Review: Arca's Path virtual reality game
reviewed 10 Jan 2019 by Mark Nichol

Price:

Features:

Value:

Design:

Innovative virtual reality game for multiple VR platforms (PSVR tested)

Simple concept: guide a ball down various slalom courses

Intuitive hands-free 'gaze' controls

What is it?

Arca’s Path is a game designed specifically for virtual reality that has the player using an intuitively simple "gaze based" control system. You’re tasked with moving a wire frame ball through a variety of maze-like maps by merely looking in the direction you want it to go.

Sound too simple? Worry not – in the spirit of the best smartphone games, it’s both easy to dive into and deceptively engaging. Arca’s Path is tied to a narrative structure of sorts. Something about a girl who may or may not be called Arca and who turns into said wire frame ball thanks to discovering some sort of mystical technology. Told through a series of brief images, it’s not actually necessary to know what’s going on. And, to be fair, plenty of people will enjoy its graphic novel style. 

Story aside, you’re transported to various slaloms of increasing complexity and difficulty, with no control scheme to learn aside from knowing how to tilt your head.

What’s it like?

Weird and unsettling initially. And, to be honest, a little disappointing as you come to realise that the game’s core and only mechanic is so ostensibly simplistic. 'Oh, I’m moving this ball around with my head…is this it?' Also, the sound effect that accompanies the ball’s movement is positively grating – a robotic, stuttering engine-type drone that crescendos in tandem with the ball’s speed. Mercifully it can be switched off.

But any early sense of dissatisfaction with the gameplay is quickly swept away as Arca’s Path’s depth and visual pleasantries become apparent. By blending its novel control scheme with some classic platformer and puzzle game elements, it becomes one of virtual reality’s most charming and unique experiences.

A sort of Super Monkey Ball meets Mario 64 results, albeit without the complexity or variety of the latter - no jumping or spinning here. The first few levels are largely aimed at getting you used to the physics of ball movement, but as the game progresses you’re faced with moving platforms, alternating paths, and obstacles to either circumnavigate or smash through.

The aim is generally to get from one end of each fairly linear course to the other, but there are crystals to collect too – often hidden in harder to reach places – which unlock time trial versions of the courses.

Arca's Path boasts the same sort of pick up and play feel that makes the best smartphone games so addictive. And while it presents its fair share of challenges, especially in the latter stages – and some of the frustrating moments that they tend to bring – it’s actually surprisingly relaxing. The bespoke soundtrack helps too - ambient in parts, dystopian in others - which matches progress through the levels very well.

On the one hand there are moments of sheer vexation when the ball wont quite go where you want it to, or when you just can’t seem to avoid careering off that one particular part of the course. But they’re far outweighed by the game’s ability to engross you in a strangely relaxing and very satisfying way, as you gently tilt your head to control the ball. The strength of virtual reality is, of course, in placing a player inside a world in a way that no flat screen experience can. Arca’s Path uses that to make a very simple control scheme and basic objective highly immersive – you become the ball.

Should I buy it?

At around £15 on various digital platforms (there’s no physical release available) we’d say it’s well worth a punt. And with 25 levels, each with an unlockable time trial mode too, it’s good value in pure time-vs-cost terms.

It might be too simplistic for some, and it doesn’t have the sheer immersion or innovation of the best VR platform games (like Sony’s sensational Astro Bot Rescue Mission for PSVR, for example), but if it grabs you, you'll find it does have an addictive 'one more go' quality; it’s the sort of game that anyone can get to grips with and will probably enjoy, whether for two minutes or two hours.  

Pros Hand’s free ‘pick up and play’ controls Appealing mix of genuine challenge and relaxation Highly immersive, stylish world
Cons Some will find gameplay repetitive Some levels have areas of frustration Sound effects can grate

Specifications

Developer | Dream Reality Interactive
Publisher | Rebellion
Platforms | PlayStation VR, Steam VR, Oculus Rift, Oculus Go, Windows Mixed Reality, Gear VR, Vive Focus
Release Date | 4 December 2018 [out now] 

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