We’ve only caught a few words of the pre­sum­ably im­por­tant brief­ing that our com­man­der is dish­ing out as she drives us to the out­post we’ll be work­ing from. Some of the de­tails have stuck: we’ve been hired by Ci­tadel Se­cu­rity to pro­tect one of the last sur­viv­ing colonies in the post-apoc­a­lyp­tic waste­lands of Rus­sia. Vi­o­lent raiders and mu­tated crea­tures threaten the peace, while the tem­per­a­tures brought about by a sec­ond ice age make even step­ping out­side per­ilous. But we’re more fo­cused on all the but­tons in this heav­ily ar­moured, and re­cently cosy, ve­hi­cle: we’ve low­ered the elec­tric win­dows and let the howl­ing, frosty winds in; we’ve turned on the ra­dio and are en­joy­ing some jazz; and we’ve hurled a num­ber of cof­fee cups and tablets out into the snow. As we pass a plane grave­yard and pull up to the base en­trance, an armed guard asks for ID. We hand him the photo card from the glove­box – time to be pro­fes­sional. De­spite be­ing set nearly a century from now,

Ark­tika 1’ s set­ting will feel fa­mil­iar to any­one who’s played any of the Metro games. But while there are plenty of the­matic sim­i­lar­i­ties, the par­al­lels end there. “Story-wise there’s no link be­tween the world of Ark­tika and the world of

Metro – they’re two com­pletely sep­a­rate IPs,” ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Jon Bloch tells us. “But we def­i­nitely wanted to have the same kind of feel in this game that our fans are used to. We rooted it in what ev­ery­one ex­pects from us, and what we love and know and do so well, and then steered that in a new di­rec­tion, so we can start to ex­per­i­ment with things we’ve never done.”

The most prom­i­nent as­pect in that re­gard is the shift to VR. 4A Games Malta has built the game around Ocu­lus’s Rift and Touch con­trollers, and the re­sults are star­tling. There’s more fa­mil­iar­ity here in as­pects such as the de­ci­sion to use warp­ing be­tween set points to nav­i­gate the world, but the stu­dio may just set a new high-water mark for both vis­ual and me­chan­i­cal fidelity in VR. The world-build­ing is as de­tailed and at­mo­spheric as any of the stu­dio’s pre­vi­ous games, and the team has ea­gerly taken ad­van­tage of the possibilities un­locked by mo­tion-con­trolled VR – hand­ing that ID card over, for ex­am­ple, or the way guns are reloaded by flick­ing them side­ways or down to your hips de­pend­ing on the bar­rel type.

“A lot of the way the stu­dio works is very it­er­a­tive, es­pe­cially from a de­sign stand­point,” Bloch says. “That goes on through­out the en­tire de­vel­op­ment process – which, for me as a pro­ducer, can some­times be a bit of headache! But VR de­vel­op­ment works re­ally well with how we do things, and now there are so many more ar­eas that we never would have thought of mak­ing a me­chanic for be­fore.”

4A Games has

al­ready built a rep­u­ta­tion for do­ing things dif­fer­ently, of course. Take those cob­bled-to­gether weapons from the

Metro se­ries that fling ball-bear­ings and must be man­u­ally pumped to main­tain enough pres­sure. Ark­tika 1’ s fu­tur­is­tic set­ting called for more re­li­able kit, how­ever. As such, the game fea­tures an ar­moury of pow­er­ful laser and pro­jec­tile weapons that won’t conk out on you in the mid­dle of a fire­fight. “When we started we had all th­ese dif­fer­ent-look­ing guns, but they all kind of worked the same,” says Bloch. “So ini­tially it was about try­ing to find in­ter­est­ing ways to make them dif­fer­ent – we didn’t want a bunch of laser guns.”

The re­sult is a com­par­a­tively ex­otic ar­ray of tools. One gun curves bul­lets around cor­ners (a fea­ture that can be aug­mented by an IR scope at­tach­ment or hand­held cam­era, both of which al­low you to spot en­e­mies while crouch­ing be­hind cover. If you don’t want to move around too much, or are play­ing while seated, a hand­held en­ergy shield pro­vides a lit­tle more safety. An­other gun apes Halo’s Needler and rid­dles en­e­mies with shards of plasma. And you can even build cus­tom weapons from com­po­nent parts (see Plug and slay).

While you’re lim­ited to spe­cific spots when mov­ing about each space, the ag­gres­sive na­ture of the game’s en­e­mies en­cour­ages you to switch be­tween po­si­tions, mak­ing pro­ceed­ings feel less like a VR Time Cri­sis than it oth­er­wise might. There are safe and risky cover spots, too – de­noted by blue or yel­low out­lines, re­spec­tively – and you’re some­times able to open crates or raise fork­lift beds to cre­ate or change lines of sight. To­gether, th­ese me­chan­ics en­sure com­bat feels deeper and more dy­namic than you might ini­tially ex­pect, even af­ter the nov­elty of do­ing it all in VR has worn off.

Ark­tika 1 may set a new high-water mark for vis­ual and me­chan­i­cal fidelity in VR

Ark­tika 1’ s spa­ces are com­plex and grand, with plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties to seek cover. Even though you must warp be­tween pre­de­fined points, mov­ing about is key to flank­ing and dis­ori­ent­ing en­e­mies

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