The first installment of Downward Spiral from 3rd Eye Studios introduces a zero-gravity locomotion system that is comfortable and intuitive, but the rest of the game leaves much to be desired.
Downward Spiral is a planned anthology sci-fi VR series from 3rd Eye Studios that unravels a mystery over the course of several installments. Prologue is the first chapter, and it sets the tone for the forthcoming chapters of the game.
Downward Spiral: Prologue isn’t much more than a polished tech demo (as many VR games are) that shows off the game’s brilliant locomotion system. The experience is short and doesn’t leave much reason to play it over again, but the zero-gravity locomotion system leaves you wanting more.
Downward Spiral isn’t the first game to attempt zero-gravity in VR, but I would argue that 3rd Eye Studios is the first one to get the locomotion system right. When the Oculus Rift launched last year, Adr1ft was one of the first titles that launched with the system. It was also the first game to show me the full ramifications of VR sickness. Adr1ft employed thumbstick locomotion without motion controllers, and that, combined with the already disorienting 360-degree spherical direction control, proved to be the perfect recipe to trigger vestibular mismatch.
Incredibly, 3rd Eye Studios discovered a way to avoid triggering motion sickness while traversing in zero-gravity. And believe it or not, it’s a more realistic mechanic.
The events in Downward Spiral take place on a space station in a zero-gravity environment. To move around, you must use your arms, as you would if you were really in space. If you’ve ever seen a video of an astronaut moving around in the International Space Station, you’ve likely noticed that astronauts reach out and grab onto objects in the space station to move through the tunnels and compartments, and they push away from objects to move faster through the gravity-free space.
That's how you move around in Downward Spiral. 3rd Eye Studio’s intuitive locomotion system does wonders to convince your brain that you’re in a zero-gravity experience. Using your Oculus Touch or HTC Vive controllers, you must grab railings, handles, desks, and anything else to propel you through the environment. You also get a clever device that helps propel you when there’s nothing around to grab onto: It's a hand-held propulsion device that fires a light burst of gas to move you out of that predicament.
Once you’ve had a chance to familiarize yourself with the basic locomotion controls, you should find yourself in a room with a gun on the wall. Somehow, I missed the gun on my first run through the game, though. I was too caught up with flying through the air in the first room with a high ceiling that I didn’t notice the gun on the main level.
The worst part about missing the gun is that there's no way to know that you've missed it until it's too late. You encounter one enemy that is easy to avoid and slip past without a fight, and then it’s smooth sailing until the final moments of the game, when you’ll find yourself inside a sealed room surrounded by hostiles. Unless you have the gun on your belt, you will die a swift death by electrocution from enemy droids.
After I had died several times in a row, I quit the game and restarted. On the second pass, I found the gun that I had missed the first time, which enabled me to complete the prologue’s storyline.
Downward Spiral’s locomotion system is brilliant, but the fighting mechanics leave much to be desired. For inexplicable reasons, the developer lined the barrel angle up incorrectly. The barrel of my pistol points off to the left in a weird deviation from the controller’s position. I had to turn my wrist to an awkward position to line the barrel up correctly. I’ve played many VR shooter games, and I’ve never encountered this behavior before. 3rd Eye Studios wants people to play the deathmatch mode of Downward Spiral, but the gun mechanics must be intuitive and accurate if the developer hopes to attract an audience for multiplayer.
The Prologue chapter also includes a co-op mode, but I don’t see the point in bothering with either option at this point. The single player story mode takes anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes to complete, and playing with a friend in co-op doesn’t add any new challenges. You won’t find much reason to play the game over the second time, so taking the time to match up with a partner doesn’t seem worthwhile. Downward Spiral’s future chapters will hopefully give you a reason to call upon a friend.
Likewise, there’s not much reason to play the deathmatch mode at this time. With poor gun mechanics and a woefully short single player experience, there isn’t much reason for people to log back into the game after playing through it once, which means there aren’t many people to play against. Of course, that could change after subsequent episodes see the light of day.
3rd Eye Studios’ Downward Spiral: Prologue is available on Steam for $9.99. For that price, I would recommend waiting for a sale before picking it up, but it’s worth a playthrough if only to experience the brilliance of Downward Spiral’s zero-gravity locomotion solution. We suspect, though, that 3rd Eye Studio’s locomotion solution could appear in other zero-gravity games before long, so you may not need to play Downward Spiral to try it out in the future.