Evasion Review – A Frenetic Diamond in the Rough (PSVR)
Virtual reality isn’t quite the talk of the town the way it was a year or so ago, when the technology was still fresh. A steady stream of smaller experiences makes sure there’s consistent content for the headset, but every once in a while some cream rises to the top to make a statement and remind people that VR is still here and it isn’t going anywhere. Evasion is one such game, a first-person bullet-hell shooter that once again proves VR is at its strongest when the experience push the boundaries, whether that’s with comfort, immersion, or finding the edge of the hardware’s technical limitations.
Supporting both the DualShock 4 and the Aim controller, Evasion leaves the Move controllers in the charging dock for this VR outing. It’s not surprising really. The entire game emphasizes full locomotion—much like you’d expect from any game classified as bullet-hell—and the Moves require some creative solutions to use for that purpose. While it may work great for some other games, Archiact clearly focused on control schemes that offered players that widest range of interactivity. Both the DualShock 4 and Aim work great for their intended purpose, but as with any title that supports it, if you have an Aim, the gun controller edges out the standard PS4 controller for optimum immersion.
Choose Your Vanguard
Players can select from one of four different Vanguards for each mission—Engineer, Surgeon, Striker, and Warden, each of which you can read more detailed info on in our exclusive coverage of the classes. These are far more than just visual changes. Each one plays quite differently from the next, offering their own range of strengths and weaknesses as they head into battle against Optera, the enemy force keeping the pressure up and the bullets flying. Engineers disrupt foes, Surgeons offer more healing on the field, Strikers deal a ton of damage, and Wardens can tank damage without suffering a scratch.
Each has a shield on the front of it to reflect shots back and enemies, and you’ll need it. Tether abilities let players latch onto enemies that are near death for special attacks and to pull in power ups, including health and weapon power ups. There’s a lot of risk and reward choice in between the moment to moment gameplay. Using the tether ability for kills gives you more power ups, but also disables the shield so you take more shots. Power ups make the gun more powerful and let you unleash a powerful attack, but the powerful attack will deplete the power and take the gun back to its weakest state. Each character class has their own tether abilities and special attacks, so that choice may be different depending on the situation and the character selected. There’s rarely any downtime in Evasion, so those decisions come up frequently and can mean the difference between completing the level or going home in a box.
While one character class may fill a certain role, co-op play allows players to fill in as many gaps as possible. An Engineer could disrupt enemies while the Striker puts out a ton of damage. A Surgeon could keep constant healing on the Warden, letting them get in close and use their powerful shotgun-like weapon. Where single player Evasion could just easily be considered a solid VR shooter, the online co-op multiplayer helps to dig out some of the nuance contained within character classes, the arenas you fight in, and the boss encounters. Special tether abilities can be used on other player characters, healing them and offering additional benefits like increased damage, depending on your selected class. You can either play with friends or jump into online matchmaking to link up with another random player.
This is Your Experience
When throwing people into VR, developers need to consider each individual player. Accessibility is already an important consideration for traditional games, but virtual reality especially needs to take special note of the variety of players that could be playing their game. Evasion offers a host of comfort and accessibility options to allow players to tune the experience specifically to their own needs. From a complete free-motion movement system with the option for comfort blockers that create that tunnel effect, to more traditional teleporting, and even an active mode where you have to bob your head or run in place for the game to register you as moving forward.
Even with all of the comfort options turned off, Evasion never gave me any hint of motion sickness. The only slight problem I had was in some disorienting feelings while attempting to run in place for the active movement mode. Turns out running in place is pretty difficult when you can’t take note of where you are standing, so I ended up moving all over the room as I attempted to overcompensate my steps. While I would love to use this mode to stay more active during gameplay, I had to turn it off or otherwise risk the health of my cats, wife, belongings, and self. It’s not worth putting an elbow through the TV because I wanted to run in place while playing a VR game. Fortunately Evasion works well no matter which control method and comfort settings you choose, which can’t be said of a lot of VR games that seem to a have a baseline default, and all other options are objectively worse experiences.
Visually, Evasion is one of the games that shows PlayStation VR is hitting its cap for visual fidelity. While the game looks great on Sony’s headset, it does show the limitations of the hardware that a potential next revision could overcome. Archiact seems to have pushed the boundaries as far as they can in order to create a game that runs as well as it does with so much going on all at once. In the middle of combat, you’ll quickly forget about the grays and browns of the surrounding environment as you dodge bullets and hope the next enemy actually drops a healing power up. Evasion is a classic case of learning to not judge a book by its cover.
The whole “abandoned mining facility on a desert planet” is an exceptionally tired and boring aesthetic. It’s been done to death, and it’s even been done in similar VR shooters. You wouldn’t be faulted for thinking Evasion looks a lot like the Aim controller’s launch title, Farpoint. It’s not the first game I’d show in terms of impressive environments, but top-notch first-person bullet-hell gameplay more than makes up for it. Evasion’s gameplay differs in some big ways, ways that matter enough to put each of these titles in quite different corners of the ring. Where Farpoint is more of the “lone gunman trying to survive on those last few rounds,” Evasion is the “elite soldier with a professional toolkit, ready for any encounter that might be thrown at him.” That shift in psychology really affects how the entire game is played, despite clear similarities that could be drawn between the two.
There isn’t a lot of individual progression to promote replayability, but once the campaign’s nine levels are complete, you can tackle three survival horde mode maps. All of these can be played online with another player or solo, if you fancy the challenge. There are also a few tough trophies to chase if you want to go for the Platinum, which Evasion does offer. Many of them will come through natural gameplay, but some will task the players with performing certain feats in the different levels. Evasion is both a game that can be played in quick bursts, but can also present an immersive challenge that keeps the player engrossed for hours at a time.
Evasion is another example of a fast-paced VR game that doesn’t seem like it could work in theory, but has been executed with a care and precision befitting of a developer that has a lot of expertise in the VR field. Bullet-hell in virtual reality? Archiact made it work well, despite what naysayers may say about what the medium can handle. These are my favorite kinds of VR games, the ones that push the boundaries and expectations of what people think virtual reality is capable of. At a glance, it may not seem like the most original or unique experience, but go beneath the desert planet’s surface. Evasion shows what it means to build a solid and fun frenetic shooter in VR and do it right. It will undoubtedly provide a platform for the future of virtual reality game development to build off of, as long as they can get an escape pod off of these boring brown and grey planets.
Evasion PSVR review code provided by developer. Version 1.04 reviewed on a standard PS4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy.