The Story of Unplugged: Bringing Air Guitar To Life In VR

When it comes to hand tracking games on Quest, nothing really comes close to Unplugged.

Developed by Anotherway and published by Vertigo Games in late 2021, Unplugged is an air guitar game, inspired by Guitar Hero and many others, that lets you shred in VR with a virtual guitar and your real hands.

As I’ve said elsewhere, Unplugged leverages Quest’s hand tracking technology to breathe life into the imaginary act of air guitar. In doing so, it takes hand tracking to a whole new conceptual and technological level, surpassing everything else available on Quest.

“From the very beginning, our obsession was to understand how the technology is limited and try to polish that stuff,” says studio director and Unplugged creator Ricardo Acosta. “That was the very first thing. Not the graphics, not even the gameplay.”

After speaking with Acosta in our virtual studio (full video interview embedded above), it’s clear that creating a polished and tangible experience was always the goal. “I think that hand tracking is here for good,” he tells me. “I wanted to create something that worked for real. It wasn’t just another demo.”

Such strong commitment to this new form of input is a big call, especially for Acosta, who spent years as a hand tracking skeptic while working on the HoloLens team at Microsoft. “When I was at Microsoft, I was like an advocate for controllers,” he says with a laugh. “At Microsoft, they are all about hand tracking, but I was like, ‘No guys, we need controllers. Controllers are great.’ And now I’m saying the exact opposite thing.”

“On the first version of the HoloLens … you have hand tracking, but just like the blob. It’s just the hand, not the fingers.” Without full and reliable finger tracking, Acosta came away disappointed and skeptical. “With the HoloLens 2, it was a bit better, but the lag between your movement and the hand was very big, for a lot of technical reasons.”

Even so, Unplugged was first conceptualized in 2015 — well before the advent of any modern VR’s hand tracking functionality. “I remember being in a concert in Prague and I was just like doing air guitar,” he recalls. “And at some point I was like, oh, this is an interaction that could work in VR.”

“As soon as I went back home, I prototyped something … and it totally worked. It was like, oh, this is good. This is something that we could actually turn into a game.” The original idea developed into something akin to Rock Band but for VR, using controllers and the first Vive headsets and Oculus SDKs. Acosta said he quit his job at Microsoft to work on the prototype, titled Rock the Stage, over the course of four months.

“I think that it was pretty good,” he says of the Rock the Stage prototype, of which videos still exist online.  “The best thing it was that it made you feel like you were there.” But Acosta soon ran into a road bump — music games, and particularly the associated licensing, are complicated work. “You need a lot of money. You need a team of people handling all that music licensing. And I didn’t have all that back in the day. So I decided, at some point, to go back to my job.”

After continuing in Microsoft’s VR/AR division for another few years, Acosta revisited the concept in 2020 while bored at home during the pandemic. “Oculus [had] just released the hand tracking system [for Quest] and suddenly it came to me like, ‘Oh my god, I could actually rescue that…prototype and try [see] if it works using hand tracking.'”

Even in the early stages, hand tracking felt like a turning point for the previously controller-only experience. “It worked so well. . .Back in the day with the controllers was nice, but with hand tracking was exactly what it should be.” Acosta adapted his original prototype into something new, ditching controllers for something much more freeing and immersive. “When I put [hand tracking] on the prototype, it wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough for me to start polishing the experience. I knew that with a bit of work and a few algorithms on top of the hand tracking, I could make it work.”

Acosta created a video showcasing the new prototype game and posted it to social media. It soon exploded and attracted a lot of interest, especially from publishers offering funding. After discussions options with a few different publishers, Acosta signed with Vertigo Games. “They offered the best deal. And also they were bigger, and they really had a super nice vision about what the game should be.”

“At first I was a bit scared about it, because it was a super big project. We didn’t have a company together. It was complicated.” What started as a one-man show had to turn into a burgeoning team. Acosta’s wife joined as a project manager and they were then joined by a few others to make up the small studio now known as Anotherway.

“We are six people now, which is not a lot,” he says. “Very recently, we had the opportunity to grow a little bit, but we decided to stay small. I’ve been working in Microsoft for most of my career. That is a very big company and it’s amazing, but I really like working with just a very small amount of people. It’s a very creative environment.”

Working alongside Vertigo, Unplugged quickly developed into a project with bigger ambitions than Acosta had ever imagined. “I’m very conservative in terms of adding features, because I know that anything you add to a project, it will create a lot of problems, a lot of bugs, a lot of things.”

“They pushed for more staff. They wanted more music, they wanted more venues, they wanted more quality on the game and they’ve been always pushing for that. And I think that, in general, the game would have been way smaller without Vertigo,” he says.

In particular, working with Vertigo opened up opportunities when it came to the proposed tracklist. “In the very beginning we were just going for small bands. And then when we signed up with Vertigo they were like ‘No, like indie bands are cool and we will have a few. But we need famous bands.’ And we were like, oh, but that’s going to be super complicated.”

Vertigo sent Anotherway a Spotify playlist and asked them to add any songs they might want in the game. “And we were like ‘Wait, whatever music?'” It was a big mental shift.

The Offspring’s The Kids Aren’t Alright was the first major song that Vertigo and Anotherway secured the rights to. “We were just like jumping, like, ‘Oh my god, we made it.'” The final selection included some massive artists — The Clash, T. Rex, Weezer and Steel Panther, to name a few. “[Music licensing] is a very time-consuming process, and I knew that. So not even in my wildest dreams I would have dreamed about having Weezer or Tenacious D, The Offspring, or Ozzy…”

The inclusion of Tenacious D’s Roadie is particularly special to Acosta — not only is the band one of his favorites, but he had used the song all the way back in 2015 in the very first prototype. However, the song almost didn’t make it into the final game at all.

Vertigo and Anotherway initially struggled to make contact with Tenacious D to secure the rights. However, Vertigo had a trick up its sleeve — Guitar Hero legend Mark Henderson had been brought on board to assist with the game. “He was like, ‘Guys, leave it up to me. I’ll make it happen.’ So somehow he contacted the manager of Tenacious D and started talking to them.”

With Henderson’s help the rights to the song were secured. But another problem emerged — with a PEGI 12 rating, Roadie’s explicit and frequent F-bombs weren’t going to cut it. “So at another point we were like, ‘Okay, we have the song now, but we cannot use it because we are PEGI 12, so we have to take it out from the list.'”

Acosta made his peace with leaving the song off the tracklist but, in his words, “maybe the stars were in a particular position that night.” Henderson was able to get Tenacious D back into the studio to re-record a clean version of Roadie, specifically for Unplugged, excluding all the swearing.

“It was insane,” says Acosta. “Knowing that my favorite band re-recorded a song just for the game. It’s insane. It’s just amazing. And a lot of people have complained about the fact that it’s a different version of the song, without the swearing. But I’m so proud of that. To me, it’s even better because it’s our song.”

With a solid tracklist secured, Acosta and the team at Anotherway set to work on creating an unforgettable and reliable hand tracking experience. “I am a UX designer, so for me, the main important thing on anything is user experience. If the experience is not good, the whole game won’t work, or the whole experience will be shit, and we didn’t want that.”

As a result, the gameplay itself was adapted and designed to work with, not against, hand tracking. Even tiny changes mad a big difference — the size of the guitar in Unplugged, for example, is a bit smaller than a regular, real-life guitar, which helps keep your hands in view of the cameras.

“In the beginning, with hand tracking 1.0, we had to be very aware of your movements,” he explains. “We had to create the mapping so that the music charts in a way that is always aware of the limitations of the technology.”

That meant that at launch, the mapping in Unplugged didn’t always completely follow the music, leading some players to complain that the music and the notes didn’t always line up. “And we knew why, but we couldn’t do anything about it, because the hand tracking was very limited and you couldn’t move your hand that quickly,” he said.

Nonetheless, Acosta remains proud of the experience offered at launch. “In the first version, it was absolutely playable. Obviously it wasn’t perfect, but it was playable. And I think that we proved that you can actually create a hand tracking game that uses hand tracking very intensively.”

Skip forward a few months after launch and the release of Meta’s Hand Tracking 2.0 software offered huge gains for Unplugged. Not only was the technology more reliable than ever, but it was so good that Anotherway went back and re-mapped the entire tracklist for increased accuracy and challenge. “We want the game to be fully accessible for everyone, obviously. But I think that for 98% of people, the game works very well.”

Nonetheless, Anotherway are still implementing algorithms and workarounds to account for error and improve the experience — the latest being an AI system. “We’re using deep learning in order to see where your hands should be or what’s your pose or what’s your intentions. We made all that stuff so [that] when there is a problem with the hand tracking, there is another layer trying to help and trying to make the experience as smooth as possible.”

There’s more to come too. In the short term, Anotherway just released a new DLC pack — featuring songs by metal band Pantera — and are working on an upcoming accessibility update adding new features and “another thing” that is top secret but will be “really big.”

In terms of song selection, there’s definitely more on the way. “We are working to add more music all the time. We want to add free music [as well], not just DLC. Also, I want to add more indie music because I think that there is a lot of really good indie music out there.”

But what about the long term? What does the next year or more look like for Unplugged? “I cannot talk too much about it because Vertigo will kill me,” Acosta says with a laugh. “But our plans are very big. Unplugged is going to become bigger, at least in terms of features…”

“I would be very excited about Unplugged if I knew what’s going to happen. Probably like in a year, Unplugged will be very different. It will have way more stuff. That’s it. That’s all I can say.”

For a game that has already pioneered a new technology on a cutting edge piece of hardware, there could be a lot of interesting developments in Anotherway’s future.

“Unplugged is going to move forward,” Acosta said. “That is for sure. We are not staying still.”


Unplugged is available on Quest headsets and hand tracking-enabled PC VR headsets on Steam. You can read our full and updated 2022 of the game here

‘Sairento’ Follow-up ‘Hellsweeper VR’ Coming to Quest 2 Soon, Trailer Here

Mixed Realms, developers behind the samurai-style action-adventure game Sairento VR (2018), announced during UploadVR’s Summer Showcase that its follow-up, Hellsweeper VR, is also making its way to Meta Quest 2.

The game, which is currently planned for Early Access release on Steam sometime later this year, is also coming to Quest 2, slated to arrive on the standalone “soon,” the studio says.

Published by Vertigo Games, Hellsweeper VR is a roguelike first person combat game where you take on the role of an undead immortal.

“Traverse the underworld where every step brings a challenge or a chance. Gain mastery of your weapons and elemental magic, or fall to the unrelenting onslaught of dark creatures,” Mixed Realms says.

In it, you’re tasked with gaining mastery of a wide range of weapons and elemental magic. As you’d imagine, upgrading your gear as you take on undead immortals along the way is supposedly a big part.

Here’s what the studio says about Hellsweeper VR:

“Hellsweeper VR came about from our desire to improve on what made our first game, Sairento VR, a huge hit with fans,” Mixed Realms says. “We wanted to build upon a core tenet of Sairento – an intense no holds barred locomotion system that offered wall-running, power-sliding, backflips and more – all while improving its arcade-style action with semi realistic physics, allowing you to pull off even crazier moves. Juggle enemies in the air. Lop off a limb and use it as a club. Land on an enemy and use them as a bloody surfboard – yes, you read that right.”

Check out the new trailer below:

The post ‘Sairento’ Follow-up ‘Hellsweeper VR’ Coming to Quest 2 Soon, Trailer Here appeared first on Road to VR.

Hellsweeper: Sairento VR Follow-Up Confirmed For Quest 2, Vertigo Publishing

Gory VR combat game, Hellsweeper, is set to be published by Vertigo Games, it’s coming to Quest 2, too.

The news was announced during the Upload VR Showcase today. Developed by Mixed Realms, Hellsweeper is a follow-up to popular VR action game, Sairento. The game was already announced for PC VR headsets, but now we know we’ll be able to play it on the standalone device, too. Check out a brand new trailer for the game running on PC below.

Hellsweeper Confirmed For Quest

As you can see in the trailer, Hellsweeper retains Sairento’s focus on agile combat, but swaps out the sci-fi setting for a dark fantasy tone. You’ll slash through hordes of demonic enemies using swords, spells and firearms as you wall-run and backflip your way through levels. Blood spills and you chop opponents in half or bludgeon them to death. Good fun for all the family, then.

The game also introduces a roguelike structure, allowing you to upgrade your character as you progress. Co-op support is also mentioned on the Steam listing, but more details are yet to be revealed.

It’s not clear yet when Hellsweeper will arrive and in what order. For now, the game’s listed as a Q3 2022 release on SteamVR, but there’s no date for the Quest 2 version yet. Expect to hear those details in the coming months.

Keep following the Upload VR Showcase as we’ll have plenty more announcements and reveals from the show. What did you make of the latest look at Hellsweeper VR? Let us know in the comments below!

Vertigo Games Picks Up Maskmaker VR, But No Quest Announcement Yet

Vertigo Games is adding Innerspace’s Maskmaker to its publishing portfolio.

A tweet from the company’s official account confirmed as much. The post says that Vertigo is “strengthening” its partnership with Innerspace, but doesn’t specifically outline plans for what it will do with the game. The game was originally released on PSVR and PC VR in April of 2021, published by MWM Interactive. Vertigo published Innerspace’s first full VR game, A Fisherman’s Tale, back in 2019.

Vertigo Picks Up Maskmaker VR

Vertigo declined to comment on how this new partnership came about or if it might mean a Quest version of the game is in the works. In a follow-up tweet, Innerspace itself said it hoped the partnership would “bring new opportunities soon”.

Maskmaker was a VR adventure game in which you happen upon an old mask maker’s workshop and discover the ability to jump between worlds using their creations. You use this mechanic to go between environments, creating masks that mirror those you find in different worlds, allowing you to assume control of different characters.

We thought the game was successful in building out fascinating worlds, but a heavy-handed narrative got in the way of the gameplay. “Its best moments achieve an intricate balance between body-swapping puzzling that helps lift the veil on some of the story’s deeper themes, and I would have happily spent hours more making masks in the welcome confines of its workshop,” we said in our review. “But the game often feels like it’s presenting puzzles for the sake of it and could have helped its story breathe by stripping back some of the exposition.”

Shortly after Maskmaker’s release, Vertigo Games confirmed it had signed a publishing deal with Innerspace to produce its next game, which is still unannounced.

The VR Job Hub: Volta, Fast Travel Games & Vertigo Games

Welcome to another VR Job Hub where every weekend gmw3 gathers together vacancies from across the virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) industries, in locations around the globe to help make finding that ideal job easier. Below is a selection of roles that are currently accepting applications across a number of disciplines, all within departments and companies that focus on immersive entertainment.

LocationCompanyRoleLink
London, UK/RemoteVoltaUnity Developer/Creative LeadClick Here to Apply
Stockholm, SwedenFast Travel GamesMarketing & Community AssistantClick Here to Apply
Stockholm, SwedenFast Travel GamesSenior Environment ArtistClick Here to Apply
Stockholm, SwedenFast Travel GamesRelease ManagerClick Here to Apply
Stockholm, SwedenFast Travel GamesLive ProducerClick Here to Apply
Rotterdam, The NetherlandsVertigo GamesSenior Gameplay EngineerClick Here to Apply
Rotterdam, The NetherlandsVertigo GamesGameplay EngineerClick Here to Apply
Rotterdam, The NetherlandsVertigo GamesSenior Software Engineer.NETClick Here to Apply
Rotterdam, The NetherlandsVertigo GamesGraphics EngineerClick Here to Apply
Rotterdam, The NetherlandsVertigo GamesVR Interaction Gameplay EngineerClick Here to Apply
Rotterdam, The NetherlandsVertigo GamesAudio EngineerClick Here to Apply
Rotterdam, The NetherlandsVertigo GamesQA LeadClick Here to Apply
Rotterdam, The NetherlandsVertigo GamesQA SpecialistClick Here to Apply
Rotterdam, The NetherlandsVertigo GamesTechnical ArtistClick Here to Apply

Don’t forget, if there wasn’t anything that took your fancy this week there’s always last week’s listings on The VR Job Hub to check as well.

If you are an employer looking for someone to fill an immersive technology related role – regardless of the industry – don’t forget you can send us the lowdown on the position and we’ll be sure to feature it in that following week’s feature. Details should be sent to Peter Graham (community@gmw3.com).

We’ll see you next week on gmw3 at the usual time of 3PM (UK) for another selection of jobs from around the world.

PlayStation VR Getting Exclusive Physical Edition of After the Fall in March

Vertigo Games released its latest virtual reality (VR) shooter After the Fall for most major headsets in 2021, managing $1.4 million in sales during the first 24 hours. If you’re a PlayStation VR owner hoping for a physical edition then you’re in luck, there’s one on the way in the form of the Frontrunner Edition.

After The Fall

Part of Vertigo Games’ Frontrunner Season for After the Fall, PlayStation VR’s After the Fall – Frontrunner Edition will be an exclusive physical version due to arrive on 25th March retailing for £39.99 GBP/$49.99 USD. It’ll feature:

  • Full access to the Frontrunner Season
  • PSVR exclusive “Ultimate Buster” Skin
  • After the Fall PS4 Theme & Avatars
  • After the Fall Official Digital Soundtrack 
  • After the Fall Digital Artbook

The After the Fall – Frontrunner Season kicks off this month for all supported headsets (Meta Quest 2, PC VR and PSVR). It’s free for all current players who purchased the Launch -and Deluxe Editions of After the Fall, adding new gameplay modes, more locations and additional weapons. These will all be gradually rolled out during the upcoming months.

After the Fall

After the Fall is primarily a 4-player co-op where you and your teammates go on Harvest Runs to collect valuable resources, all the while fighting off the deadly Snowbreed. Once human, these are now monstrous mutations living in the frozen wasteland that is an alternate future, Los Angeles.

The videogame features 32-player hubs so if you don’t have enough party members another can easily join. Or bots are available to make up the numbers when required. Harvest Runs offer the chance to gain valuable loot to upgrade your weapons, making your next run even more devastating. Inbetween runs you can also try out the other mode, a 4v4 competitive multiplayer.

As further details regarding After the Fall’s – Frontrunner Season are released, gmw3 will let you know.

Buy HTC Vive Pro 2 and Get After the Fall for Free

If you’ve got an awesome PC and want to take your gaming to the next level then you’ll want to explore the world of virtual reality (VR). There are several headsets on the market, of which the HTC Vive Pro 2 is one of the very latest, having launched last year. Today, HTC Vive has announced a brand new promotion gifting you a free copy of After the Fall, one of the hottest co-op shooters to arrive in 2021.

HTC Vive Pro 2

The promotion begins today (7th February) at participating retailers in Europe, the Middle East, and North America – Amazon, Scan and Overclockers in the UK – with Vive.com running the promotion starting this Wednesday, 9th February. If you’re in Australia you’ll find the After the Fall deal has already begun, with the offer also applicable on Vive Pro and Vive Cosmos headsets.

HTC Vive Pro 2 is the company’s high-end, tethered VR headset for consumers and enterprise customers. Available just as the headset – if you’re upgrading – for £719 GBP or £1,299 for the Full Kit, Vive Pro 2 boasts a 5K resolution display delivering 2448 × 2448 pixels per eye. There’s a 120-degree field of view (FoV), a 120Hz refresh rate; a manually adjusted inter-pupillary distance (IPD) from 57-70mm and built-in headphones for clear spatial sound.

With the Vive Pro 2 Full Kit, you also get the latest Vive controllers and Lighthouse Base Stations (2.0). As with any Vive Pro 2 headset purchase, you’ll get a free 2-month membership to Viveport Infinity, HTC’s hardware-agnostic store featuring a lot of the most up to date VR experiences.

After the Fall

Of course, if you’re going for this deal then you’ll be wanting to try After the Fall right away. The latest monster shooter from Vertigo Games, After the Fall is primarily a multiplayer experience where you go on Harvest Runs through a frozen Los Angeles, collecting vital resources to upgrade your weapons along the way.

Whilst the videogame does support single-player by way of bots, the runs allow up to four players to team up and try to survive the nightmarish Snowbreed. After the Fall features 32-player hubs to socialise in, and there’s also a 4v4 competitive multiplayer for something different.

For continued updates on all the latest VR deals, keep reading gmw3.

‘After the Fall’ Earned $1.4M in 24 Hours, Beating First Month of ‘Arizona Sunshine’ Sales

After the Fall (2021), the recently released co-op zombie shooter, has done pretty well for itself. Developers Vertigo Games announced it not only surpassed the $1 million mark within the first 24 hours of going live on all major VR platforms earlier this month, but it’s also put early VR game revenues to shame in the process.

The studio says in a press statement that After the Fall managed to earn $1.4 million within first 24 hours of release when the game launched on PSVR, Steam and the Quest Store for Quest 2 on December 9th.

For comparison, the studio says After the Fall did more in 24 hours than its early co-op zombie shooter Arizona Sunshine (2016) when it launched on the first generation of VR headsets back in late 2016.

As one of the higher profile VR games of its day, those numbers are probably indicative of the sort of performance many top-selling VR titles experienced back then. Job Simulator, arguably the most popular game of the era, made headlines in January 2017 when it broke $3 million in revenue after its initial launch on Steam nine months prior, subsequently arriving in late 2016 on PSVR and Oculus Rift with the entrance of Touch controllers.

Development on After the Fall hasn’t gone without its challenges. The game experienced multiple delays after it was first announced in 2019, something many VR titles suffered as a result of lockdowns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

As for post-launch woes, the studio has since issued major updates to fix things like locomotion and weapon handling issues that rendered the PSVR version of the game such a sub-par experience that Vertigo Games publicly urged early access players on that platform to not play the game at all until it had been patched.

Still, we describe as “VR’s best stab at Left 4 Dead—including seamless cross-play across SteamVR, PSVR, and Meta Quest 2—which has put it among the top games we’ve reviewed this year. We gave it a solid [8/10] for its more-than-competent execution of the four-player co-op shooter genre, and for bringing a solid opportunity to team up to take on massive hordes of stumbling blood-soaked zombies.

The post ‘After the Fall’ Earned $1.4M in 24 Hours, Beating First Month of ‘Arizona Sunshine’ Sales appeared first on Road to VR.

After the Fall Achieves $1.4m Revenue in First 24hrs

After the Fall

Vertigo Games launched its long-awaited follow up to Arizona Sunshine, the snow-filled After the Fall across most virtual reality (VR) platforms last week and it’s been a welcomed success. Today, the studio has revealed that the co-op shooter managed to surpass $1 million USD in revenue in just 24 hours.

After the Fall

After the Fall managed to hit $1.4 million on its first day, via Meta Quest, PlayStation VR and SteamVR platforms. Vertigo Games says that’s more than Arizona Sunshine managed to achieve in its first month on sale in December 2016. Although that’s hardly surprising considering the popularity of VR in comparison to five years ago when you only had Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and the newly released PlayStation VR to choose from.

The developer hasn’t broken down the revenue figures per platform, however, so it’s unclear which has been the most successful and whether there was a clear trend among consumers.

The revenue landmark continues Vertigo Games’ success during 2021 that’s seen it acquire SpringboardVR, a management platform for location-based entertainment (LBE) centres, and Force Field (now Vertigo Studios Amsterdam). The company has also helped publish Anotherway’s hand tracked Meta Quest title Unplugged, InnerspaceVR’s Maskmaker, and Little Chicken’s Traffic Jams. As for the future, Vertigo Games has already teased that five VR titles are currently in production, hopefully, more details on those titles will arrive in the new year.

After the Fall

If you’ve not yet jumped on the After the Fall hype, this new shooter is all about teaming up with a few mates and diving into the frozen hellscape of an alternative era Los Angeles, where climate change has ravaged the city and a designer drug mutated the populace into monstrous creatures called Snowbreed. Up to four players across supported platforms can go on Harvest runs to collect valuable resources to upgrade their weapons. Featuring 32-player hubs to socialise in, if teams of four can’t be built AI bots will fill in the blank space. Plus, there’s a 4v4 competitive multiplayer.

VRFocus will continue its coverage of Vertigo Games and After the Fall, reporting back with the latest updates.

‘After the Fall’ Review – VR’s Best Stab at ‘Left 4 Dead’

After the Fall is a four-player co-op shooter that, like Valve’s Left 4 Dead series, pits you against hordes of zombies across a handful of linear levels, all of which are characteristically dotted with safehouses. After the Fall modifies this familiar feel somewhat by introducing in-game currency, called ‘harvest’, which aims to keep players engaged as they make permanent upgrades to weapons. The system around this feels a bit grindy and less immersive than it could be, but it might be just the thing to make sure After the Fall doesn’t go the way of many similarly well-intentioned VR multiplayer games.

After the Fall Details:

Available On: Steam, Meta Quest 2, Rift (cross-buy), PSVR
Release Date: December 9th, 2021
Price: $40
Developer: Vertigo Games
Reviewed On: Quest 2 (native), Quest 2 (Link via Steam)

Note: This review covers my experience with the PC VR and native Meta Quest 2 versions of the game. Vertigo Games has issued an advisory to PSVR players, saying the game still needs a patch to make it playable.

Gameplay

After the Fall is in many ways basically Left 4 Dead in VR, Valve’s hit four-person co-op shooter that has you taking on massive hordes of baddies along windy pathways through a number of set levels. You may be happy to stop reading right here and jump in since it’s essentially a 1:1 experience in terms of basic gameplay value, save After the Fall’s weapon crafting mechanic that requires you to grind through to get anything better than basic versions of the low-level starter guns.

That said, taking a bunch of tropes from a successful flatscreen game and tossing it into VR doesn’t always work out since the need for sensory immersion carries with it greater expectations of how the world should act and react to the player. Despite a few gripes, developers Vertigo Games have done a great job of serving up that particular flavor of mindless zombie-killing action and a social VR experience that requires a co-op mentality to progress.

To be clear, zombies are impressively frangible and very bloody. Those well-worn enemy classes lifted from Left 4 Dead feel a little too samey and conventional to be truly threatening on their own, although to its credit it does offer more variability than most zombie games. And just like Left 4 Dead, the fun is mostly in being overwhelmed by the tripping and climbing crowds of the easily dispatched undead, and After the Fall does this exceptionally well.

Zombies stream in from fissures in the walls and from every nook and cranny imaginable, which on first pass of each level really keeps you on your toes. Enemy animations on both the PC and Quest 2 version are absolutely on point here. On PC, you’ll enjoy ragdoll physics, plenty of splatter, and better visuals by a mile. The Quest 2 version dumbs this down a fair bit to prioritize gameplay over visuals, but it’s still one of the better-looking titles on the Store. It’s a bit chunky-looking on Quest 2, replete with simplified textures, but the overall package is there.

There are some diminishing returns when playing levels again though, since you naturally start to make a mental map of where baddies pop out, but the game offers up a few other things to bait you into diving back in to levels you already played, and to push forward through the few, but varied levels.

While that basic level of fun is definitely there at launch, which will easily keep you playing for hours on end as each mission takes about 20-30 minutes to complete, I’m hoping to see a lot more variability in the future. The singular level boss is a surprise when you first encounter it, requiring the party to destroy ice armor and hit specific points to bring him down, but that got old pretty quick. In my half-dozen hours of playing, it felt like more random bosses are definitely needed to keep things fresh if the game expects me to come back for more.

Image courtesy Vertigo Games

Although functional enemy variations are on the lower side, the game fills the gaps by offering up a few things like variable difficulty, ranging from ‘Survivor’ to ‘Nightmare’ mode, the latter of which gives you the most harvest points but also strips you of your hard-earned loadout if you die during a run. I found myself fitting comfortably in my self-assigned ‘Veteran’ mode, although with greater weapons and a good team, you’ll probably find yourself reaching to replay those same levels again at harder difficulties to maximize your harvest accumulation.

Bonuses for not being killed during a run, completing levels quickly, and shooting accurately are all there to make sure you’re doing your best so you can translate those harvest points into things like guns, gun parts, bombs, and healing syringes. Rare and helpful extras scattered throughout levels like floppy disks and guns that you can recycle for harvest also make full exploration a must.

Image courtesy Vertigo Games

And why hoover up all those harvest points that litter the ground after each kill? To tempt you into returning and making your experience a little easier every time you play as you grind for weapons and parts, of course. You have a standard 9mm pistol at the beginning which is an absolute pain to upgrade when there are some many more effective weapons dangled in front of you by other players. Back at the lobby you can also upgrade weapons from blueprints you’ve unlocked along the way, which is also conveniently near a private shooting range and gun rack so you can mix and match loadouts.

In the end, the clearest overall benefit to After the Fall is its social interactions. It does cross-platform play particularly well, as it lets you build an in-game friends list, which is basically a god send when each platform has its own ecosystem.

Image courtesy Vertigo Games

Like all co-op games, building a good team of like-minded players can mean the difference between having fun for hours at a time, or quitting because of griefers or people who just don’t want to cooperate. The ability to enjoy the game with a group of three others—all with their own unique gear and knowledge about the levels—is a definite plus that makes ganking the same zombies over and over much more fun.

Immersion

Arcade-style titles by virtue include a lot of narrative shorthand and mechanics to make things work easier, but not necessarily better in terms of immersion. We all know why a door magically unlocks when you shoot the last zombie in a level: because it’s a game that has a set number of baddies and no real lore to account for this apparent act of undead wizardry. That’s not damning, it’s just the reality of an arcade title like After the Fall.

Yet I get the feeling it could be more. For example, the 24-player lobby looks like a place you’d want to hang out in. There’s a ton of couches and even an easter egg arcade cabinet that is simple, but a fun touch.

For being a social game though, After the Fall’s lobby is actually a pretty desolate place despite its comparative visual appeal. While in the lobby, all users are muted by default, and avatars are assigned randomly so you can’t tell anyone from afar by sight. Although large and offering plenty of interesting interiors, it feels like it should be more alive, like Echo VR’s lobby which provides more than a few reasons to hang around between matches for informal chats. That inevitably means less screaming children, but also a more sanitized social area that you probably wouldn’t think twice about hanging around when not actively playing a match.

One of the things we pointed out in our early preview back in 2019 was the immersion-breaking reload scheme, which was a single button that activated a character reload animation. Thankfully the studio has scrapped that entirely for two types of reloading styles which not only are more immersive, but better feed into its in-game harvest currency.

Image courtesy Vertigo Games

You can choose between a more arcade-style reloading scheme, where you empty a magazine with a button press and then jam it to your chest to automatically load a new magazine and rack the slide to chamber a bullet, or opt for manual reloading, which not only increases the realism (and therefore complexity) of reloading, but also nabs you 1.5× more harvest points at the end of your run. I like the choice here, although I’m pretty certain I’ll never get a hang of manual reload since magazine sizes relative to the number of enemies makes it an extreme pain to do.

Guns are modeled after real-world weapons, with iron sights and all, so shooting is a very familiar experience. Bullets are also very well telegraphed so you can see them hit their targets so you can adjust aim on the fly without having to properly aim down a sight. Still, object interaction is very basic, as the game puts much more emphasis on abstracting things away with button presses and grabbing ammo dumps by either shooting or hovering your hand over and clicking.

A sore spot in the game is a lack of melee. I have a feeling this is a cross-platform issue that the developers decided to sidestep entirely because enemies are very dependent on set animations which sometimes telegraph hits even when you’re clearly out of reach.

Comfort

After the Fall includes what we’d consider the standard variety of locomotion and comfort options to make sure everyone can play without issue.

Although not an uncomfortable experience, some parts of the game activate a sort of auto-jumping when you reach a ledge, which is jarring since there’s no clear indication of when it will happen. There are also some very brief zip-line sequences, however those can be mitigated in the settings if they’re at all beyond your comfort zone. Check out the full list of comfort settings and options below.

‘After the Fall’ Comfort Settings – December 8th, 2021

Turning

Artificial turning ✔
Smooth-turn ✔
Adjustable speed ✔
Snap-turn ✔
Adjustable increments ✔

Movement

Artificial movement ✔
Smooth-move ✔
Adjustable speed ✔
Teleport-move ✔
Blinders ✔
Adjustable strength ✔
Head-based ✔
Controller-based ✔
Swappable movement hand ✖

Posture

Standing mode ✔
Seated mode ✔
Artificial crouch ✖
Real crouch ✔

Accessibility

Subtitles ✔
Languages
English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Simplified Chinese
Alternate audio ✖
Languages English
Adjustable difficulty ✔
Two hands required ✔
Real crouch required ✖
Hearing required ✖
Adjustable player height ✔

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