The world of Stormland is one of ruin and devastation, a result from the immense destructive force of “The Tempest”. Stormland is the latest virtual reality offering from the masterminds at Insomniac Games, of Ratchet and Clank, Sunset Overdrive and the soon-to-release Spider-Man , fame. I was lucky enough to get a chance to demo this game while here at PAX and speak with the games creative director, Chad Dezern, and let me tell you right now, this is one game to keep an eye on.
The demo opened in your standard VR way, having you quickly calibrate your controls, showing you the basic controls, and letting you tweak the options to your preferred comfort. From there you take control of your robot avatar and begin your adventure in the world of Stormland. You play as a mangled and rundown robot that must search for your robot buddies, that have gone missing after the Tempest struck. Bodies of those robots that weren’t lucky enough to find some sort of shelter are strewn across the environment, at least what is left of them. After a few minutes in the demo though, I didn’t need a reason to keep playing this game because the gameplay and interaction are enough to hook you right from get go.
Stormland checks all the boxes that must be checked in order to consider it a “fps vr game” and only expands and develops the mechanics from there. Moving around with a joystick and rotating the camera with the other, the movement behaves like your standard non-vr FPS title. With the added VR functionality you will be required to reach out and press buttons, aiming your gun by point your controller, throwing your grenades by simulating a throw, and so on. What makes Stormland special though are the little details and added mechanics that go along with all of these.
There are a lot of things to process so I’m going to address them each one by one, starting with your hands. By itself, you right arm is equipped with a simple wrist-mounted laser whose primary function is to break down alloy deposits throughout the environment letting you harvest the resources that you can use to then craft equipment and upgrades, very reminiscent of No Mans Sky. Your left arm serves more a defensive purpose allowing you instead to deploy a rather large energy shield. After your initial harvesting of alloy you craft your first mod chip, giving you the ability to climb and scale walls. No button to auto-climb walls here, instead if you want to climb that wall, you are going to have to go hand-over-hand to actually climb. Or perhaps you are feeling a little more wild, and would prefer to just grab the wall and hurl yourself up in a few quick leaps.
You won’t be just traversing and exploring during your time with this game, you will also have to contend with other robots that are out to destroy you so you will need to defend yourself. You quickly gain access to an SMG style of weapon. In place of the more traditional weapon wheel, Insomniac decided to go a more interactive route by having spots on your body that you store your weapons in. For the demo I had access to two areas, one on my hip and one on my back that I had to reach back to store and retrieve. I won’t deny that the feel of storing my gun on my hip made me feel a lot like Robocop and it was fantastic. I may or may not have struck a few poses while firing my gun. You are able to duel wield or in an interesting move, use your second hand to grab and hold the undergrip to improve your aim like a real gun. It appears that some weapons will also have an alternative mode that is only usable when both hands are on the gun, the sniper rifle in the demo was an example of this feature. When wielding the gun with one hand it fired at what seemed to be a slightly faster rate, but when using both the extended barrel a scope appeared for you to use. There isn’t a button that let you look through the scope, you had to physically move your sniper into position so that you could look through the scope. It is experiences exactly like this that can only be done in VR and Insomniac has executed it expertly.
There are a plethera of other little touches that Insomniac have included that just add to this experience that oozes pure sci-fi. Touch your VR headset and trigger your visor to scan the surrounding for alloy deposits and other areas of interest. Arm a grenade by flipping its switch before throwing it on unsuspecting foes. Dismantle weapons down to their alloy resources and strip them of ammo by ripping them apart. All of these come together to make a genuinely great sci-fi VR experience.
After playing through the demo I got the chance to talk with Chad Dezern, Chief Creative Officer at Insomniac and one of the leads on Stormland and get some additional tidbits on their plans for what they are developing for the end product. I did get confirmation that there will be melee weapons present in the game and not just guns, raids will be present in the game that you will be able to tackle with parties of 2-4 (final number is still being decided), the game will feature loot with varying levels of rarity in a similar vein as the Diablo series, and you will be able to enhance weapons you use to let them do more damage. A point that Chad made though was that the weapons system are similar to that in the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in the fact that they are there to use and then throw away and use new weapons you find. He stressed though that there isn’t a weapon degradation mechanic similar to BoTW, but instead it would be based on remaining ammo you have for that weapon. When asked if you will be able to customize and alter the weapons you use, adding scopes or silencers as examples, he said no but that you could potentially find a variation of your weapon with said additions present out in the wild. Customization will prove to be a main mechanic of Stormland though, with the focus being on customizing your character itself. Crafting arms that may increase damage or be weapons themselves, or allow you to be better at climbing for examples. Apparently you could craft an upgrade for your character’s arms in the demo, but I didn’t realize this until it came up during my discussion with Chad. Throughout your time in Stormland you will be gaining experience and levels allowing you to gain affinity. What specifically affinity does though was not touched on, but for stat boosts you will be able to find and install mod chips that improve stats such as your health.
Even now in 2018, I feel like virtual reality has been missing a breakout game that doesn’t just feel like a glorified tech demo, a game that is from the ground up a VR game. Yes, I know there are amazing titles like Resident Evil 7 that have a VR mode, but that is an add on to a non-VR game. With Stormland, I feel like there is finally a truly breakout title that is worth having a VR setup for on the PC. I am a bit bummed that with Insomniac working directly with Occulus on Stormland , Chad did confirm that this is a Occulus exclusive. Sorry Vive and PSVR owners. For PC players though that have been holding off on investing in a VR setup, consider Stormland a great incentive for going for Occulus over the competition.
Stormland is currently slated for release in 2019.