I’m going to start this review in the strangest place, but bear with me. I’m a nausea sufferer with VR. Smooth motion is often rough for me after 20 minutes or so, so I end up using vignetting, teleportation, snap turns and any number of combined things to help me manage. Some games are obviously worse than others, but typically speaking the faster the game, the faster I’m feeling like I’m about to get sick. When I saw videos of After The Fall I thought “There’s no way I’m going to be able to play this game, right?”. I’ve never been so happy to be wrong.
After The Fall came out on the PCVR and Meta Quest 2 in December of 2021 from the development team behind the excellent Arizona Sunshine, Vertigo Games. I’ve played many games with this formula, and you have as well – see if you can follow me here. You and three of your friends pick from a cast of characters that live in a post-apocalyptic world full of zombies. You’ll go out on supply runs, mowing down tons of them together. Sometimes you’ll run into big ones that explode. Others are super tough and can charge you down and smash you to bits lest you hit their weak spots enough to take them down. You’ll charge through four map segments, each punctuated by a safe room where you can rest and rearm. You can use throwables, medicine, and special buffs to keep you alive until you reach the end of the fourth segment where you ‘ll face a massive horde of zombies and one boss creature. Narrowly escaping, you’ll get a summary screen where you see how well you did, how much loot you collected, and you do it all again on new maps with the occasional new critter or weapon. Left 4 Dead 1 and 2, Back 4 Blood, Strange Brigade, GTFO, Killing Floor 1 and 2 – I could go on, but this formula has been done and done well. What could adding virtual reality add to the mix beyond headaches?
Well…it turns out that it can add a whole hell of a lot.
We know the major gameplay and story beats, so we’ll instead focus on the new things. The zombies in this case are of the frozen variety as the world has been plunged into a perpetual winter. Aiming for the head still works perfectly well. With a basic pistol you’ll set out on your first mission – clearing out an arcade. You see, the tech-heads that run your little bunker back home have figured out how to repurpose arcade cabinets into crafting machines for weapons. Odd, but ok. As you work your way through buildings you’ll find locked cabinets and footlockers that contain loot. It’s what you’d expect – an injector for health, a pipe bomb, a buff that makes you rage out. What’s different here is that it’s all very, very random. The enemies are not manually placed, and neither is the loot. I ran a mission four times and in all four cases I found different equipment. In one I found an AK-47, and in the other three I didn’t find another one. It’s not foolproof as the devs want to pace out the minibosses, but what minibosses appear seems to be a dice roll, which is nice.
While you explore you’ll occasionally find floppy disks (go look up what those are, kids) and keycards. You can only store two items in the pockets on your wrists, so you’ll probably have to drop something to keep these. If you survive long enough to get to a safe room you can drop the floppy disks into a modded arcade cabinet, freeing that inventory slot. Survive the whole affair and these will unlock new weapons, attachments, and more. The keycards lead to doors in the environment. You’ll have to hunt around a bit to find these doors, but behind them is usually a cache of some sort full of weapons and ammo.
Pre-launch I’m not able to find anyone to play with as the PSVR2’s network hasn’t officially launched yet – hence why this is a review in progress. What shocked me was just how competent the AI is in the meantime. Sure, they don’t typically pick up excess goodies for later use, but they will fight well enough, they’ll heal one another and themselves, and they’ll even help you if you happen to lose enough health to be “frozen” (you are stuck there until somebody can hit you with a syringe, so you’d better hope somebody has one).
The whole purpose of doing these runs, and re-doing them at higher difficulty levels for that matter, is something called “harvest”. Harvest is the currency of After The Fall, and you’ll be exchanging it for all the parts you add to your gear. You’ll get a basic pistol just for showing up, but if you want a laser sight that’ll cost ya. Want to put a tape grip on it? Find the floppy disk to get the recipe, then pay the cost. The mods are often either/or, so if you want the makeshift electronic bullet counter, you’ll have to drop the sight.
If you liked the complex loading mechanics in games like Boneworks, you are going to dig After The Fall. If you want you can go with a basic “gun to side” reload method, but the real fun comes from manually charging. That means dropping the clip, grabbing a new one from your chest, sliding it into the mag well, and then pulling the slide/charging handle/etc. Better still, it’s properly modeled – if you’ve left a round chambered, you won’t need to charge the weapon as it still has one in the pipe. A little presence of mind to keep track of your rounds might save your life.
Higher difficulty levels provide different modifications to the formula. Past a certain point, you’ll even lose your hard-earned gear if you don’t make it to the final safe room. It adds some risk/reward as you’ll get more harvest for your efforts. As your upgrades are permanent, it creates a bit of a grind, but with something in return for your efforts. Games like Left 4 Dead always feel like starting over, but this small change provides some much-needed progression to the formula.
The game supports multiple comfort options, though as I’ve mentioned if a severe motion sickness sufferer like I am can handle it, there’s a very real chance you won’t need them. Still, you can play the game seated or standing. You can also adjust for smooth turns, adjustable speed on turns, snap turns, smooth movement, teleport, vignetting, and more. You can mix and match a bit, so find whatever works for you. I’m still in shock that I didn’t need any of it.
During testing I did run into two instances of the PSVR2 losing tracking. When that happened, the game locked the scene, wobbled for a moment, and then snapped back into place. These could easily cause nausea if it happens frequently enough, but shock of all shocks again, it somehow didn’t for me. I don’t know what Vertigo Games is doing to stop Vertigo, but please tell everyone else!
After The Fall is a good looking game, for the most part. The zombies happily fly apart as you pick off their limbs, they pile up like cordwood, splashing nastiness everywhere. The PSVR2 version picks up HDR and enjoys the 110 degree field of view native to the platform, so that’s not a surprise to see here. There’s at least one goofy physics wobble in every level like arms that spin and wiggle, heads that continue to jerk, or people Gumby-sliding into position, but frankly it’s just not enough to run my fun. The dead-eyed shiny plastic NPCs with wobbly mouths are hard to look at, but you won’t be spending much time with them anyway.
Vertigo Games didn’t just port over the game from another platform, but instead took full advantage of the capabilities of Sony’s new hardware. The adaptive triggers are sublime, with each weapon having a different trigger pull. The haptic feedback on the weapons is pure tactile joy. When you get inevitably smacked in the head, you’ll feel that too thanks to the HMD feedback. It makes the whole thing a lot more immersive than I expected. It’s funny how a handful of features can make a game so much better on one platform over another, but the additional haptics take this game from good to great.
If you’ve played this on another platform then you’ll be happy to see the team has added two additional levels for the launch on PSVR2 – a Hospital and the Subway. Undoubtedly these will be coming to other platforms – this game is cross-platform multiplayer compatible, and that’s the only way this works.
At the time of launch, I’m incredibly impressed with what Vertigo Games has delivered. I want to spend some time hunting zombie-sicles with my friends to really get a handle on how the game plays with friends, but this already feels like a can’t-miss entry into Sony’s PSVR2 platform.
After the Fall
After The Fall feels like a formula we’ve seen done to death, but the addition of truly competent VR makes the game feel a little more fresh. Impossibly, it’s a zero-nausea experience, and when played with friends, it’s a blast. An easy recommendation for new PSVR2 owners.
- How is this game zero nausea?! Impossible!
- Cross-platform multiplayer
- Currency was the change the genre needed
- AI is surprisingly competent
- Scaling with additional players adds a LOT of challenge…
- …perhaps too much challenge
- Dead eyed plasticine NPCs
- We’ve seen this formula. A lot