Hands-on: The VOID Goes all Creepy With Nicodemus: Demon of Evanishment

VRFocus loves a good virtual reality (VR) scare, it’s almost as if the technology was purposefully designed for horror videogames, immersing players in dark, dank locations, with ghastly creatures seemingly hiding in every shadowy corner. So when The VOID invited the team to play one of its latest experiences, Nicodemus: Demon of Evanishment, in Las Vegas during CES 2019, we naturally jumped at the chance to test this new horror title.

Nicodemus: Demon of Evanishment spoilers ahead

Having already tried the delightfully cute and colourful Ralph Breaks VR earlier in the week, flinging pancakes and ice creams at cats and bunnies, Nicodemus: Demon of Evanishment offered an entirely different experience, one definitely not designed for all ages.

Just as before the same process applied to getting ready – by now VRFocus was well versed in getting strapped into the gear – with staff giving each of us the option to pick from one of six character cards, which would be our avatar in the videogame – I chose ‘The Magician’ who had a rather awesome moustache and top hat.

Nicodemus: Demon of Evanishment is a dark tale set in Chicago during the 19th Century, with the city holding a massive exposition. However, during the event one of the attractions malfunctions and takes a dark turn, releasing evil into the world. People start to go missing so the entire area is closed down. Fast forward to present day and VRFocus seems to be in a team being sent back in time to investigate what happened and hopefully gain some answers.

Up to four players can be part of the experience – there were three of us so it still worked – with Nicodemus: Demon of Evanishment instantly splitting the group in half. Our colleague Kevin then went off by himself while I and video producer Nina wandered through the videogame together. Straight away Nicodemus presents an experience with a lot more atmosphere than Ralph Breaks VR, with Ninja Theory creating a richly detailed environment that you want to (hesitantly) explore.

NicodemusThere were no guns this time around, instead, there were a series of rooms with puzzles to solve. Pleasantly surprising was the interactivity of the puzzles, fuses needed to be changed in a machine which you could physically pick up and place, or massive wheels on valves which had to be turned precisely in order to get the correct alignment. Just like all The VOID experiences, this is a linear set by step process, and to keep things flowing even if you don’t solve the puzzle the way will eventually open up.

If you don’t like horror titles – especially ones with jump scares – then Nicodemus isn’t for you. The entire experience is full of little jump scares, look into a mirror and suddenly there’s a creature looking back, a small puppet suddenly starts sprouting maggots from its eyes and mouth, or the main creature itself starts clawing at you through metal elevator railings. If there were any criticisms to be had then it comes down to two things; the scare factor starts to wane towards the end as the jump scares become more apparent, and even with effects like spatial sound there were times when the both of us felt we’d missed something – Nina, for example, didn’t see the mirror scare.

As per usual it all feels like it’s over way too quickly. Yet Nicodemus: Demon of Evanishment has a unique card to play, a secondary ending. Like most experiences with multiple endings the trick isn’t playing the game over and over, but performing a certain set of specific tasks. Now VRFocus didn’t go through a second time to try this, but here’s a hint; on The VOID’s website is the full PDF story to read, make sure you do before playing.

Once again The VOID has created a VR experience that’s difficult not to recommend. It certainly doesn’t feature the classic first-person shooter (FPS) action of Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire or Ralph Breaks VR but we don’t mind as it offers something different. Nicodemus: Demon of Evanishment offers the richest narrative yet for fans of The VOID, and the best reason for a second playthrough.

Hellblade VR Developer Ninja Theory Is Working On Star Wars: Vader Immortal

Hellblade VR Developer Ninja Theory Is Working On Star Wars: Vader Immortal

Here’s an interesting detail we missed when Star Wars: Vader Immortal was announced for Oculus Quest last week; Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice developer Ninja Theory is working on the series.

A mention of the UK-based studio is dropped right at the end of the press release, simply stating that developer ILMxLAB is “proud to be working with Ninja Theory, an award-winning developer in the UK, and Epic Games, creators of Unreal Engine.” Ninja Theory itself declined to reveal to UploadVR exactly how it was contributing to the experience.

If we were to guess, it could be that the team’s impressive real-time performance capture, which has been demonstrated a SIGGRAPH over the past few years, is being used on the project. The system is able to record an actor’s performance and instantly translate it onto a virtual character. That said, Ninja Theory has worked on its own VR games including Dexed and this year’s excellent VR port of Hellblade itself, so it could be lending more traditional help to the project too. The studio was acquired by Microsoft earlier this year.

Vader Immortal is intended to be a multi-part series starring the Dark Lord of the Sith himself. It’s set between the events of Star Wars movies Revenge of the Sith and Rogue One and, judging by the teaser trailer above, it might finally give us our first taste of true lightsaber combat in VR. Look for the series to launch first on Oculus Quest next year.

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Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice VR Review – A Haunting Thrill Ride Through The Human Mind

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice VR Review – A Haunting Thrill Ride Through The Human Mind

I remember the moment that I realized playing a game like Hellblade in VR would be unlike everything else I’ve  played before. During a tense fight with an enemy early on in the game I was very low on health. One of the voices in my head that’s constantly taunting, nagging, and whispering to Senua throughout her journey yelped “Behind you!” and I physically spun my head around to see another enemy lunging  with a sword, so I pressed the block button and parried the blow perfectly. Had it not been for that ability to turn and look — and my instinct to follow directions from the voice in my head — I likely would have died.

Small moments like that are great examples of how VR can be used to enhance an otherwise non-VR game. Not every game needs VR support, but most games would be more immersive and engrossing if it was done well. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice outside of VR was already one of the best games this entire generation with ominous psychological overtones and a highly atmospheric setting, so adapting that world to VR only enhances what already made it so great to begin with.

In Hellblade you take on the role of Senua as she descends into the depths of Nordic Hell, otherwise known as Helheim, on a quest to save the soul of her lost lover. Throughout the adventure you’re besieged by twisted, demonic creatures that engage you in ferocious melee combat. The journey consists of battling back these deranged creatures, exploring dark, twisted worlds, and uncovering the meaning behind cryptic symbols and puzzles.

What underscores everything though is the bold and brilliant presentation. Visually it’s one of the most stunning games (VR or otherwise) that I’ve ever played and I’m honestly hard-pressed to think of a better looking experience inside of a VR headset. The sound design is second-to-none as voices race through Senua’s head and across each of your ears. One voice may whisper words of encouragement while another sneers insults and discredits your actions. Flickers of images and brief hallucinations appear on-screen and you’re constantly questioning everything that you do and see for the entire 6-8 hour journey.

Combat in Hellblade is thrilling and intense. It’s nowhere near as deep as other third-person action games you may have played recently, but it doesn’t need to be. Senua can issue light and heavy attacks, dodge, block, and parry. Eventually you unlock some otherworldly abilities and time manipulation, which looks amazing in VR, but that’s the gist of it. You time your blocks to parry attacks, string together combos, and juggle multiple enemies that quickly try to surround and overwhelm you.

Being able to crane your neck around and marvel at the amazing environment is a huge reason why playing Hellblade in VR is so magical, but the change of perspective actually helps out combat as well. As explained at the start of this review, you can look around while fighting to avoid getting flanked by unseen enemies.

And while you can certainly play Hellblade outside of VR with headphones to experience the chilling audio and whispering voices, it’s not the same. When those voices giggle and prod my psyche mid-gameplay it really causes me to keep my head on a swivel, looking all around. It affects you on a much deeper level than just some creepy voices in your earbuds. They feel like they’re part of your mind.

In terms of VR-exclusive features, Hellblade actually has a few surprising bits. For starters, there are two experimental camera angles in the settings menu. The standard camera view follows Senua from behind just like in the non-VR game, but then there’s also a Tabletop-style camera that’s aimed down from the sky that makes Senua look like a miniature figure and a Giant-style camera that puts you at her ankles, looking up. It made me feel like I was a dog by her side.

Even when using the standard camera view the sense of scale is incredible. Instead of flicking an analog stick to look around I can actually crane my neck to gasp at enormous mountains, decrepit landscapes, or rotting piles of flesh in the depths of Hell. It’s just a shame more hadn’t been done to make it feel fresh or at least offer motion controller support in some way.

I never felt sick at all while playing Hellblade in VR, but I’ve also never felt sick when in VR at all. There are lots of options to pick from and tweak to make things as comfortable as possible, such as snap turning, camera snapping during combat, and even a nifty feature that lets you turn Senua while moving using just your head while exploring. It plays great with full smooth rotation on as well, which is how I preferred to play.

However, no matter which comfort options you pick all cutscenes that move the camera around a scene will zoom into a letterbox-style presentation. I couldn’t find an option to disable this. It was clearly done to maintain a sense of comfort, but it would have been nice to be able to remove that. It got annoying after a while.

Final Score: 9/10 – Amazing

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice VR Edition is a remarkable achievement in visual and sound design. It’s a great example of how to port a non-VR third-person action game to the immersive realm of HMDs that not only stays true to the source material, but enhances the experience in meaningful ways. If you haven’t played Hellblade before, there is no better time than now and if you have, then this is an engrossing way to re-experience Senua’s journey from a new perspective.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is currently available on Steam for $29.99. The VR edition, which this review is based on, releases on July 31st. All owners of the non-VR edition receive the VR version for free. Check out these official review guidelines to find out more about our process. 

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Hellblade VR Livestream: Venturing Deep Into The Human Mind

Hellblade VR Livestream: Venturing Deep Into The Human Mind

Tomorrow, Hellblade’s official VR support releases (for free to all current and future owners of the base game) on Steam for Rift and Vive. It requires a beefy PC to run and we’re checking it out live right here pre-release today on our livestream. Having played the non-VR game a year ago when it first released, I’m extremely excited to see this support revealed.

In Hellblade you take on the role of Senua on a harrowing Celtic journey into Viking Hell to fight for the soul of a lost lover. Through the adventure you battle demons of the physical, mental, and illusory variety as voices, hallucinations, and more see you stumble deep into madness. Hellblade was already one of the most immersive and atmospheric games ever made and VR really amps that up even more.

We’ll be livestreaming Hellblade VR on PC today using an Oculus Rift with a PS4 controller plugged into the PC starting very soon as of the time this is being published (which means we’ll start at approximately 12:00 PM PT) and aim to last for about an hour or so. We’ll be livestreaming directly to the UploadVR Facebook page. You can see the full stream embedded right here down below once it’s up:

Hellblade VR Livestream

Hellblade gets full VR support tomorrow and we're playing it a day early! This is a full VR version of Ninja Theory's award-winning psychological thriller action game.Read our full review at UploadVR.com soon!

Posted by UploadVR on Monday, July 30, 2018

You can see our archived streams all in this one handy Livestream playlist over on the official UploadVR YouTube channel (which you should totally subscribe to by the way). All future and current streams will be on Facebook, which you can see a list of here.

Let us know which games you want us to livestream next and what you want to see us do, specifically, in Hellblade VR or other VR games. Comment with feedback down below!

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Ninja Theory Confirms No PlayStation VR Version of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice gained masses of critical praise when it was launched last year, gathering up a loyal fanbase as it did so. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice won acclaim due to its beautiful visuals and compelling storytelling. So excitement was high when a virtual reality (VR) version was announced just yesterday.

However, as always, not everyone is going to be happy. Those amazing visuals are deeply impressive to come from such a small studio, but they do come with a cost. In this case, users will need a high-end PC rig to run the title in VR, which sadly means it isn’t possible for it to run in VR mode on the PlayStation VR.

The developers at Ninja Theory confirmed the worst fears of PlayStation VR owners on Twitter, where a developer diary was posted, which explained that the demands of the graphics engine and the additional requirements of VR means that the PlayStation 4, even the PlayStation 4 Pro, just lacks the grunt to deliver what Ninja Theory would consider a satisfying experience.

Many people took to Twitter to express disappointment, which quite a few questioning why it was possible for a title as massive as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR to be on PlayStation VR, while Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice couldn’t. Other commenters were quick to point out the age of the graphical engine involved, and to remind people of just how small Ninja Theory was as a studio.

As has already been stated, the hardware requirements for Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice are quite hefty, where most VR PC titles can quite happily run on an NVIDIA 1060, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice requires a minimum of a NVIDIA 1080 or AMD Radeon 580 in order to run.

Regardless, the VR version of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is still a great achievement, and users of the HTC Vive and Oculus rift will get the chance to follow Senua’s journey in VR from 31st July, 2018.

Hellblade Senua's Sacrifice

For future coverage of new and upcoming VR projects, keep checking back with VRFocus.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice VR Edition Coming to Oculus Rift and HTC Vive

Having wowed audiences at events like SIGGRAPH in 2016 Ninja Theory launched its critically acclaimed adventure  Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice for PC in the summer of 2017. Today, in a surprise announcement the studio has confirmed a virtual reality (VR) version will be released this month.

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice VRMaking the announcement via Twitter, Ninja Theory said that a Oculus Rift and HTC Vive versions would be released on 31st July, 2018. For owners of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice the VR edition will be free – it’s currently retailing for £24.99 GBP on Steam.

In addition to the announcement the studio also released a developer diary (seen below) giving further details about the VR edition and how it came to be. Some of the more interesting information contained in the video concerns the actual specifications of the PC to run the experience. While most VR titles usually recommend an NVIDIA GTX 970 or above, for  Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice VR Edition you’ll need a minimum of a NVIDIA GTX 1080 or AMD Radeon RX 580.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice VR Edition features Senua’s full journey from the original videogame plus additional experimental game modes and fully customisable comfort options notes the studio.

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice VR

In the video Dominic Matthews, Commercial Director at Ninja Theory, notes: “Why did we do this? Well there was never really a good business case for Hellblade VR. We did it out of curiosity and out of the desire to find out more about VR, and because we thought the final experience would be something cool for our fans.”

The story in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice VR Edition is set in the Viking age following a warrior’s brutal journey into myth and madness. Players are cast in the role of Senua, a broken Celtic warrior, embarking on a haunting vision quest into Viking Hell to fight for the soul of her dead lover.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice VR Edition will be a free update to the original videogame on Tuesday, 31st July. For any further updates keep reading VRFocus.