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Reality Bytes: Amid Evil VR is an intriguing experiment

Does this arcane retro shooter work in virtual reality?

An Amid Evil VR screenshot showing a group of pink ghost enemies approaching the player in a tall hallway with wood beamed walls and stained glass decorations
Image credit: New Blood Interactive

Some games adapt to VR more naturally than others. Games that take place primarily in a cockpit, like Elite Dangerous or Euro Truck Simulator 2, need relatively little adjustment to make them enjoyable in VR. They don't require the player to move around much, and their whole shtick about providing an authentic, immersive experience.

Games that require a lot of fast movement, or require the player to keep track of a lot of different objects, are generally harder to make work through VR Goggles. Hence why Amid Evil VR caught my attention. Shooters are common VR fodder, but they're typically built as VR experiences from the ground up. Amid Evil, on the other hand, is a flatscreen retro shooter designed to be reactive, surreal, and above all, fast. It's a game where you zip around arcane dimensions like a magic missile, splattering weird little armoured guys with enchanted swords and a staff that fires planets. It's a brilliant game, one of the best old-skool shooters to emerge from the genre's revival. But on paper, it's about as VR friendly as Morpheus.

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Which makes it all the more intriguing that developers Indefatigable built this bespoke VR version of the game, which is not merely an optional VR mode, but an entirely separate experience that requires its own purchase and download. And it does work, in the sense that it is a classically minded retro shooter that functions in VR. As for whether it's any good? Well, the answer's a little more complicated.

Structurally, this is the same game as Amid Evil, featuring the same levels with the same design that you progress through in the same fast-paced, slightly skatey manner. This is the first big test for Amid Evil VR: Can it be played without propelling yourself around the room on a high-pressure stream of your own vomit?

The answer here is 'yes'. I'd experience mild nausea after about an hour's playtime, but that's a far better result than I expected. Although Amid Evil moves fast, it's levels are generally built from wide, airy spaces, so it isn't like being stuck in a tunnel where the walls are rushing past you, deluding your brain into thinking you've ingested some exotic poison. Moreover, because you can't mouselook around the environment like an agitated squirrel, you stop more frequently, which also helps reduce nausea. That said, I'm a regular VR user, so it's possible this game would turn newcomers greener than the Hulk.

Manipulating planet-looking orbs in a dungeon in Amid Evil VR
Swinging an axe at a rusty-looking demon approaching in Amid Evil VR. A church in a cliff face is in the background
Image credit: New Blood Interactive

The primary change Amid Evil VR makes is to how weapons handle. Like most VR shooters, it decouples your weapons from the bottom right corner of the screen, allowing you to wield them freely in your virtual arms. This might not sound particularly interesting. But Amid Evil's weapons aren't your typical collection of pistols, shotguns, and assault rifles. They're all melee weapons that double as projectile weapons. You get a sword named Whisper's Edge that, when swung, emits an arc of green energy that damages foes at a distance. More ingenious weapons include the Celestial Claw, a gnarled stave that fires actual planets plucked from the cosmos at your enemies, while the superbly-named Star Of Torment fires shards of crystal that can impale opponents.

In practice these weapons are actually less satisfying to wield in VR.

It's an imaginative and satisfying arsenal, and the idea of wielding these weapons in VR is highly appealing. Amid Evil VR clearly understands that allure. Now, you unleash the crystal shards of the Star Of Torment by physical swiping the weapon, while the Celestial's Claw's planets can be grabbed with your free hand and pitched at enemies like an apocalyptic baseball.

In practice, though, these weapons are actually less satisfying to wield in VR. This is partly because the switch to VR motion controls makes combat less intuitive. The watertight control scheme of a PC FPS makes it very easy to react to changing situations, and pull off cool moves. In VR, it's much harder to do this. With the slashing weapons like Whisper's Edge aiming for its projectiles is tied to your head, which feels very counter-intuitive. Trying to backpedal away from enemies as I flail the sword out in front of me, I feel every bit like a tired, overweight man with egg on his t-shirt.

I'll admit the egg is a me problem, and that this game would be more fun if I was a fitter, more graceful person. But there are harder issues with how Amid Evil VR functions. Melee attacks, for example, have a slight disconnect between hitting an enemy and registering the impact, meaning they communicate the forcefulness that you want. Similarly, the game is quite picky about when projecticles fire, meaning you'll often swing the Whisper's Edge and no projectile will fire. Finally, because you're limited by your own body's ability to move and turn and look around, the whole experience doesn't flow in the way a classic FPS should.

Brandishing a sword at approaching enemies in Amid Evil VR
Image credit: New Blood Interactive

Which isn't to say it's a complete bust. If you're willing to spend the time needed to master Amid Evil VR, you'd certainly have fun. Moreover, seeing its strange worlds that blend early 3D visual design and modern graphical techniques is intriguing, especially when you get to the game's latter, reality-bending worlds. But the effect isn't that much more dramatic than what you see in the base game. Indeed, some of the proportions look a bit off in VR, particularly with enemies.

Amid Evil VR is an interesting experiment, and I don't regret exploring Indefatigable action-fantasy world through a different lens (or two). But I don't think it's the ideal way to experience this game. Play Amid Evil in flatscreen first, and enjoy all its manic weirdness with proper FPS controls. If you still aren't sated after you've finished, then, and only then, should you pick up the VR version.

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