Climate change never looked so good.

ARKTIKA.1 is available for Oculus Rift.

4A Games, developers of ARKTIKA.1, are not new to the business of spooky shooters set in post-apocalyptic Russia. If you've heard of the Metro series — including awesome Redux versions of Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light — you also might have heard about its atmospheric claustrophobia and horror that sort of seeps into your bones like the cold air of the subway tunnels you inhabit.

ARKTIKA.1 is not much different despite it having no ties to Metro; it's set in post-apocalyptic Russia, it's full of tense gunplay, and there's lots of horrible stuff to shoot. Let's take a close look at this AAA shooter to see if it's worth the $30 price tag.

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It's cold outside

ARKTIKA.1 story

Wish wash go the wipers

ARKTIKA.1 is the name of a human settlement that arose in a time of need following an apocalyptic event. Surprise, surprise; humans were the catalyst. As they actually attempted to stop global warming, they threw Earth into an impromptu ice age, in which the equatorial regions remained warm enough to support life. Unlucky for you, a glorified security guard, some hearty people are still stuck out in the frozen areas, making do against bitter conditions, bandits, and half-human terrors that the locals call Yagas.

In your first mission following the introduction and brief tutorial — in which your assistant, Viktoria, explains the history of the settlement, as well as what caused the ice age — you're tasked with hunting down a rogue robot. These robots are programmed by human survivors to roam the wasteland, removing Yagas from previously-populated areas. After dispatching a horde of bandits on your way to the robot, you get a first glimpse at the Yagas, as well as the robot. What could be called a boss fight ensues, and you return to headquarters.

Big and bad

Upon returning, Viktoria informs me that the robot was reprogrammed to attack all living things; just not bandits or Yagas. Problem is, the bandits aren't smart enough to reprogram, and the Yagas...are more teeth and bloodlust than anything else.

There is a story here, but it's not the highlight of the game. Lack of interaction with humans other than Viktoria and enemy bandits sort of kept me from really feeling a sympathetic need to protect the people I was supposed to be protecting, and I was more in it for the action. This is definitely a first-person shooter with a big arsenal and great gunplay, and the story is simply there to keep things moving along.

Spot on...for the most part.

ARKTIKA.1 gameplay mechanics

New VR games always come with a big question: What's movement like? Here we have a strict teleportation method that removes a lot of freedom. When entering an area, you'll notice one or multiple glowing figures. These are the only spots that you can teleport to, and there's no option to change which direction you're facing when you arrive. This is a safe game, nausea-wise, but coming from similar shooters, like Robo Recall, having the ability to freely teleport is sorely missed. 4A makes up for the lack of freedom of movement with some interesting, dynamic level creation that simply wouldn't work with regular locomotion.

To cope with lack of movement, this first-person shooter primarily employs cover-based gameplay, so you're going to give your legs a workout. Squatting, ducking, and leaning behind cover is a thrill, especially when incoming fire whizzes by or sparks off of whatever junk you're behind. Some stuff provides great cover with a poor line-of-sight, while other stuff provides little cover but with a great line-of-sight to the enemy.

The gunplay here is pretty much perfect. Guns feel like they deliver a wallop, and reloading is taken care of with one hand in a variety of ways depending on the type of weapon you're using. You have a wide selection of pistols that can be purchased with credits earned during missions, plus each weapon has a number of upgrades and attachments that also cost credits. When upgrading, you must unholster the weapon, place it in a 3D printer, and wait for it to finish.

3D printing a gun

Bandits — who you'll mostly be dispatching — come in three flavors: grunt, special, and sniper. Grunt units will go down with a headshot or a few body shots, special units require a headshot or a lot of shots to the body, and snipers use cover to their advantage and pop out to deliver heavy damage while you're busy with someone else. The three bandit types are usually used together to add a bit of difficulty, but you can usually blast away as they come at you and still survive the encounter, especially after you've upgraded your guns.

The Yagas, which are actually used quite well at the start of the game (a dark airport mall filled with mannequins is truly scary), don't really appear all that often in the long run, and what you could call a boss fight also doesn't happen as much as I think many would like. They're a nice change to the pace, and there's usually an alternative method to dealing with them that nets you more credits at the end of the level. After the first robot fight, I was hoping for a lot more of the same, but was a little let down.

Boom, headshot.

To break up the firefights and dark corridors, there are some puzzles that must be solved in order to make it to the next portion of the level. These puzzles aren't exactly tough, but they're a nice change from Yagas attempting to stave off starvation.

Created with care

ARKTIKA.1 graphics and performance

Look at the detail

4A took their time crafting ARKTIKA.1, and it really goes to show in the graphics department. From the start, driving through sleet with the windshield wipers going back and forth, it's clear that this is going to be a treat for the eyes. The game is split up into several sections, with each having one or more levels. Each section is based in a different environment, and they're all equally atmospheric. Floors are littered with junk, snow is piled up in corners, meltwater runs by your feet, and rats scurry out of the light; these are not bare levels, and they're certainly not boring. I just wish I could move around freely to explore them. On high settings, my NVIDIA GTX 980 handled the game, but at least a GTX 1060 is recommended. There were no stutters or jaggies at any point during the game, and I experienced no crashes.

I did, however, come across an annoying bug that significantly set back my progress. At one point, after accidentally teleporting back to a point where I'd come from, the game failed to give me the option to teleport forward again. No matter what, I couldn't move, and there were no observable objectives near me. The game's checkpoint system can't be manually accessed, so I was forced to return to HQ and start the mission again. Levels are huge in this game, and restarting something I'd already spent 20 minutes on was annoying. Other than that, it was smooth sailing throughout.

ARKTIKA.1 review: Conclusion

Glow sticks make everything spooky

You have to give it to 4A Games for the level design and immersion factor. You will feel like you're in some sort of frozen Hell thanks to careful attention to detail, and having to manually work things like control panels, armory upgrades, and tools (shaking glow sticks in the dark is more terrifying than it should be) embeds me in the world. At least until I have to move to the next part, in which a bright blue silhouette shows up and I point at it to teleport.

The feeling of being on rails can be mostly ignored at the start of the game when you're still getting used to the ropes, but nearing the end, you'll no doubt be familiar with the enemies and their patterns as well as the world around you. You teleport into a room, blast a few waves of bad guys, and move on. By the end of the, game your guns will feel quite overpowered, and you might not be able to use the attachments and upgrades you want (lest you cut through enemies too easily).

Still, ARKTIKA.1 is fairly priced (about $30) for what you're getting. Many VR shooters don't break the two- or three-hour mark, but it took me somewhere between five and six hours to complete, and that was with redoing the one level. However, the story that's wrapped up in those five hours isn't exactly thrilling, and it does feel a bit repetitive near the end.

Pros:

  • Beautiful, polished experience.
  • Wide selection of guns.
  • Atmospheric and immersive.

Cons:

  • Teleportation is your only choice.
  • Late-game difficulty is unbalanced.
  • Story is a bit lacking.

Incredible

4/5

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