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Apex Construct

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Fast Travel Games
Release Date: Feb. 20, 2018

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PS4 VR Review - 'Apex Construct'

by Andreas Salmen on Feb. 7, 2019 @ 1:45 a.m. PST

An action adventure game built exclusively for virtual reality, Apex Construct is set in a shattered future where merciless robots prowl the world as a result of mankind’s reckless experiments.

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If you're into VR or thinking of dipping your toes into the technology, there is one thing to prepare for: an abundance of short experimental experiences. Games in VR are rarely designed to replicate the usual AAA heavy hitters; they go for a more experimental approach that is often completed within a few short hours. Apex Construct is different with a decidedly more sophisticated adventure that's a proper experience with equal parts story, exploration and combat. Does Apex Construct go far enough to be considered a great experience, or is it just another proof of concept? The game has been available digitally for almost a year (six months on retail shelves), and it's already received a few updates and quality of life improvements, all of which are factored into this updated review of the game on PSVR.

Apex Construct places us in a postapocalyptic world with an emphasis on story through narrative elements and environmental storytelling. We start out as an unknown protagonist who's pulled from a black void by Father, an AI that is an omnipresent voice in our head that guides us through a world that's overrun by machines. We're supposedly the last human on Earth, and we have a mechanical hand for some reason. Before long, we get in touch with a competing AI, Mother, that isn't happy we're sniffing around her circuit boards and wants us as dead. What sounds like a custody battle between two crazy computer voices is intriguing enough to amount to a decent story.

The story premise is thoroughly supported by the environments. Old servers, terminals, and robot parts are scattered around a distinctive human environment that is arranged in a highly peculiar way. Old street signs and traffic lights between toppled buildings create an atmosphere that makes Apex Construct an interesting game to roam around in. It's a slow burn and mixes minor puzzle-solving with bursts of bow-and-arrow action, but it's a very solid experience if you're fine with taking things at a slower pace.

After sitting (or standing) through the opening tutorial sequence that sets up the general controls and story, we settle into our base, an empty flat that we can visit between missions. This is where we stock up on items with in-game currency, read up on collected background information, upgrade our equipment, or jump into the next assignment.

Missions get more challenging and bigger in scope over time, but they don't stretch out for too long. You can complete missions one at a time if you don't feel comfortable playing for long stretches of time. They're never all-out action, either. Apex Construct feels at its best when it lets us roam freely with select encounters, and that's what we mostly did, for better and for worse.

Our guide, Father, generally tells us where to go and what to do. In order to get through a stage, we have to figure what that means. It usually involves simple puzzles like finding power cores to power up doors, finding codes or keycards to open up more areas, or activating other mechanisms in the game world. It rarely requires more effort than finding the correct paper board with the correct information or opening the cupboard with the required power core and bringing it to its socket.

The main issue is that the game rarely signals where it wants you to go, which can cause you to wander around aimlessly and retread paths over and over. You may uncover more secrets that way, but in some instances, it slows the pace even more than necessary. Levels are often revisited, with new paths being revealed based on the additional skills or key card access we receive as we progress.

Action sequences pick up the pace immensely. If you're a fan of a bow and arrow in VR, Apex Construct may be your happy place. We've seen bow mechanics implemented in other games before, but Apex Construct may have found the sweet spot. Bow controls are pretty accurate but forgiving enough so players aren't destroyed by inaccurate tracking or halfhearted movements. We never had as many issues here as we had in Skyrim VR, where tracking would get confused with overlapping Move controllers. We don't have to over-emphasize movements in Apex Construct to line up shots correctly. The results are relatively tight bow controls that are appreciated in the more action-heavy segments, making you feel incredibly powerful no matter how you play. There is no crosshair or indicator, and physics can cause shots to drop down, so it requires a fair amount of aim, control, and accuracy in reading enemy movements.

Encounters are tense, and the difficulty can ramp up quickly. The robots shoot slow-moving projectiles and aren't afraid to move in and out of position to catch you off guard. They're not super smart and sometimes can get caught on ledges, walk into dead ends, or run directly into you, but they can often catch you by surprise. While one enemy at a time is easy enough, things can get messy as soon as there's more than one. We can utilize a shield to block incoming attacks, but moving our head to physically dodge is a good way to avoid incoming damage, since our shield can break when it takes too much damage.

It's beneficial to use both the bow and shield, since the bow can utilize different types of arrows. Regular arrows are limitless, enabling us to dish out damage quickly and consistently, while electric arrows enable us to stun enemies, deal extra damage in water or take down robot shields, and explosive arrows are good for massive damage and area attacks. Some enemies even require us to swap between arrow types, which can be an issue because with the way the inventory system works, it can be bothersome to swap arrows while avoiding incoming attacks. It has definitely caused a few unwarranted deaths. The same goes for the other weapons in the game, such as grenades, that will respond to shots or proximity and must be pulled out of the inventory and thrown mid-combat. Depending on what's going on around you, this doesn't feel easy or natural, but more on that later.

While roaming around the empty tech environments is interesting, it also has some issues, mostly due to the controls. The game relies heavily on computer terminals, which are controlled via keyboard commands. While it's possible to type and the game recognizes words if we type in the first three characters, it's a finicky area, and we have to do it constantly. We have to type "dir" for the directory and "open file name" to open doors, read information or find hidden passwords. If you're a completionist, you'll want to open everything you can find on any terminal, but given the rarely accurate way to press singular keys, you'll frequently mistype and fight the keyboard. Thankfully, developer Fast Travel Games has just released an update that adds a control option in the settings so the typing mechanic can be handled by simple button presses.

Outside of terminals, we often have to complete fetch quests, like finding power cores to power doors before we can open them. If you're using full locomotion, this is very straightforward. Run to a power box, open it, and put the battery inside. When teleporting, however, it can be tough to gauge the distance to objects, causing you to stand way too close to or far away from objects and starting an awkward struggle to open doors without blocking your own movement or reaching to get your fingers on the handle. These inaccuracies extend to your own inventory as well, which is otherwise set up in a smart way (when it works).

With the touch of a button, our left hand displays our inventory. Rotating our wrist surfaces different sides of the interface, while the other hand can select different settings, such as arrow types, or store and retrieve items, such as cans to restore health or access cards to open sealed security doors. It works well most of the time, except when you need it most. It's incredibly easy to select the wrong item or none at all by poking your hand a bit too deep into the holographic interface. All things considered, it makes sense, and without the small quirks, it works well and is probably the smartest way I've seen an inventory screen work in VR.

When all elements are thrown together, Apex Construct is a slow but mostly enjoyable adventure. This is amplified by the way it makes us feel like a part of its world. The game can only be played with Move controllers, and every action in-game is done in a physical way. Switches have to be pressed, power cores are inserted, the inventory has us putting things in and pulling things out, bows have to be properly shot to gain distance, and doors have to physically be opened. Most parts of the world can be touched and interacted with, and that improves the immersion immensely. As if that weren't enough, the art style and graphical fidelity is top-notch. It's a distinctly comical, not cel-shaded look, and it's surprisingly vibrant for a postapocalyptic game. It looks close to the PS2 outings of GTA in the sense that it's sharp and colorful but not incredibly detailed down to the surface level. It enables the game to look relatively sharp and detailed while still saving on performance. The game runs smoothly even during the most taxing moments, and it looks great on a PS4 Pro.

On the other hand, controls are flexible enough to accommodate almost everyone, with some minor exceptions. As mentioned earlier, teleportation can lock you in a few unfavorable positions, and free locomotion is better for finetuning your position. Thankfully, we can mix and match both on the fly without having to switch them on or off in the settings. Frankly, with the exception of the occasional distance mishaps, teleportation usually works better to move around the scenery. Locomotion caused us to get caught in the scenery and doorways frequently, while teleportation was an easier way to move and to master combat encounters. Otherwise, controls are in line with the expectations for a first-person VR adventure. Tilting the moves will either teleport or move us into any direction, while a button press snap-moves us in circles. It works more often than it doesn't, and that's all that is needed to enjoy the game.

While it's a good adventure with a few shortcomings, the longevity isn't something to write home about. Throughout the game, our enemies will drop RP, or Radiance Points, which we can use to buy grenades or health equipment, or we can upgrade our gear for more durability and damage. The upgrades do make a difference. A simple arrow upgrade can double our damage between stages. If you're struggling with an enemy, getting RP can get difficult since you lose all unsaved RP when dying on a mission. When you reset to a checkpoint, you don't have an option to gain it back — except for killing more robots. It can be a frustrating setback in later fights and boss battles.

We can always go back to grind more RP in the already completed levels or jump into the recently added Cygnia Cup, which is basically a high score target practice mode across several arenas. All things considered, the campaign can be completed in five hours or less, with both the cup and a few collectible trophies adding marginally more playtime. The time we spent with the game was interesting and well worth it, and that's all that matters in the end.

Apex Construct is neither long nor perfect, but it's an intriguing and immersive adventure. The controls sometimes work against you, the pacing can slow down a bit too much, and the story isn't as surprising as it could be. What's left is a very good bow-and-arrow shooter with some excellent environmental storytelling and atmosphere that pulls you through from start to finish. After a few updates and quality of life improvements almost a year after its original release, Apex Construct is certainly a well-made experience on PSVR that will satisfy everyone in need of an original adventure built with VR in mind.

Score: 8.0/10

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