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