Developer / Publisher – Badfly Interactive
Price – US $24.99 / EU €22.99 / UK £19.49
Release Date – October 3rd, 2017
Input – Tracked Motion Controller
Play Area – Standing, Roomscale
Store – Steam
Reviewed on – HTC Vive
Dead Effect 2 VR is a story-driven, sci-fi RPG-FPS that excels in nearly every way. This is one of my favorite games for the Vive, for many reasons: stellar gunplay, excellent use of VR, good RPG mechanics, and more. Nothing’s perfect, however, and while the game’s flaws are few, they are glaring. There’s a lot to be said about this legendary title, which I believe sets a new standard for all VR shooters to come.
Fundamentally, Dead Effect 2 VR is a campaign-based shooter that feels like a perfect mix of Doom 3 and Borderlands. The shooting feels as intense, responsive, and fast-paced as you could want from an FPS. This wouldn’t matter much, however, without an overwhelming arsenal of weapons. Dozens of guns, bows, and swords are readily available, with slight variation in respect to which character you’re playing as. In addition to pistols, shotguns, and rifles, eccentric options such as laser cannons, explosive crossbows, and chainsaws. As a bonus, your empty hands even double as backup tasers.
Facilitating your deadly collection of weapons is an excellent VR weapon holstering system, comparing only to that in Sairento. With swift motions, you can easily access a primary weapon, two secondary weapons, your ammo pouch, grenades, shurikens (“ninja-stars”), and a flashlight. When calibrating the game, you can even modify the locations of weapons on your holster. Although I’m enamored by the freedom this gives the player, the adjustable holster hit-boxes are way too large, and I find the default option most accessible anyway.
Whatever firearms you fill your holsters with, you’ll be using them to dispatch a massive variety of enemies, with some of the best AI I’ve seen. At times, you’ll be mowing down endless hordes of terrifying zombies, which exhibit a challenging horde mentality. Others, you’ll face down interstellar SWAT teams with a range of weapons and tactics. They take cover, coordinating with their team and strategically flank you while you do the same. While every enemy’s physical design is generic, Dead Effect 2’s gameplay more than makes up for that.
Weapon mechanics leave nothing to be desired: two-handed carrying, melee weapon swinging, shotgun-pumping, and more are all top-notch. Manual reloading is near-perfect, requiring a simple and entertaining grab-and-drag from your ammo pouch to your weapon. Shotguns, for example, must be reloaded pellet-by-pellet and pumped at the end. Although this sounds tedious, it gets easy with practice and becomes highly immersive. I’ve played many first-person shooters, but this is among the first to entertain and immerse me by the simple reloading motion.
The game’s interactivity doesn’t stop there. You must manually open lockers and turn valves, as well as reach to places for ammo. While this is typically a bare-bones level of interactivity for most games, it works extremely well in this VR environment. Having to reach for items, pull levers, and manually reload, I always felt totally immersed. Consumable items, such as medpacks, are even accessed via a tablet computer that you hold in one hand and navigate with the other.
Within an open, interactive map, there are also terminals that must be hacked. Most are simple and obvious, and only serve to give you the feeling of being a cool hacker. The one exception are some basic math puzzles, which aren’t hard- but can sometimes slow down the gameplay. I enjoyed the simpler ones, but felt insulted when spending five minutes on a puzzle that only rewarded me a low-level pair of gloves which I already owned.
Of course, that may be less of a problem with the hacking mechanics and more one with the game’s looting system. Weapons, armor, and consumables are represented by a glowing orb, found in the environment, in lockers, or on dead enemies. When items are conveniently sprawled throughout the map, an appropriate “loot” mentality is promoted, since you don’t know what a container holds until you pick it up. When enemies die, however, their items float towards you until you collect them. Although I appreciate being handed my loot on a levitating platter, a large enough accumulation of it causes some lag. Inevitably having to stop and collect it feels like a chore that breaks up the game.
While you might get excited over the likelihood of an item being rare or valuable, items are almost always low-level or consumable. Usually, the weapon or armor you find is simply worse than what you’re already using. Spending time loot hunting, when most of it is worthless, is extremely aggravating. Bear in mind, however, this issue is common in most games with a looting system. In this context, it still works decently in Dead Effect 2 VR.
Thankfully, you don’t have to rely on random loot drops for your equipment. In addition to items and ammo, you can also find credit cards scattered about. Minikin, your crew’s engineer, dabbles in the trade of weapon sales and their upgrades. Dr. Bielik, a scientist, sells armor and cybernetic implants. No loot is truly worthless, as it can be sold for additional money. With these traders at your side, you can always wield whatever arsenal you’d like- for the right price. The game’s market feels fair and balanced. You can’t always afford to fully deck out your arsenal, but every shop-visit feels productive.
As a story-driven action RPG, what would Dead Effect 2 be without a leveling system? Weapon and armor stats vary on this basis, and gameplay appropriately grows more challenging, yet brutal, as you level up. The rate of level-based weapon balancing is sometimes skewed, however. Sometimes, your weapons will shred through enemies at an overpowered, unchallenging rate while others barely do a dent. Still, like looting, this is a commonplace issue in RPGs. The game guides you around it, by suggesting you only attempt missions that match your level.
Levelling up also grants you unlock points and skill points, which can be given to Danette, the head of your team. As a cybernetically advanced super-soldier, you can use these points on a huge variety of upgradeable abilities. Active abilities add even more depth to the combat, offering powers such as bullet time, energy lassos, and force-fields. While some of these are fun, their variety is largely uninteresting. With the exception of bullet time, they all involve targeting a specific enemy and/or doing damage to a group. When placed on a skill-tree, with potential for huge variety, the lack of unique abilities is rather disappointing.
Bringing up the characters unfortunately leads me to the story. Seeing as it’s a fleshed out RPG, it’s ironic that this is the worst part of Dead Effect 2. Without spoiling anything, it focuses on a human colonization starship, on which some cloning research was conducted. While it helped turn some people into super-soldiers, it turned most into mindless zombies. Meanwhile, the military invaded to “clean up” the mess, prompting survivors to band together and seek revenge.
It’s just a shame that this narrative was written so poorly. I only learned some of these background details from the NPCs’ overwritten and repetitive dialogue lines. Mainly, I only came to understand the actual story from reading collectible emails on tablet computers hidden throughout the environment. It’s nothing new or exciting. It’s a bunch of super-generic sci-fi clichés, glued together with an embarrassing cast of characters. These include Minikin, the engineer, whose cryosleep-induced brain damage boil him down to what seems to be a mockery of mentally disabled people. There’s Dr. Bielik, a scientist, who is too predictable and speaks in a near-inaudibly over-accentuated German accent.
There’s also Danette, the one well-written character. Her voice actor is uniquely skilled, her statements make sense, and she’s crucial to the story. Sadly, she’s truly oversexualized. Not only does she humor the main character’s unsettlingly creepy pickup lines, but her nipples protrude, and not subtly; they extend nearly an inch, and it’s never possible to speak to her without noticing them in the forefront of your vision. The obvious intention here genuinely detracts from her character, even though she’s otherwise the only decent one.
The more I played, the more I thought I’d understand the story. While I won’t spoil the ending, let’s just say it involves a text-screen in which the first word is “Congratulation!” (sic) For an otherwise superb game that tried, and failed, to deliver a fleshed-out story, this ending gave me an ironic impression that the writers just gave up after a certain point. Dead Effect 2 follows one specific rule: its story, and everything pertaining to it, is awful. Still, everything else in the game remains some of the most fun I’ve had in a VR shooter.
If there’s one thing I can give Dead Effect 2’s story credit for, it pulled the game’s content length to an impressive 12-14 hours in one playthrough. Its huge collection of bonus missions, which are more targeted in their approach (either zombies or soldiers, with survival or objective strategies), are replayable and gave me several more hours of gameplay. With 17 hours played, I’m still anxious to keep playing. Overall, it has some of the highest content value I’ve experienced on the Vive to date.
Bonus missions can be played in co-op with a partner, and while this is extremely fun, people can join your game unexpectedly, when you thought you were in single player. Still, if you coordinate with friends, co-op is extremely fun and addictive. Dead Effect 2 also features PVP multiplayer, which sounds cool, but (in my experience) had literally zero players at any given time.
This game’s environmental design is superb, with well-assembled networks of corridors and open set pieces. While they all follow a generic “space zombies” theme, they do a great job at fostering this aesthetic. The only problem is that upon the last quarter of the game or so, some specific room designs start to look recycled from earlier parts. Still, the levels present is unique and detailed enough to be memorable for long after beating the game. This environment is made better by Dead Effect 2’s excellent graphics. Lighting and detail are excellent, and although textures feel slightly blurred at times, this game has some of the very best graphics I’ve seen in VR yet. A pleasant surprise is that despite this visual fidelity, the game runs at a consistent frame rate. However, this points to a substantial flaw: no matter how low I set my graphics options (which are plentiful), it never necessarily runs well. Although it’s always totally playable, it seldom feels optimally smooth. It only reached the “recommended” frame rate for VR games around half my time playing.
Dead Effect 2’s user interface mostly succeeds, both in style and in options. Every control, calibration, and graphics option you’d hope for is present. You’re given almost no heads-up display, with occasional objective markers being the only things popping up in my vision. Health, stamina, and ability recharge rates are all detailed on your wrist. The only UI flaw is that despite having efficient trackpad locomotion, the “teleportation” slingshots your character (without any visual transitions) to the destination. I never get motion sickness in VR, but if you do, this game’s teleportation option won’t really help.
Craving more, I decided to pick up the first two Dead Effect games on sale after. I was curious, as while DE2:VR is widely revered by its community, its predecessors were widely remembered as mediocre. For comparison, the originals are almost the same game entirely. All the content and quality is there, but they broke no ground.
This provides us with an insightful lesson in this industry: when integrating room-scale VR into an existing game, these ports have potential to become more fun and immersive, increasing their value dramatically. Permeating the VR market, largely devoid of games which might otherwise be “generic,” some flaws become more forgivable. Dead Effect 2 Classic was fun, but felt like a bunch of tangled clichés that offered nothing new. The simple inclusion of VR, however, brought the exact same game to groundbreaking new heights.
But what would I pay for it? Despite some glaring flaws Dead Effect 2 VR is among my top five VR favorites, and will be remembered as a classic for years to come. Its monumental content value, consistently fun and immersive combat, and addictive RPG mechanics are all great- but taken to a whole new level with excellent usage of VR. For only $25, Dead Effect 2 VR is a steal. If you enjoy FPS games in any way, pick this one up immediately.
Badfly Interactive provided theVRgrid.com with a review code for this game and, regardless of this review, we thank them for that!