Archangel PS4 Review
Ever since the promise of VR gaming became a reality, people often collectively fantasized about the kinds of scenarios that would benefit from the newly developed technological perspective…many of which shall not be repeated in this article for the sake of keeping the discussion safe for work. While Japan gets to work on those unmentioned fantasies, other commonly conceived VR scenarios include shooting zombies, flying an airplane, diving underwater, and piloting giant robots.
That last one is criminally overlooked, and has been since the very conception of videogames. For every one hundred games about zombies, you would be lucky to get one about stomping around in a building-smashing, missile-firing mech. It’s both telling and tragic that Zone of the Enders remains the first and last stop for giant robots in gaming, but with the advent of VR, our rarely realized childhood dream may start becoming more frequent.
Archangel is the first Playstation VR game to feature giant robots performing their primary function, instead of playing outdoor golf (an amusing concept that sadly failed to deliver as a competent experience, an all-too common trend with this first generation of console VR gaming). Developer Skydance Interactive may have gotten more inspiration from Pacific Rim rather than Neon Genesis Evangelion, but there is still no denying the sense of wonder that many players may experience upon first laying their virtual eyes at the enormous war machine that stands tall during the opening cutscene.
Similarly, there will no doubt be an equal amount of groaning during the painfully cartoonish banter the characters of Archangel will converse with. Admittedly, it starts off somewhat endearing, as if the developers were intentionally dialing up the cheese factor as a sort of homage of 90’s era comic books and cartoons. However, that notion dies the moment the main character’s son does…and if you thought that was a spoiler, it was telegraphed from space. Archangel won’t win you over with its predictable storyline, or its obnoxiously edgy protagonist. Imagine Kratos as a mech pilot…okay, scratch that, it sounds cooler than intended. Imagine a way whinier Kratos as a mech pilot, where all attempts to convey agency and emotion are hampered by ham-fisted lines like “Where are my goddamn guns!?”
Where Archangel fails to deliver with its story, it fares much better with its gameplay. Taking on the role of mech pilot, players are housed in the cockpit of the two-ton titan, directly controlling both of its arms during the on-rails action. Each arm has its own set of weapons, including a machine gun, missiles and shields. Every weapon has infinite ammo, but requires a cooldown period to replenish, which is why players must adopt a pragmatic playstyle that knows when to fire with one arm while busting out a shield with the other, and vice versa depending on the situation: an armored tank may require missiles to bring it down, or a barrage of enemy missiles must be shot down with the rapid-fire machine gun. There are also certain situations where a giant metal fist must bust out whatever is in the way, as well as catch health-replenishing canisters dropped by fellow allies. At the end of each mission, there are also upgrades that can be used to further enhance your arsenal or defenses, depending on preference.
The combat in Archangel is simple and repetitive, but the responsive controls and motion aiming make for a decent experience, especially when using Move controllers. Unfortunately, the big metal hands are more of a burden than a childhood thrill: in truth, the metal appendages can prove distracting when players need to focus on targeting with the reticules instead, while the act of punching out obstacles is more finnicky than satisfying. This can prove especially frustrating when allies toss health canisters at you, in which players are required to catch them with their robot hands, but can often miss them due to how floaty they feel. The visuals are also somewhat uneven, with some areas and vehicles looking pretty enough, but other assets looking like low-res cardboard: having a whole building collapse in front of you should be thrilling, but ends up looking more like a cheap and unthreatening effect instead. It can also be a bit of a bummer to control two big robot hands that can clench its fists like a brooding Optimus Prime, only to see its fingers clip right into its palms. It may not be the most immersion-breaking image, but it’s still a noticeable blemish.
Archangel has a few rough dents in its mechanical chassis, but still performs a whole lot better than most of the VR dreck that has plagued Sony’s budding VR hardware. At this point, beggars can’t be choosers, and a decent experience is far more preferable than another stomach-turning train wreck. Though not every idea may be properly thought through, there is still a lot of love and care put into the game, which may not make it entirely deserving of a full-price purchase, but still worth a weekend with after a price drop or two.