A couple of years ago, I was invited to a closed beta. It was for a punishing roguelite archery game called In Death. Roguelites aren’t usually my forte, but I took up the bow and arrow in virtual reality and was sliced, shot, and stabbed as I inched my way further and further, learning from every death. Feedback was given, improvements were made and it soon released on PC. When I found out they’d released In Death: Unchained – an Oculus Quest version of the original, only with additional content, I had to try it and see how far it had come.
Shoot, Teleport, Shoot
In Death: Unchained has you fight your way through the Gothic style levels, aiming to reach your final destination. Hordes of knights, monks, and creatures will attack as you make your way through the maze-like mishmash of buildings.
You can choose to fight or avoid enemies. Either way, archery is really key here. You can draw many types of arrows, but most important is the teleport arrow. This is your primary method of movement.
Shooting a teleport arrow will move you to where it lands. A careful archer can almost fly across the rooftops by quickly firing off teleport arrows. A tricky archer can shoot to teleport behind an enemy and have a more lethal arrow lined up ready to fly into the back of their head before they get there. To keep things fair, some enemies can teleport too. Suddenly hearing one behind you after you lose sight of them for a moment can be a shock.
It is worth noting here that In Death: Unchained provides two more ways to move about. Smooth locomotion and throwing a teleport item. These are quite slow and I’ve found they’re mostly of use for dodging along with physical movement. Some ‘purists’ dislike teleport locomotion in virtual reality and only accept smooth locomotion. The game isn’t for these people. What it does though, it does well. Teleporting makes sense here.
An Ever-Changing Challenge
As with many roguelites, the levels in In Death: Unchained change each time you play. Areas within a level will always look similar though, giving that feeling of being lost. I often found myself taking a wrong turn.
Not only will the world around you change, but so will the inhabitants and the items. I don’t just mean their placement either. As you progress in the game, achievements are frequently unlocked. This can be both good and bad for you. A certain amount of headshots will unlock increased headshot damage, but killing enough knights will have more powerful knights appear. The game feels like it’s always challenging you. It starts somewhat difficult and while you increase your own ability by unlocking items and increasing your stats, the challenge rises in line.
I found the constant changes based on achievements kept things very dynamic. Before things started to feel repetitive, a new enemy was introduced, a new ability or a new area. For all that things may look the same, they never were for long.
Arrows, Bows, and More
While you start with unlimited teleport arrows and basic arrows, you can also pick up ones with limited ammo such as fire and ice arrows and more interesting ones like ricochet arrows. Some of these are the unlockables mentioned.
Item management can be quite important in this game. Setting things up so you have a nice cache of exploding arrows at the right time can make things go much more smoothly. Resources are quite limited though, so you can’t go overboard. You find arrows, health, and more occasionally in the world or you can buy a limited amount of them at the rare rest stops. No matter the arrows you have though, they’re no substitute for skill.
As for the device to shoot the arrows, you can choose between the bow and eventually the crossbow. Either style of play can be really frantic. Suddenly getting up close with half a dozen enemies can mean some quick teleporting, dodging, and shooting. Death is always only a few steps away.
The bow works as you probably imagine it would, except that you don’t draw arrows from a quiver. This nicely side-steps most of the issue of tracking behind your head where the headset cannot see. It’s still not perfect, but it’s pretty good considering what they’re working with in terms of hardware. The bow is more aimed towards fighting at a distance, but you can certainly use it close up if you’re quick.
The crossbow is a bit more unusual in that you can load it very quickly by a small motion of one hand and you can then point and shoot with the other as if it were a handgun. Readying the arrow did feel a bit awkward at first, but I got used to it soon. It seems much faster to reload and more powerful judging by the enemies that I could one-shot kill with it. I found my aim suffered though and distance shots were more difficult.
I prefer the bow and arrow. There were early complaints about all the high scores being crossbow players, but that does not seem to be the case now. The top score is a crossbow player though, so take from that what you will. That said, it is very satisfying to let an arrow loose and have it plant itself right in an archer’s head from so far away that you can barely see them though. You can’t do that with a crossbow.
PC, PSVR, or Quest?
Now, I’m lucky. I have the choice of playing this on PC, PSVR, or Quest. But which one is better? I’m personally voting for the Quest.
To get the downsides out of the way, the graphics are not as good on the Quest as any of the other platforms. They’re still impressive, but when a Knight is trying to stab you or you get too close to a brick wall, there might be a glimpse of a less than detailed texture even on the Quest 2 which this game has improvements for over the original Quest. You might notice the fog coming in closer than you would hope to cover a lack of draw distance. Things like that aren’t apparent at first, but they are noticeable.
The tracking isn’t much of an issue, but it’s there. In the end, archery games do generally benefit from full 360-degree tracking as the controllers will occasionally go out of view of the cameras. This won’t be any better on the Rift S or Windows Mixed Reality headsets and would certainly be worse on PSVR. Lighthouse based systems and similar are the clear winners here.
So why do I say the Quest? The additional content is certainly a big draw with new areas to explore. Even more than that though, I feel that In Death: Unchained really benefits from being… well, ‘unchained’. Quickly turning physically without worrying about a cable attached has improved my experience significantly. I’ve gone into rooms and teleported about, physically spun to quickly shoot an enemy, and then done the same over and over. Doing that more than a couple of times with a tethered headset would end in an accident. In addition, there have been some minor user interface improvements to the Quest version and the addition of the ability to save at rest spots.
In Death: Unchained is one of those addictive games that I keep coming back to. It begs you to try once more to get that little bit further. It keeps things fresh constantly by changing elements. The combat isn’t innovative as several other games have done similar, but it is one of the best implementations of this type of system I’ve seen. There isn’t much I can fault about it.
IN DEATH: UNCHAINED IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to Superbright and Oculus for an Oculus Quest review code for this title.
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A gamer since the days of Amstrad and DOS and someone who has dabbled in a variety of professions. He enjoys a wide variety of genres, but has been focusing on visual novels and virtual reality in recent years. Head Editor of NookGaming. Follow him and the website on @NookSite.