Developer / Publisher – Joy Way
Price – US $19.99 / CA $22.99 / EU €19.99 / UK £17.99
Release Date – June 15th, 2023
Input – 2 x Motion Controllers
Play Area – Sitting, Standing
Store Links – Quest
Reviewed on – Quest 2
This is Dead Hook, the latest game from Joy Way (the makers of Stride and many other titles) that looks to blend shooter and rogue-like action like never before thanks your grapple hooks that let you whip around the level while hordes of undead aliens try and take you out. Roguelikes are a popular genre when it comes to VR so let’s see if Dead Hook delivers the goods or if it’s just dead-on arrival.
So Dead Hook is a shooter, which I love, but it’s also a Rogue-like, which I love much less. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a fun playing games like Until You Fall, In Death and many more, but it’s just not a genre that appeals to me thanks in large part to an often-lacking narrative and the heavy reliance on repeating the same encounters again and again. Before you tune out, just because I don’t particularly favor the genre does not mean I don’t appreciate what it can offer and Dead Hook, I’m happy to say, is one of the better ones I have played in recent memory.
So, tell me if you’ve heard this one before. You play a former mercenary/smuggler thief named Adam Stone who is part of an exhibition to the planet Resaract where quite literally all hell has broken loose. Swarms of demonic creatures called Infernal are out to kill you while you try and uncover the secrets of the planet and where all of these monstrosities have come from. If it sounds a little like Doom, it should as Dead Hook reeks of that series with a few familiar looking enemy types and the more intense action later titles in that franchise are known for, but in large arena’s where the foes can be relentless.
As a rogue-like, you’ll be venturing down to the planet again and again, killing baddies while collecting buffs, weapons and loot that make each attempt a little easier with specific elements dropped from your foes allowing for permanent upgrades back on your orbiting spaceship, The Polygon. It’s here where the game opens up with a tutorial covering the basics of movement as well as all of your abilities which are quite extensive. Options for smooth or click-turning, blinders an height offsets are available. Basic movement is slow and limited though you can run by swinging your arms with Dead Hook encouraging constant movement lest you be overwhelmed. This is where your dual grapple hooks come in which allow you to attach to any surface and with a yank of your arm, pull you in that direction not unlike the games Yupitergrad or Swarm and once opponents are stunned, you can grapple into them for an instant kill and get a little health boost as well. Guns are stored over either shoulder and need to be manually reloaded though this is as simple as either grabbing at the grip on top them and pulling it back or moving that grip with the other weapon, allowing for constant and easy reloads. You also have your Gust power which created blasts of air that can stun enemies, remove their shield or block incoming projectiles as well as an ultimate ability to create 2 energy swords which can kill most foes in one swipe, though of course those only last for a very limited amount of time. Every run rewards you with M-Coins that can be spent or banked for your next run at every 5 stages and enemies drop ingredients which can be combined at a lab on the Polygon using 3 different machines to select, alter and combine by following recipes on a nearby tablet. Those upgrades allowing more health, armor, speed and so on. All these mechanics work quite well though I honestly got tired of the of the lab stuff as the process can be quite tedious when performing multiple upgrades after a deep run. I also rarely used the swords unless I summoned them by accident as I found it much safer to keep my distance from the horde.
When you first teleport down to the planet you’ll always spawn in the same room without any weapons with a nearby holoburn storage unit offering up a single gun, typically a pistol. From here you can choose 1 of 2 doors, typical for every room you conquer, and proceed to survive and kill all the horrors trying to kill you. Each of these doors will be labelled with what awaits you be it the simple mission of kill everything to move on to doing so in a set time, killing Infernals in a specific order or waging on your survival with the credits that can be spent at the sanctuary where you can purchase buffs and weapons or sell and upgrade the ones you already have. Each room door will also state what kind of loot you may receive be it a new weapon or buff giving a little choice as to how you want to go at each run. As is expected each room will get subsequently harder offering up new foes with a variety of attacks from simple energy blasts to laser beams, nets which won’t let you tether, shots that may disarm you and a host more inconveniences you’ll have to contend with. That’s not counting the variety in which they come at you with some beings hopping around the map, others teleport while some fly around invisible until they unleash their attacks or ones that even latch onto your face and need to be grabbed and tossed aside before they cause to much damage while obscuring your view. It’s the variety of these Infernals that keeps the game feeling fresh as even though you’ll encounter the same ones on each run, in combination with the variety of maps you’ll stumble across, they can offer substantial challenge depending on each stage’s layout. You can quit at anytime and continue from where you left off but if you die, it’s back to square one, minus any suit upgrades you can purchase.
Now, with all this being said, I still found fatigue setting in once I was able to reach the halfway point of the game’s 22 stages as runs up to that point were taking upwards of 40 minutes or so. That’s actually not too long but it took me roughly 2 and half hours of game time to get to that point and despite the new stages and new foes that show up, it all started to feel samey. Thankfully, along for the ride are your wife Grace and the AI Raven who offer up not just wisdom about the planet but flesh out the story surrounding your past as well as continuing the narrative. It’s honestly a welcome addition as many titles in this genre lack a narrative outside of a core objective, though depending upon how successful those first few runs can be, the story may be a little spread apart making it initially a little confusing and ignorable. It’s also around this point where some of the games shortcomings also annoyed me with my guns sometimes getting caught on each other causing some glitchy collision issues until I dropped them and grabbed them from my shoulders once more. The grapple mechanic works great most of the time, but on occasion it would fling me in an unintended direction forcing me to flail in recovery. As I said, moving on the ground is slow which is fine I guess but with no jump button the smallest ledge can be a nightmare to get over and while you can grab and lift yourself upon them, I used this so infrequently that I think a jump option would have been a better way to go to keep the action flowing. Heck, there are stairs later in the game that I couldn’t walk up forcing me to grapple above them which just seems silly. None of these issues break the game and most are easy to avoid but they did annoy when they popped up, so I feel they are worth mentioning.
Dead Hook looks alright with arenas of various size and architecture changing up how the game looks though after a few runs I was familiar with all the rooms in the game. There are some lighting effects at play on your weapons that add a nice bit of realism to what can at times looks like a more typical stand-alone VR title. Edges are very sharp, pools of lava are flat look more like beams of light than a hot liquid with texture quality being way more miss than hit should you get to close to the environment. On the flip side, the enemies look solid and animate well enough, rag dolling upon death and exploding if you finish them up with your grapple or swords which makes for some satisfying combat. They can also look horrific with the notable ones being those little spider dudes that fly toward and latch onto your face and look particularly gross, though admittedly I’m also not a fan of spiders anyways. The stages may have moving parts or traps to contend with so it is best to learn each rooms layout and no matter the size of the room, I never noticed any sort of pop-in or performance issues making for an experience that might not look amazing but runs clean considering just how fast-paced this can be.
Sound design is on point with some generic guitar heavy rock riffs not unlike old-school Doom games kicking in when in combat and cutting out in between rounds which is typically when Grace will pipe up with some useful info or a story from your past. Her and Atlas don’t get along and it’s with those 2 where the bulk of the story is told and while Grace is more concerned with your well-being, Atlas’s top priority is the mission with both of them being voiced by some great actors in my opinion. 3D audio is at play but given just how hectic the action can be, especially at the stage’s onset, telling where anything is coming from is nigh impossible thanks to Infernals closing in from all sides. Lastly would be the weapons which all pack a significant punch which is awesome as few things make you feel more like a bad ass then firing an overpowered and loud weapon at an alien and blowing them into pieces.
So, when it’s all said and done, I enjoyed Dead Hook far more than I expected too despite the rogue-like grind. Progression felt fair and was noticeable so when I did upgrade my armor or health, it was always significant enough to make me feel tougher with weapon upgrades also making my guns feel even more hefty. That’s not to say that grind didn’t get to me as progress in the latter half of the game did feel a little slower, especially when each run took upwards of an hour only to fail. I get it, that’s the appeal of these games so I’m not going to slam it for that, I just want to let people like myself know that despite the quality game design here, it can still feel more repetitious then fun at times. Still, I had fun getting to the final encounter and considering the total package, I feel like this is one of the better VR Rogue-likes I have played in awhile and well worth the asking price.
Joy Way provided The VR Grid with a press code for this title and, regardless of this review, we thank them for that!