The survival horror genre has been at the head of the field when it comes down to immersion for a good number of years. After all, if the player isn’t drawn in enough to be scared, the genre’s title is a bit of a misnomer. Taking a step into VR feels like natural progression then, but with the big boys staying away (well, at least until Resident Evil 7 hits in January) and Until Dawn being more of a funfair ride than a scarefest, it’s been left to Phosphor Games to pull things onto PSVR.
Their newest, The Brookhaven Experiment, was originally designed for HTC’s Vive system and has been ported across to PSVR with mixed results. Your character stands in the same spot for the entirety of your playing time, with enemies attacking from all directions. In one hand, you have a torch with a limited amount of battery power. This can be exchanged for a tactical knife by pressing the Move button. In the other hand is your gun, which is artfully implemented so that you hold it vertically so that you’re pulling the trigger in the same way that you would on a real firearm. Again, pressing the Move button on the controller in your shooting hand allows you to switch to the throwable weapon that you have equipped.
With the HTC Vive, the developers had the luxury of reliable 360-degree movement in the space, which allowed the effect of threats coming from all directions to be realized well. With PlayStation VR, spinning to look behind you often causes the Move controllers to be out of sight of the camera. There’s also a screen-jumping issue that happens sometimes if you turn too quickly on the PSVR version, which is enough to also turn the stomach, so an alternative solution had to be implemented.
Pressing the circle button with your knife-wielding hand spins your view through 180 degrees, allowing you to see and take on enemies, no matter where they’re coming from. If the spinning motion sounds like it would turn your stomach, don’t worry. Phosphor have had the presence of mind to make it so that hitting the turn button does a quick fade to the other view, as opposed to a violent whip around.
While the implementation of that functionality is generally good, the differing viewpoints cause problems with gameplay. When you have an enemy approaching from the rear and one coming from the left, hitting the spin button obviously changes things so that old lefty is now lumbering at you from the right. It’s one of those things that works perfectly well right up until the point that it doesn’t, which is also the point where you’ll most likely end up losing your progress.
When that happens, you’ll have to skip all the way back to the start of the level that you’re playing, and that can present issues thanks to the strange persistent supplies system. Should you die because you’ve been overcome by evil creatures after running out of bullets, restarting the level doesn’t restock them. You also can’t collect ammunition during normal play, so you’ll have to take on an entire round using just your knife when this happens, which seems to be painfully unfair.
I can get behind the idea if you were just restarting one of the waves of a level in that state, but The Brookhaven Experiment returns you to the start of the entire level. Of course, the opposite effect is in play too, meaning that you carry over bullets between rounds, but even having a throwable or two available after a restart would be nice, but you always seem to kick things off empty-handed on that front as well. Not that it would matter, given the massively random nature of the throw control.
If you switch from your gun, you’re supposed to be able to lob grenades of varying flavors, or maybe toss out a few proximity mines to set up a nice defensive perimeter around you. Only, there’s absolutely no way to judge the power of your throw. A realistic movement of the arm will often cause you to throw so high that your grenade bounces off the ceiling and lands two feet away. A slightly less powerful throw will work as you’d expect once out of ten times, with the other nine attempts causing you to pretty much just drop the thing on your foot. This is all providing The Brookhaven Experiment even allows you to throw one at all. At key moments, the game will just decide that although you selected to take grenades into the level with you, the character must have forgotten to bring them, so you have nothing.
To say that The Brookhaven Experiment is a failure would be to be too harsh, though. Through the campaign, there’s a constant feeling of tension as you use your torch to seek out enemies and prevent them from getting to you. Positional sound is key here, as you’ll often hear your foes well before you’ve any chance of seeing them and hearing a big set of booming footsteps coming your way is often enough to get the heart racing. There’s the occasional jump-scare in there too, and when you add that to a feeling of real satisfaction when you squeeze off a series of headshots, you’ve got a game that has definite high-points. The problem is that they’re all-too brief.
Once the campaign mode is done with – which will take a good handful of hours, given that you’ll succumb to the genetically mutated freaks more than a few times – there’s a Survival mode to play through. It’s a standard wave-based affair that provides post-round payouts depending on how well you’ve done with regards to accuracy, headshots, and the like. You can then spend the money on your loadout for the next wave.
Survival is certainly enjoyable and addictive stuff outside of the previously mentioned main gameplay loop issues, but it does sometimes feel as if the damage you’re taking is random. One shot from a weak zombie will sometimes be enough to cut away 60% of your health, but in the next level, two attacks from the same enemy class will only shear away a quarter of your life. As such, the number of times you come back to this mode will likely depend on how many times you end up feeling as if you’ve been disposed of unfairly.
Overall, The Brookhaven Experiment features some great ideas, there’s no denying that, but some of the execution is unpolished and cheap-feeling at times, meaning that in the end, it’s difficult to recommend.
This review is based on the PlayStation VR version of the game, which we were provided with.
There’s plenty of atmosphere to be found here and it’s a decent title to show off to interested first-time PSVR users, but it isn’t just bugs of the undead variety that are out to put paid to your playing time.