Darth Vader has a test for you, and it may very well be your last. This is how Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series begins. You’re a smuggler who mysteriously ends up stranded on the volcanic planet of Mustafar, trapped in the dungeons of Vader’s terrifying castle.
This would mean doom for any ordinary smuggler, but as a brief demo with the new VR experience teases, you’re anything but ordinary. In fact, once you prove to Lord Vader that you may be of some use to him, he spares your life and sets you on a new path, one involving a lightsaber!
Den Of Geek US spent a couple of glorious minutes at the Oculus/ILMxLab booth at Star Wars Celebration, trying out the new VR experience, and they came away incredibly impressed with the new Oculus Quest headset, which is due out in Spring 2019. But most impressive was Vader Immortal itself, which feels like an exciting new Star Wars game at a time when there are so few to look forward to.
Certainly, it’ll be difficult to find another title that puts you so close to Vader himself. Not since the first Force Unleashed game has the Dark Lord of the Sith been so terrifying (in an interactive medium), as he towers over you in the opening minutes of the game.
ILMxLab has gone to great lengths to deliver a realistic Vader, and you’ll quickly get sucked into the experience during your first tense meeting with the villain, who’s imposing and tall as hell. (Hell is quite tall, right?) If you’re little short for a Stormtrooper, you’ll have to look up at him as he stands close to you, holding out a mysterious box.
Inside the box, if you’re able to solve a relatively simple puzzle and open it, is a kyber crystal, the precious resource needed to construct lightsabers (as well as the Death Star’s superlaser). Opening the box seems to indicate that the player is Force-sensitive, although this wasn’t directly addressed in the short story section. (The story mode isn’t very long in general — it should only take players about 45 minutes to an hour to get through it.)
The presentation is startingly cinematic, more so than your average VR game, and the Oculus Quest headset delivers the cleanest visuals you’re likely to see in virtual reality. For one thing, looking from side to side at the surroundings feels natural, and lacks the heavy motion blur of its predecessor. Light and shadow – major parts of the presentation inside Vader’s castle – are rendered beautifully. Best of all, none of it looks pixelated or muddy.
After meeting with Vader, you’re transported to the Lightsaber Dojo, a survival mode built around parrying attacks, deflecting blaster bolts, and striking down training droids. While early levels allow you to be slow and methodical about how you dispose of flying combat remotes (similar to those featured in A New Hope), later rounds are hectic, as more advanced droids surround you on all sides.
This is where you’ll truly be able to test your lightsaber skills and your stamina. The dojo turns out to be quite the workout, as you spin around quickly to take down a flanking droid or parry an enemy’s attack. A mix of blaster fire, melee attacks and growing waves of enemies means you’ll have to develop lightning-fast reflexes in order to progress to the highest levels. ILMxLab didn’t reveal just how far you could go with this survival mode, but the challenge is certainly there in the early rounds.
One thing to note is that the demo really benefited from a big open space in which to play the game. While the headset itself sets invisible walls and warns you when you’re about to fall out of bounds, the fast-paced lightsaber action may well result in a few broken vases or lamps if you’re not careful. Make space, you must, before converting your living room into a lightsaber training centre.
It’s hard to give a verdict on the experience as a whole, but this demo teases something very promising. Narrative designer Mohen Leo explains after the playthrough that, while the first chapter of the three-part series will focus on lightsaber action, later chapters could begin to explore other elements of the Star Wars universe, such as Force powers.
“That’s something we’ll get into in subsequent episodes, so there’s definitely a tease of that [in the first instalment],” Leo says. “And then we have plenty of opportunity with Episodes Two and Three, to go into other parts.”
There are hints of a much bigger adventure beyond the walls of Fortress Vader, with both a ship called the Windfall and a droid named ZOE3 (voiced by comedian and actress Maya Rudolph) at your command, but if you’ll be able to journey beyond Mustafar is anyone’s guess. For now, Leo and the rest of the team are just excited to have players explore the sinister hallways of one of the undesirable locations in the galaxy far, far away.
“You’ll get to see parts of the castle that are very unexpected,” Leo teases. We can’t wait to play more.
Vader Immortal: Episode One will launch on Oculus Quest on 21 May.