in Edge Of Nowhere generally comes in two varieties: “indoor” segments — which play out in the various caverns you’ll explore cross Antarctica — and outdoor segments that see Victor running, jumping and climbing his way across the frozen continent. The game tends to alternate between the two styles, creating natural checkpoints in a game otherwise devoid of the  chapter announcements and designated save points common to the genre. And the moment-to-moment action in each environment is unique and consistent, which creates a lot of variety between areas.

When exploring the surface, Edge Of Nowhere pits Victor against the harsh environment while combat takes a backseat to some truly impressive platforming and ice climbing segments. But many of the caverns you’ll explore contain larger rooms, generally home to a variety of strange (and hostile) creatures, which require a combination of stealth, melee combat and gunfire to overcome. Many of these encounters can be completed relatively quickly and without taking any damage if you’re willing to spend a minute or two planning your attack strategy. But there are a few combat scenarios that will test players. Thankfully, it doesn’t ever feel like you’re having to fight against the game’s control scheme, which maps well to the Xbox One controller. Like many VR shooters, Edge Of Nowhere utilizes the Rift’s head-tracking capabilities to let players aim Victor’s firearm and headlamp by repositioning their head.

Fortunately, the ever-present threat of nausea never manifested during my time with Edge Of Nowhere. I completed the game in three sittings, each about 90-120 minutes long, and quit only when I was too tired to continue or when prolonged VR time began to give me a headache. Not once did I struggle with the nausea that’s kept me from finishing Adr1ft or exploring the handful of less-comfortable software currently listed in the Oculus Store. That’s pretty impressive for a VR game that gives players direct control over the character’s movement while simultaneously making those movements a central part of the gameplay experience.

Edge Of Nowhere isn’t without its shortcomings. Despite the game’s relatively modest price tag ($39.99), there will undoubtedly be some who are disappointed by its brevity. I finished EON in around five to six hours but a less distracted player could probably shave an hour or more off of that completion time. With that in mind, $40 seems like a steep price when you could grab a copy of Overwatch for the same price and get much more play time out of your purchase. Value proposition aside, Edge Of Nowhere is enjoyable from start to finish, even if the plot might seem a bit worn to longtime fans of Lovecraftian horror. It might not be treading any new ground but the game does an admirable job of incorporating virtual reality in a way that would make a two-dimensional port of the game feel less special.

Part of what makes Edge Of Nowhere feel so bleak is feeling like you’re actually in Antarctica with the game’s protagonist; surrounded by the same howling winds and fog-covered horizons that threaten to keep Victor trapped on the southernmost end of the world. Even the frequent ice climbing, which would likely have worn on me in another format, remained interesting because I having a 360 degree view of the environment just hasn’t gotten old yet. It’s also kind of cool (and a little unnerving) to be able to look all the way back down at my original starting point after finishing a particularly steep climb.

Some players will also be disappointed by the lack of depth in the Edge Of Nowhere ’s combat scenarios. Encounters with Antarctica’s newly-discovered inhabitants are frequent enough for the game to gradually increase your combat capabilities, via sporadic equipment drops, combat is limited to swinging your pickaxe or firing Victor’s shotgun. You can also throw rocks to distract nearby enemies, making it possible to sneak by undetected, or to trigger nearby traps. But don’t go expecting combo attacks or a smorgasbord of firearms to recover. Insomniac Games keeps things pretty simple in Edge Of Nowhere.

Edge Of Nowhere won’t be for everyone. Those accustomed to the freedom offered by open-world games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt or Fallout 4 will be disappointed by how shockingly linear EON can be at times. Even combat rooms generally only offer two possible routes from one side to the other. That said, Edge Of Nowhere is one of the first Rift games that would offer a diminished experience on a standard display. Even without the first-person perspective, EON makes the player feel like they’ve been transported to the end of the world to watch one man fight to save the woman he loves.

Edge Of Nowhere is the first VR game I felt compelled to finish and one I would recommend to any Rift owner looking to add a narrative-driven action game to their growing collection. It may not be perfect, but it’s a better game than I ever expected to see this early in the Rift’s lifecycle.

Be sure to check back with iDigitalTimes.com and follow Scott on Twitter for additional Oculus Rift coverage throughout 2016 and for however long Oculus continues to supports its first virtual reality headset in the years to come.

Full Disclosure: The copy of Edge Of Nowhere used in the creation of this review was provided by a representative of Insomniac Games; however,  the developer did not retain any editorial oversight/privileges.

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