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Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series review – virtual dark side

Vader Immortal – feel the Force (pic: Disney)



One of the best games on Oculus Quest comes to PSVR but how does Sony’s experience compare to a dedicated VR set-up?



The curious thing about virtual reality is that the more impressive the game is the more obvious it becomes that the technology is still at a prehistoric level compared to what it will inevitability evolve into. Like someone playing Space Invaders in 1978, you get only the vaguest hint of what VR will be like in 40 years’ time, when it’s no longer held back by today’s technical limitations. Those constraints are especially obvious with Vader Immortal and yet without games like this pushing the current boundaries we won’t have anything at all…



For lots of obvious reasons Star Wars is a popular inspiration for VR games and there’s already been a number of official tie-ins, such as the excellent X-wing mission from the first Battlefront , and unofficial homages such as Beat Saber. Vader Immortal is one of a trio of titles created by developer ILMxLAB, which is part of Lucasfilm itself, with this one being the most fleshed out and closest to a real game rather than just a tech demo.



Vader Immortal is still more of an ‘experience’ than anything else, with only a limited amount of skill required to make it through the story campaign and no way to actually die. It is a very enjoyable experience though, especially if you’re a Star Wars fan – or at least it is on the PC and Oculus Quest , where the game was first released as three separate episodes. This combines them all into one release, but it also comes up against one opponent not even the Dark Lord of the Sith can conquer: the imprecision of the PlayStation Move controllers.



The story campaign only runs to around three hours but has a surprisingly interesting plot that involves Vader looking for the key to immortally on the volcanic planet of Mustafar from Revenge of the Sith and Rogue One (and The Rise of Skywalker, we’re just learning now). As super generic as that sounds – especially as it ends with a blue laser shooting up into the sky – Vader is given some personal motivation for what he’s doing that is a nice little twist that we weren’t expecting.



Your part in the story is that you’re, unbeknownst to yourself, a decedent of the rulers of Mustafar and Vader needs someone from your bloodline to activate some MacGuffins. This involves your ship being dragged out of hyperspace and you and your (overly) sassy droid being captured and made to learn the ways of the Force.






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All of this looks fantastic in VR, and notably better than the Oculus Quest version – especially in terms of the lighting. Wandering around your spaceship at the beginning, pressing big Star Wars-looking buttons and wielding hydrospanners is a legitimate dream come true if you’re fan, especially once you get to wield a lightsaber.



The combat is super simple and really just comes down to blocking in one of two stances, but because you have to physically do it it’s a lot more difficult and engaging than just pressing a button. Some enemies shoot at you, so you have to deflect their blaster bolts back at them, and others have lightsaber-like weapons of their own, but they’re all droids, which is slightly disappointing, with the showdown with Vader at the end being the closest you get to taking on an actual person.



There’s a lot of great stuff in-between though, as you learn to move objects using the Force and solve a range of simple puzzles, have a go on a tripod laser cannon, and survive a series of encounters with a four-armed rancor. The latter is particularly memorable because it made us actually scared of the beast, as what in the films (and the toys and the T-shirts) just looks like a cool monster is pretty damn terrifying when it seems to be just an inch away from your face and trying to have you for dinner.



Despite the technical simplicity of some of the visuals the sense of physical presence in Vader Immortal is right up there with top tier VR games like Half-Life: Alyx , no matter whether you’re chatting to alien allies, dodging stormtroopers, or wishing your droid didn’t keep talking in a distinctly non-Star Wars vernacular (she’s voiced by American actress Maya Rudolph, although thankfully the other voiceovers, including the soundalike for Vader, are considerably more on brand).



Vader Immortal – the lack of human opponents is a shame (pic: Disney)



£22 for three hours of fan service is probably not the most money Star Wars fans have wasted on the saga and on PC and Oculus we’d strongly recommend it thanks to the Lightsaber Dojo. There are three versions of this, one for each episode, and it turns the seemingly simplistic combat into a highly entertaining series of combat and score attack challenges. The last one ends up with you wielding blasters and Force lighting, while there’s a series of unlocks for different lightsaber models that make it highly compelling.



Or at least it does on Oculus Quest, where you stand in one spot but watch the space all around you. Reaching out with the Force to smash a remote into the wall, while you Force pull the lever on a trap to crush a lightsaber-wielding droid and then quickly spin around to locks swords with another is the stuff Star Wars dreams are made of. On PlayStation VR though it only works in a 180° arc and your main enemy is the hated PlayStation Move controllers.



In a few months’ time PlayStation Move will be two generations behind current tech and there desperately needs to be a more accurate, modern replacement. But there isn’t, and so here you’re constantly having to put up with the controllers not quite reading your movements correctly, which is a real problem when combat depends so much on what angle you’re holding the lightsaber.



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This is made even worse because the game was originally designed to match the movement of the controller to your hands, and whatever they happened to be holding – even though 90% of the time it’s a lightsaber. The PlayStation 4 version also does this, but this creates an irritating disconnect between your movement and what you see onscreen – which seems especially silly given a Move controller is almost exactly the same size and shape as a lightsaber hilt.



The PlayStation VR version also only has teleporting locomotion options, whereas the other versions have free movement. That’s not much of an issue, as it works fine and you’re not often moving about much anyway, but it suggests that this whole port has been rushed out for some unknown deadline.



If you have a PC or Oculus Quest we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Vader Immortal, despite how short the story is. The Lightsaber Dojo adds a surprising amount of longevity and even though the graphics are worse on Oculus Quest the sense of immersion and physical presence is still excellent. On PlayStation though it’s yet another reason to wish Sony would announce their next generation of VR headset and controllers, because at this point PlayStation Move is dragging everything down.






Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series PC review summary In Short: An inferior experience to PC and Oculus, not in terms of graphics but the frustrating PlayStation Move controllers that make wielding a lightsaber more a pain than a pleasure.
Pros: The Star Wars fan service goes up to 11 and the sense of physical presence is excellent. Surprisingly good story elements.
Cons: Twitchy, imprecise controls and a lack of locomotion options. Severely compromised Lightsaber Dojo robs the game of much of its longevity. Expensive.
Score: 6/10





Formats: PlayStation VR (reviewed), PC, and Oculus Quest Price: £21.99 Publisher: Disney Interactive Developer: ILMxLab Release Date: 25th August 2020 Age Rating: 16









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