Should you dive into this new Oculus Quest shooter? Find out in our Crashland review!
If you suffer from arachnophobia, entomophobia, molluscophobia or, well, just about any kind of condition ascribed to a well-earned fear of nature then read no further; Crashland is not the game for you. Heck, even if you are the chief spider-catcher in your house, Llŷr ap Cenydd’s deliciously creepy VR shooter will test that title. Crashland is full of really gritty critters summoned straight out of your nightmares: giant spiders, killer wasps, gianter spiders, enemy crabs oh and, even bigger spiders. You name it, it’s trying to kill you.
This is far from unfamiliar territory for a VR game. But, while its premise — survive a set amount of time against the hordes before salvation arrives — appears worryingly simple, Crashland proves a moreish, if overly testing treat.
It’s usually a different story. Arcade VR shooters have a tendency to be too primitive, too short and yet, somehow, too repetitive. Crashland’s dual-wielding survival combat makes a very conscious effort to avoid those pitfalls; it will take upwards of 10 hours to conquer the roughly 25 levels on offer here. Each level lasts between five to ten minutes but, trust me when I say, you’ll be replaying them a lot. The ticking clock slowly applies increasing pressure to the solid, strategic arcade action, creating extraordinarily tense standoffs bolstered with plenty of ideas to maintain your attention.
A good number of them owe a debt to Alien. There’s a brilliant motion scanner that works to expected effect, equal parts helpful when it tells you the direction and proximity of incoming enemies and nerve-shredding as its persistent beeping alerts you to new dangers. There’s also the surfaces of the planets you land on, often barren and hostile, home to violent winds, explosive vegetation and craters that provide enemies with cover. They’re never anything less than completely threatening and a masochistic delight to visit in VR.
And, of course, there’s the creatures themselves, which are a particularly horrifying bunch. Spiders do the usual job of rooting you to the floor with webs, whereas ground-churning swordfish spring from the surface and lodge themselves in your chest, conjuring a routinely squeamish scare. Some are funnier than likely intended, like a clumsy species of zig-zagging dodos that give their position away with thudding footsteps, but others are far more terrifying, including a sharp-legged crawler that channels the unbridled panic of Half-Life: Alyx’s headcrabs with sky-high leaps. Forcing yourself to swallow the fear of what’s around the corner and bravely fight on is one of Crashland’s real joys.
Every level introduces new enemy types and, along with them, new complications. Some beasts don’t emerge from the ground until they’re right in front of you, some make you immobile as they drain your regenerating health bar. It’s the combination of these types and your approach to dealing with them that gives Crashland the substance other shooters lack. You can ward off enormous crabs with plasma grenades, for example, sending them running and buying you a precious few seconds to deal with closer enemies. Packs of bugs nearing? Find the explosive variant among them and blow up the group in a single move.
All of this can be a little overwhelming, mostly in the right kind of way. Though ammo is unlimited Crashland is a genuinely strategic game, with limited-use special weapons that have long cooldowns, the ability to supercharge bullets by filling up a meter and certain power-ups you can choose to activate at opportune moments. Even the game’s life-saving teleport, which can instantly carry you away from danger and over to the other side of the map, must be recharged by killing enemies.
Even with this arsenal at the ready, though, the game can simply be too much at times. Enemy placement is randomized and, if it suddenly decides to throw some of its most challenging foes at you at once, you might as well restart the level yourself. It might happen within the first 30 seconds of a level, it might happen within the last 10, and it’s erratic enough to bring about immense frustration, though three difficulty levels (what I’m describing is on the Normal level) do help offset that.
This, in turn, bleeds into one of Crashland’s wider problems – its economy. The game has a full levelling system, with each new rank introducing some kind of optional perk, plus occasional benefits like adding new types of power-ups to missions or increasing the number of perks you can take into battle. There are a lot of levels to grind your way through and not every perk is created equal; you’ll get an essential damage boost to your pistol early on, for example, but midway through the skill tree is an unlock for getting 25 experience points every time you shoot an enemy mid-air. In a game where tens of thousands of points are needed to climb a level, it’s pretty useless, though other perks do complement each other in intelligent ways.
The padded levelling is protracted further still by these gaps. You level up really slowly in Crashland and when later missions introduce tougher and tougher foes you’ll find yourself endlessly grinding to unlock the next helpful perk, which might be several levels away. It brings progression to a halt and makes every run at a mission more tiresome than it should be.
Fortunate, then, that the lure of Crashland’s gameplay is all you need to keep on. No matter how crushing it may be, how far off the next level may seem, the hypnotic pull of the game’s desperate, cut-throat battles is always enough to bring you back into the fold, and there’s power to that.
Crashland Review Final Impressions
Crashland is overly padded and frustrated by erratic difficulty, which is a bit of a shame given its heat-of-the-moment thrills are some of the most enjoyable you’ll find in a recent arcade VR shooter. This is a uniquely squeamish and quietly stylish critter killer that keeps you on your toes with a welcome amount of substance and variety. While its length may be somewhat artificial, it’s still sure to keep you entertained for longer than a lot of other options. Never did dying so horrifically feel so strangely moreish.
For more on how we arrived at this score, read our review guidelines. What did you make of our Crashland review? Let us know in the comments below!