Despite the hype, virtual reality is still in its relative infancy, and we’re still waiting for the breakthrough design that justifies the medium with a new kind of play that couldn’t exist otherwise. Until then, however, there are a few tropes that we know to work particularly well in VR. Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, A VR spin-off of niche favorite PS4 horror game, Until Dawn, serves up a well-made if predictable on-rails shooting gallery for PlayStation VR.
By combining a lot of what we know works for sure, developer Supermassive Games has produced a solid, if not particularly ambitious experience for players who are new to virtual reality.
Run and Gun
Short of the HTC Vive’s room-scale experience, movement can be awkward in VR. Controlling your feet with conventional controls can create a motion sickness-inducing dissonance between what you see and what you feel. Cockpit-bound games like Rush of Blood, which is framed as a literal rollercoaster ride, sidesteps the issue by creating an in-game excuse to take movement out of your control. Realistically you aren’t more liable to lose your lunch than on a standard roller coaster: Aside from a few stomach-dropping moments when the ride really picks up, it’s mostly smooth sailing.
Shooting at multiple targets with a PS Move controller in each hand feels badass, especially if you’ve never particularly gelled with gamepad first-person gunplay controls.
With the cart setting your pace, you are free to focus entirely on shooting both the monsters that jump out at you and the inanimate targets dotting the landscape in between. As other VR shooters like Hover Junkers and Bullet Train have already demonstrated, shooting in VR with motion controllers is intuitive and fun, and Rush of Blood is no different. Shooting at multiple targets with a PS Move controller in each hand feels badass, especially if you’ve never particularly gelled with gamepad first-person gunplay controls. While the challenges of moving around have prevented designers from freely porting conventional shooters into VR, the act of shooting itself is categorically improved by the medium. Each of your guns also acts as a flashlight, which is both atmospheric as a way to explore your dark surroundings, and practical in helping you aim at distant targets.
It’s also possible to play with the DualShock controller, but it’s definitely an inferior experience. The gamepad still allows you to aim by moving it around, but both guns are locked facing the same direction. You can alter the distance between them with the thumbsticks, but it feels far clunkier than the one-to-one correspondence of the Move controllers.
While designers generally haven’t cracked the best kind of gameplay for VR, more experiential content lends itself well, including horror. Jump scares feel much more effective when you’re in the immersive space created in a VR headset. We strongly recommend playing with headphones as well, because Rush of Blood makes good use of 3D sound to further enhance that immersion. Headphones also serve the mechanical function of more clearly telegraphing where threats are coming from than relying on more distant speakers.
Rush of Blood is loosely related to the original Until Dawn, but not so much that newcomers will feel like they’re missing out. It features some imagery and characters from the previous game in disturbing tableaux and brief cutscenes between levels, but deployed in a way that feels impressionistic and fragmentary, like a nightmare. Recurring motifs like a young weeping woman and the plaintive cry of an unseen infant give the sense that there is a psychological substrate to the otherwise somewhat stock horror imagery, but not such that it is confusing or distracting.
The moment-to-moment sights and sounds in Rush of Blood are all well-executed, but far from imaginative. The seven levels cover standard horror locales like a creepy carnival and an abandoned asylum, populated with all manner of zombies, clowns, and giant spiders. It’s nothing we haven’t seen a thousand times before in conventional horror games, with no twists that might subvert our expectations.
It’s nothing we haven’t seen a thousand times before, with no twists that might subvert our expectations.
Even rote horror imagery, however, can be effective in virtual reality. Rush of Blood takes full advantage of the medium’s visceral immediacy, which compels a reaction to jump scares that horror fans might normally shrug off. There’s a level full of giant spiders that we found particularly unsettling.
While many horror games suffer diminishing returns over time as players acclimate to the experience, Rush of Blood loses the ability to frighten before the ride ends. The final level is a hellish underground, with flowing lava and battle against a giant monster that feels out of place. The game’s most challenging, wave-based fights are here, where you stand still for a bit to ward off incoming threats while a giant monster hurls flaming boulders at you. It’s a trap that many horror games have fallen into, with the need to raise the stakes and go bigger as it goes on undermining the subtler and more unsettling tone of the earlier acts.Our Take
Despite relying on horror cliches, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood offers a thrilling fright-fest that takes full advantage of the fact that VR conveys atmosphere and plays with your senses. The gameplay is divided into digestible 10-15 minute levels that will get your blood pumping without overwhelming you. This is a solid, introduction to VR scares, which is just what PSVR needs to secure its audience at launch.
Is there a better alternative?
As a PSVR launch title, there is not a ton of variety yet. Rush of Blood stands relatively alone for the time being with its particular combination of horror and shooting. PlayStation VR Worlds, Sony’s expanded VR showcase, does feature a “shark attack” segment that also gets the blood pumping, but it is not as long or as interactive as Rush of Blood.
How long will it last?
The whole game can be completed in about an hour and a half, but alternate paths, collectible secrets, multiple difficulty levels and global leaderboards offer a good amount of replayability if you enjoy it.
Should you buy it?
It’s not likely to be anyone’s favorite game, but it’s a solid launch title for showing off what the PSVR has to offer. If you’ve never played anything on VR before, this is a good introduction to the medium. If you’re a little deeper into it and don’t have any special affinity for horror or gallery shooters, you’re not missing anything essential by passing.