Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Chronos deserves some serious credit here, as it is one of the most fully fleshed out experiences in virtual reality I have experienced so far. You can spend more than a dozen hours with this title and the magical world it creates for you, which is far more than most VR titles I have had the chance to play on the Oculus Rift so far. It also helps that the overall gaming experience is a good one worth spending that time on.
With its mix of action and adventure, Chronos looks the part of a stylized Dark Souls game. It certainly has its moments of frustration, but with more of an emphasis on problem solving than just combat and death, there is a serious Darksiders / Zelda vibe at play here as well. Of course the catch here, the primary hook for Chronos is the implementation of virtual reality.
Most VR titles put you in the role of the character by having you view through their eyes in first-person. Chronos opts to make this a 3rd person game, and I think that decision actually works quite well. instead of using my camera to look around, I turn my head and body, and this process works just as well from an immersion standpoint, because my body’s motions have a direct impact on the game. Mind you, I am a little late to this party – Chronos released in Q2 of this year, and of late I have been spending most of my VR time testing Oculus Touch games, but Gunfire Games did a great job of making this action adventure one that plays out just fine with a controller.
The visuals are not the most detailed in the world, but I loved the dark style of the art. More impressive was the excellent job that the development team did in framing scenes. The Oculus does an outstanding job of sucking me in on many of these moments. The camera is a fixed one that takes advantage of these smart moments in setting the stage. The world is in and of itself a giant maze and the level design benefits from the developers showing you what they want from your angle, though you get to look around using the Rift to focus on the parts you want. This all creates an excellent sense of depth that works well even in most (though admittedly not all) combat encounters. If you are a somewhat directionally challenged sort (such as myself), the immersion really does give you a sense of being lost as well.
The gameplay and systems here are all very familiar, from the aforementioned puzzle-solving to combat that’s based on learning enemy animations and timing to the ability to acquire experience points and finding new spells and weapons. All of this is pretty standard fare, though I have to admit that the penalty for death (and you will die) is actually really quite unique. Instead of the Roguelike titles out there that have you scrambling to get back to your fallen body, your character is instead kicked out of the labyrinth. The catch is that this maze only opens once per year, so your battle is more against time as you are returned to your most recent checkpoint in the maze. These checkpoints are just about right – not too tightly woven together draining the challenge out of things, but not so cumbersome that you feel as though you are besting a whole level again from scratch. The maze-like level design is also somewhat reminiscent of Souls titles, because you will find gateways and shortcuts that allow for faster travel if you open them up.
As you age, you gain access to new abilities. Early on, these new perks are pretty great. Who doesn’t want to have more life points? But visually you start to gray and show your age. Your character also gains a different kind of development arc. Early on I was focused on physical abilities like strength, and those came easily to my young man’s body, but over the years as the deaths took their toll, I found myself better leveraging intellectual pursuits such as magic because they become more cost efficient. Thankfully the leveling process is a pretty brisk one – enemies are not terribly common along the way, but they are suitably challenging and also rewarding in their experience, making encounters generally worthwhile and less ‘grindy’ than in some RPGs.
Chronos is one of the most robust experiences available in VR currently, even though it is about a half year old now. There is a great deal of familiarity in the controls and overall systems, but credit to the development team for leveraging the Oculus to create some really impressive moments in the game. The team knows how to set a stage and frame a particular moment, and virtual reality delivers these in a way that a flat monitor would fail to match. There is nothing specific about Chronos that makes it a VR title – it would play out just fine on a console I’m sure. But this action adventure is an entertaining one that makes good use of the hardware here.Score: 8 / 10