You can't separate Edge of Nowhere from virtual reality. The game doesn't just require the Oculus Rift; it was designed to be viewed through that very particular medium.
In Edge of Nowhere, I get the sense that Insomniac Games is coming to terms with VR. They show a great amount of restraint in how they use the technology by not throwing cheap scares and gimmicky 3D effects at the player. Scenes that may have looked bland on a traditional screen become imposing when you can feel the scale of the environments and enemies. The ability to look over the head of your character to take in the immensity of an eldritch horror that fills an underground chamber makes a somewhat stock narrative feel fresh again.
Edge of Nowhere is something VR desperately needs right now: a game in a recognizable genre that tells a story and is released in completed form. Creating a familiar game that knows how to use the visual tools of virtual reality isn't easy, and Insomniac uses the technology to enhance and in some cases re-energize the emotions that can be inspired by adventure games.
when Edge of Nowhere falls back on classic horror tropes, it saves them for the moments they'll hit hardest
The game stars Victor Howard, searching for his fiancée Ava Thorne in Antarctica after her expedition goes missing. During one of the game's rare, harrowing moments in a first-person view, Victor's plane crashes, leaving him stranded in a third-person adventure.
Insomniac Games doesn't overly rely on cheap thrills or jump scares to build fear or tension in the player, and the slower build was much more effective at making me feel a sense of dread. And when Edge of Nowhere falls back on those classic horror tropes, it saves them for the moments when they'll hit hardest. Monsters are real but a lecture hall found deep inside a cave might be a hallucination. There is, on my count, only one planned "jump scare" in the entire game, and it was so effective it gave me the shakes.
This is the best case scenario for that kind of thrill in virtual reality. The game lulls you into a false sense of security, pulls the trigger at the right time to punish you for letting your guard down and then never returns to that style of scare again. Perfect.
Edge of Nowhere's tension and unease feel earned
The controls in Edge of Nowhere are also tuned for the Rift. You aim your weapon and throw rocks by looking where you'd like them to go, and your character's flashlight also follows your gaze. This is mixed with traditional controls — the game is played with an Xbox One controller — and it all works well.
By not overly relying on jump scares, the game's tension and unease feel earned. Seeing a monstrous, four-legged insect-like creature tower over me for the first time inspired a sense of awe. Moving my mouse to look up in a PC game is one thing, but craning my neck up to look at a pulsing monstrosity was much more effective at emphasizing my insignificance in the game's world.
The novelty of seeing this sort of world through the lens of virtual reality undoubtedly helps Edge of Nowhere, but it's a sense of discovery that's only going to work once. You're still battling the giant creature by running from rock to rock to hide behind the cover, even if you're somewhat fooled into thinking this is a new take on that sort of scene due to the use of virtual reality.
When you remove the sense of both danger and power that comes from the well-designed Rift implementation however, you'll notice that your interactions with the character and his environment are familiar to a fault. Edge of Nowhere leans heavily on VR to stand apart from the games that inspired it. And those inspirations are seen everywhere, for better or worse.
Though it borrows liberally from action games, Edge of Nowhere isn't one itself. You'll have to ration your ammo and learn how to sneak past monsters by throwing stones to distract them. Some of these stealth sections frustrated me, though the game conveys information in some neat ways, such as a bioluminescent floor in some of the environments that gives you a visual indicator of how much noise you're making. The game's checkpoint system is also forgiving and helped push me forward to the next section even when I repeatedly failed.
Edge of Nowhere's brevity also helps in this regard. Each stealth section lasted just long enough to be a challenge, before giving way to another climb, or an area with enough shotgun shells to blast your way through to the other side.
Edge of nowhere is flawed and familiar but also a positive step for virtual reality games
Third-person action game? People know how to make those. Horror games with survival elements inspired by the Cthulhu mythos? Yep, people definitely know how to make those. Virtual reality? Well, people are still figuring that out, so putting a bunch of familiar elements together while learning how they can be enhanced by the Rift is a smart play.
There are plenty of strange, experimental demos and experiences for virtual reality that aren't easily identified, but Insomniac Games figured out how the technology can enhance a linear, horror adventure game. Edge of Nowhere may implement some well-worn cliches, but it's also one of the first examples of mastery in a new and not particularly well understood medium.
Edge of Nowhere was reviewed using final pre-release code provided by Oculus. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.About Polygon's Reviews