Stormland hands-on at PAX West 2018: Insomniac's next VR hit

The respected studio is sticking with VR and we're better off for it.

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Insomniac Games has already established itself as one of the biggest traditional video game developers willing to step over into the unique VR realm. The studio’s previous virtual reality titles, The Unspoken, Edge of Nowhere and Feral Rites, are still among the best virtual experiences around and the team announced a fourth title a few months ago. Stormland was that title and I got a chance to play it in its first public showing during PAX West 2018.

Stormland is a sci-fi adventure that casts players as a robot taking on an enemy called the Tempest. After getting some time with it, I’m feeling very strongly about the game’s potential. If this isn’t a major statement for the VR gaming ecosystem, it will at least be another great addition to Insomniac’s library.

Stormland Hands-On Impressions

The tutorial introduces the game’s main elements to me via interactive caches and I acclimated to the game quickly. I used full locomotion in my demo, as I’ve become more acclimated to VR over time, but there are multiple options available for everyone. My main task in this demo was raising some antennae to triangulate the location of a lost friendly bot, so I got moving.

One of the Stormland’s defining mechanics is the high-mobility. I was able to climb, glide, and fly across clouds to different islands with ease. With these options, it opened up the ways I could take down the robotic enemies I came across. I’d noticed some really high grass that stood out earlier in the demo and the Insomniac Games staff member monitoring my demo pointed out that the game could be approached in a stealthy manner. He also told me that enemies had a battery in their backs that could be removed and I immediately had an idea.

The area I entered at the time was riddled with enemies but, most importantly, had a bot on a higher platform looking over everyone. The game’s shooting, which I’d already tested with great success in previous spaces, worked really well but I wanted to try something different. I moved to the platform when the patrol was looking away and started climbing up slowly. When I was sure I had enough time, I pulled myself onto the platform, grabbed the bot’s battery, removed it, and incapacitated it. Then I used the height to mow down all of the remaining enemies before gliding down off the platform of scavenging the enemy weapons.

An additional note on scavenging: The mechanic was wonderful. It’s done by grabbing the gun with both hands and ripping it apart, which yields some crafting material. I came across many drops during my demo and the staff member stated that Insomniac wants players to be prepared to switch up regularly. Combined with the ability to switch your own body parts and pulling enemies apart, Stormland delivers a very visceral feel that I enjoyed. On top of that, there's a function that I hadn't personally experienced in a VR up until now and I hope some other developers mess around with the idea. In Stormland, there's a scanning feature that shows you where enemies and resources are. To activated it, you reach up to your VR HMD as if your tapping a button on visor. It felt very natural and if any developers copy anything from this game, I hope it's that.

The demo ended with a boss battle tease, which definitely hurt my feelings. I was at a point where I felt really comfortable with Stormland’s mechanics and was interested to see how the weapon, enemy, and player modularity would factor into bigger conflicts, but the plug was pulled.

One thing was consistently evident when putting on the Oculus Rift to play Stormland: This game feels polished. Not just in the pre-launch phases, some of the better VR games can feel rough around the edges when focusing in on certain elements. Interaction, spatial audio, visuals, or something else tend to falter even in the best cases. Stormland felt smooth from top to bottom and I can’t wait to immerse myself into the full experience sometime in 2019.

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Charles Singletary Jr keeps the updates flowing as the News Editor, breaking stories while investigating the biggest topics in gaming and technology. He's pretty active on Twitter, so feel free to reach out to him @The_CSJR. Got a hot tip? Email him at Charles.Singletary@Shacknews.com.

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