Hands-On With Crystal Rift – VR Survival in a Dark Dungeon

Following our interview with the creators of Crystal Rift, I was invited to try the game out for myself and explore the dark dungeons on my own. It was a special experience as I found a natural fit for virtual reality and dungeon crawling, adding an element of immersiveness and contrapment. In Crystal Rift, it’s a survival experience that requires smarts and time, as this devious dungeon trap has a lot more living down there than expected.

A G-G-G-G-G-GHOST!?!?

The demo stage included a fantastic variety of puzzles as well as challenging obstacles that heighten uncertainty levels of the next part of the game. The tense atmosphere is built steadily by subtle figures caught in the corner of my eye. From the start, I knew this was going to be an unforgiving experience of survival, dependent upon every step I take and decision I make. Objects will crush you, split you in half, and evil spirits will haunt you.

Upon entering the first corridor, I was captivated by the crisp yet low-fi visual style and a murky swamp color palette. Extra colors indicated noticeable task-related items along with hazards which made navigating not only easy on the eyes, but kept the game from becoming too busy and in your face. This leaves plenty of time to focus as you approach the next spike pit.

Let’s Dim the Lights

The controls required a gamepad, giving you solid control of your player movements. This added to the panic factor akin to the first Resident Evil where the tank-like controls often had you yelling at your character to get a move on or risk becoming zombie meat. These similar mechanics translated nicely into Crystal Rift when I found myself running out of options to dodge the imminent fireball headed toward my face, which I thought was really cool. Marry this with fitting sound design and it can help pinpoint threats among the dungeon or freak you out.

On my travels, I came across a few notes with key information. As I rotated them as if they were in my hand, “woah!” I let out in delight. “This adds an entirely new path to examine items within games” I thought to myself, rotating the piece of tatty paper round and round looking for any secrets I might’ve missed.

Another great addition to mood setting includes the atmospheric lighting. Although you emit an orb of light with a flashlight, there are torches and interesting sources of light  scattered throughout the dungeon. Some often serve as guides on where to investigate next, increasing the immersion and reducing the need for a pesky HUD.

Final Push

Around 8 minutes in, I could sense the end was near. And then, the inevitable jump scare event took place and boy it got me good. I overheard laughter from the “real world”. Although jump scares have a divided opinion with some who can’t get enough whereas some who hate it, I personally find this a much needed experience in a dark dungeon crawler. After growing up with games since around 95’, the low quality shriek and crazy red demonic ghost hurling itself towards me felt like I had been hit around the face with a possessed Sega Genesis, and it was awesome.

My character’s heartbeat thumping in my eardrums crossfaded with heavy breathing, provided an innate signal that it was time to get out. Through the final doorway, every single light in the place decided it would have a rest and leave me in darkness. My virtual pounding heart and breathing led to to frantically spam the action button against the walls of my potential tomb until… “Click”. Survival was now back on the menu but at a price of dodging around 5 swinging axes in varying patterns.

After depleting four of my five lives, my final run involved the killing blow dealt by the remaining axe. Congratulations all round were had followed by a small preview of the in-game level editor which resembled a scrabble board of fear and pain. It was laid out in front of me ready to put someone else through the madness in my own twisted fashion.

Final Thoughts

Overall, Crystal Rift is a quality VR experience that offers up a stylish, pick up and play spin on the already established first person survival genre. This is all without heading down the ridiculously gruesome path, making it an accessible mystery for a much wider audience. Plus, the level editor is a unique feature that could further engage more players.

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