"When we announced this, we saw a 50/50 split among the fan base," said Simon Harris of Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, Supermassive Games' recently announced virtual reality shooter. The title, which debuted at Paris Games Week, is an extension of the PlayStation 4 exclusive released last August. The reason for the mixed reaction? Although its predecessor is an intense interactive drama, Rush of Blood is an on-rails arcade shooter (think House of the Dead or Time Crisis). Fans of the original want more drama, more Until Dawn, and this clearly isn't more of the same. But after playing a brief session of Rush of Blood and talking to Harris about the studio's plans, I'm convinced Supermassive knows what it's doing.
Take a rollercoaster simulator, throw in a splatter movie, add a healthy dose of Until Dawn's rich narrative and you've got Rush of Blood. In the game, you're sitting on a mine cart equipped with a pair of revolvers, with no control over where the cart is going or at what speed. All you can do is duck or lean to avoid oncoming objects, look around and shoot. In the demo -- which represented half of one of the game's six levels -- I was dragged around a haunted house of sorts, and attacked by numerous enemies.
The ducking and leaning seemed pretty natural, as did craning my neck to peek around corners, but it was the targeting that felt great. You shoot enemies using a pair of PlayStation Move controllers. Each is mapped on-screen to a firearm, which made aiming very simple. The guns also act as your flashlight -- their crosshairs lighting up the demo's narrow, dimly lit corridors, too often revealing enemies hiding in the dark. One thing we knew from Until Dawn was that Supermassive has a solid understanding of the jump scare, and that's very evident when playing Rush of Blood.
Take a rollercoaster simulator, throw in a splatter movie, add a healthy dose of Until Dawn's rich narrative and you've got Rush of Blood.
The rollercoaster is a fantastic conceit for pacing the game. At times, the cart slows almost to a stop, with sounds and visual cues inviting you to look around a scene. Your curiosity will always be rewarded -- if you call a jump scare a reward, that is. In one moment, I peeked anxiously around a corner, expecting an enemy to be there. When I returned to look ahead, there was an enemy waiting for me. This was horror 101 -- how could I be so stupid? According to Harris, that enemy wouldn't have appeared until I looked away. "That's the wonderful thing with VR," he explained, "We know when your attention is in one direction, and we use that all the time to trigger things in your peripheral vision that make you jump." Although the sounds are fairly basic right now, Harris says the team is working on directional audio to further enhance the horror experience.
Supermassive has what appears to be the foundation of a very enjoyable on-rails shooter, replete with all the usual hidden collectables, difficulty options and high-score-chasing hooks. It also has a decent first-person horror game, insomuch as it made me jump out of my skin with some of the scares. But -- and this is the "but" that has fans worried -- how exactly does this work as a companion to Until Dawn, and why the sudden departure to a new genre?
"What makes Until Dawn great is the cinematic aspects, the characters. If we just plonked you in a VR version of Until Dawn, I don't think it would be very good," Harris explained. "Don't feel like this is Supermassive suddenly changing direction; this is just us working on two things at once." Rush of Blood has apparently been in the works for over a year, developed by a separate team to the one that worked on Until Dawn. "The fans are a little concerned right now, and that's understandable," Harris continued. "The group who were running Until Dawn were very influential in setting the storyline for Rush of Blood ... [but] this is a completely standalone product that's using the world we've created to do something very different, something that fits VR."
It's impossible to explain exactly how Rush of Blood ties into Until Dawn without ruining the first game for those that haven't played it. The broad strokes are that it's set in the same world and you play as one of Until Dawn's main cast. The rollercoaster ride is a (heavy-handed) metaphor for that character's "descent into madness," and the game will include cameos from other cast members "where appropriate." If you've played Until Dawn already, you can probably work out who the game's lead is, and which other cast members are likely to turn up. The demo on offer at Paris Games Week has a pretty tame, haunted house-like setting, but later levels will "get very messed up," said Harris, pointing to the lead character's hallucinatory scenes toward the end of the first game.
Rush of Blood also pays homage to Until Dawn by borrowing some of its divergent narrative ideas. There will be choices in each level that will affect the path you take, the gameplay and the story beats you see. As well as satiating fans of the first game, Supermassive hopes this will add to the replay factor for Rush of Blood, as gamers will want to try all of the paths available. Replayability is hugely important for this kind of game. Rush of Blood is actually on the long end of the spectrum for on-rails shooters; it'll offer six levels that altogether will run around 90 minutes. And it's not just story that the choices will affect; different paths will offer differing opportunities for high scores.
I'm sold on Rush of Blood. The section I played was a lot of fun, and it seems the development team has a reverence for the world its colleagues have created. But what's next for the group that built Until Dawn? Harris reassured me that it's working on "new stories and new narratives" within the interactive drama genre. "It's something we're really excited about," said Harris, "and we think the fans of the original Until Dawn will be really, really excited about as well."
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