Edge of Nowhere: A VR experiment that doesn’t really work

Last night I spent an hour or so playing Edge of Nowhere, a VR title from Insomniac that came out a few years ago. The premise of the game is a kind of Saturday matinee adventure tale. It is 1932 and your gal (“gal” since it is 1932, y’see) has gone missing in a remote location, along with the rest of the expedition she was with. You’re on your way to rescue her when the plane you’re in crashes (of course); undaunted you start following the trail left by the expedition.

The premise of the meta-game is, what happens when you try to do a 3rd person action game in VR. The whole game kind of feels like an experiment; one that, for me at least, ultimately failed.

The biggest problem is the way third person is handled. The camera tags along behind the character, maybe 2 meters back. You can’t manually move the camera but of course you can look around. I was playing in a swivel chair which seemed ideal. It all works OK as long as you are moving forward, but if you ever want to backtrack, big issues crop up.

So imagine you are the camera and you’re looking at a character 2 meters in front of you but facing away. That’s the default situation. Now the character turns around. You can see his face. He starts walking forward. You, the camera, start floating backwards to maintain a fixed distance. But you can’t see where the character is going, so you turn around. Now you can see where the character is going, but you can no longer see the character. Big problem. If you could move the camera even a quarter circle around the character it would’ve helped a lot.

If that was sorted it would help, but really there doesn’t seem to be much reason for this to be a VR game. You can play it with Rift controllers but it is designed to be played with a gamepad. The only motion controls are your character’s head, which strangely turns as you turn your head. So turning your head means both you look to the side and so does the character, which really only matters when you’re in a dark place using a headlamp. Then you have to swivel your head around to shine the light everywhere.

There is a LOT of climbing using pick-axes (the environment, at least at the start, is all ice and snow). I think the intent was to have these segments be harrowing but the 3rd person perspective reduces that. I’ve played plenty of VR games where looking over a cliff almost produces vertigo, but those were all 1st person. Here you can gaze down into an abyss and not feel anything more than you’d feel in a flatscreen game. It doesn’t help that at times the camera floats out over a cliff edge, reinforcing the fact that you can’t fall. In fact, if the character does fall, you just watch him. The camera doesn’t follow him down or anything.

Anyway I could go on and on. If this wasn’t a VR game, it would be a pretty shallow experience. LOTS of climbing sequences. then some sneaking past/fighting creatures. A tiny bit of exploration but mostly you just follow a path. There’ve been plenty of simple games that are made special by the addition of VR (eg Job Simulator) but here the VR doesn’t add very much.

Edge of Nowhere came out in 2016 and VR is advancing so quickly that what was probably new and innovative then just seems “OK” today. I bought it on sale for $10 and I’m not sure I’ll bother playing more than that initial hour. Word on the Internet says it is only about 4 hours long so I’m guessing I’ve seen about a quarter of it.

Update: I got stubborn and finished playing it. I had some issue with rock throwing and the controller near the end (rock throwing is a big part of the game…you use it to distract monsters so you can sneak past them) so had to finish using the Oculus controllers. So that’s another strike against the game.

In the end, nothing changed my “meh” opinion. I’m really glad I only spent $10 on it. Finished, deleted, moving on.