Review: Stormland

Insomniac Games as built a reputation for high quality virtual reality (VR) titles over the past few years, beginning with single-player experience Edge of Nowhere and then delving into eSports territory with The Unspoken. All Oculus Rift exclusives, a trend which may soon be coming to an end thanks to the studios’ acquisition by Sony Worldwide Studios. If that is the case then Insomniac Games will be leaving the headset behind with a bang, with its latest and most ambitious VR experience to date, Stormland.

Ambitious in every sense of the word, as Stormland offers a world that is fully explorable, interactive and ever changing; each week everything shifts to offer you even more enemies, challenges and reasons to venture out into the clouds.

Much like Asgard’s Wrath, Stormland feels like a VR videogame should, not only designed specifically for the medium but also lauding its attributes at every turn. You may be in an android body placed on a fantastical alien planet, but the sci-fi aspect soon falls away, leaving you with a world that is both hostile and inviting at the same time.

Stormland eases you into the experience so that new players shouldn’t feel overwhelmed while VR enthusiasts will naturally get to grips with the control system. Just like any role-playing game (RPG) the various core functions of your android body aren’t available straight away, with abilities like flying, climbing and more nicely staggered so that once they are all attached their operation is seamless.

This is a really important factor in the gameplay. Insomniac has created a world which is almost completely explorable. Stormland is split into three main cloud areas as well as a hub location. These three levels offer an expanse of cloud which is dotted with floating islands. Any of these islands can be reached and investigated, flying to each one by simply stepping into the clouds and putting your arms forward to fly – Superman style. These aren’t some flat desolate lands either. Most offer massive cliffs to assail, great for finding useful items as well as choice sniping spots.

Climbing is a vital component of Stormland, and it works a treat. You don’t even need to be directly next to a surface either (this is sci-fi). You’re equipped with a gripping mechanism that can attach from a meter or so away, handy if you miss time a jump. The system also allows you to fling yourself up like some freeclimbing daredevil, making short work of any building or cliff. There was one little aspect that was a bit odd, not being able to grab a hip weapon whilst climbing.

This is a shooter after all, so guns are an important factor. Before delving into upgrades, you can store a gun on either hip. Try to sneakily kill an enemy by climbing a wall, popping your head over and shooting only works if the weapon is in your hand before starting the ascent, tricky (but not impossible) with one hand. It seems a weird oversight for such a well put together videogame.

As for the weapons there are a mixture of tried and tested designs. The SMG is the centre piece and all-rounder, as a lot of the enemies – called Tempest – wield them. Others available include a shotgun, rifle, sniper rifle, grenade launcher and minigun. Each has a standard firing mode when used with one hand while using two will improve the aim and recoil.

There’s no reloading in Stormland whatsoever. Instead, you have the option to refill ammo at a work bench or destroy weapons found in the field. Each gun has a point which can be grabbed to then rip it apart. This will then supply ammo for that, and only that, weapon. It’s an unusual mechanic which has the affect for making you plan each attack, as you can’t suddenly reload. When under heavy fire ripping a gun apart puts you in harms way a little to long for comfort as you can’t move for a moment. There’s a little issue with the minigun in this respect. When grabbing a gun with your second hand, this is mostly done underneath. The minigun has a handle on the top, which is very close to the point that let’s you pull it apart. This can then prove a little infuriating when engaging a Goliath robot in close proximity when try to avoid its incoming fire.

To begin with Stormland’s campaign will take most players around five or so hours to complete, depending on how thorough they are investigating every island. This does pay off as there are several crucial items that are needed to help upgrade both your body and arsenal. Minerals sprouting from the ground essentially work as cash, used at a work bench to buy ammo, better guns, new arms and grenades. Then there are the Aeon buds and biomaterial. Both improve your body, offering a substantial selection of options, not all of which can be equipped. As such, you’ll need to select what best suits your play style, better protection for a more gung-ho approach, or something a little more stealth like.

Options, options, options are the key to Stormland, and this continues after the main campaign is complete. Once finished the world sort of resets, with those three aforementioned levels completely changing. Heading back up you’ll find new challenges and islands to explore. The reset also applies to your body upgrades, gaining the usable matter back to spend again, switching things up and testing new mods. This isn’t a one time reset either, this happens once a week. Thus, giving Stormland a strong replay factor much like procedurally generated videogames.

There’s also the co-op mode to talk about. Not initially available until completion of an early side mission, you can have a friend drop in whenever they like. Insomniac Games as implemented the system in such a way that someone can easily join then leave without causing disruption to your experience. Having a mate join in then only improves things further.

If there was a reason to own an Oculus Rift and discount every other VR headset then Stormland is it. This is thanks to a combination of elements from the intuitive free-roaming, to the action-pack guns fights and the wealth of options available. Plus, the fact Stormland looks gorgeous, once atop a spire or cliff, looking out over the cloud covered vista is awe inspiring. Every Oculus Rift owner need this in their library, as Stormland could very well be the VR videogame of 2019.

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