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Apocalypse Rider review: a simple and entertaining racing game

Today I’ve tried Apocalypse Rider, a game for Gear VR by the Brazilian Studio VR Monkey. It’s a very simple game, but I found it intriguing anyway.

The gameplay is very straightforward: at every game level, you’re on a motorbike on a long straight road and you have to go from the starting point to the arrival point in a predefined time. That’s it. As you can see there’s not that much to say, so my review is finished here… don’t forget to sign up to my newsletter and… ok, I’m just kidding. As I’ve said in the introduction, the gameplay is very simple, but VR Monkey’s people managed to make it interesting anyway with some original choices.

First of all what surprised me is the beginning of the game. When you start the game, you don’t see the menu, but you actually begin a level of the game! So, you see this big moto, a countdown and… bam! You’re racing on the street, going super-fast! There are cars in front of you and if you run into them you see an animation with broken glasses and then you start from the accident point again, accelerating like crazy again.

Apocalypse rider virtual reality game review
The game starts with an adrenaline rush: run and dodge the cars! (Image from VR Monkey)

I found this a damn genius idea because of these reasons:

  • The game surprises you: every game starts with a menu or at least a tutorial, instead this one starts directly with the game!
  • This first level actually serves as a tutorial: running you realize by yourself which are the controls of the game, what is its UX, what is its goal. Maybe you don’t get 100% of the game, but you do at least a 70%, since the controls are very easy and intuitive;
  • You start the game with an adrenaline rush: the motorbike starts going super-fast and you have all these cars on the street that you have to dodge. When you want to play a game, usually you’re very relaxed when you launch it since you just wait for a menu… in this case, the game instead makes you immediately into the action and this gives you an emotional spike that is fantastic.

During this “tutorial”, you start realizing that in fact, you have to run with your bike to go from a starting point to a destination before the time runs out. There are various types of cars and trucks on the street and you have to dodge them if you don’t want to run into an accident. Accidents don’t kill you but make you waste a lot of time since you have to start again from the accident point and lose all the high speed that you gained. Controls are damn simple: the moto accelerates by itself and you have just to tilt your head to the left to make the bike move to the left and to the right to make it go to the right. Super simple, isn’t it? Developers claim that also the gamepad can be used to control the bike, but I didn’t try it by myself since I found the neck movement effective and simple enough. You can also use the touchpad to use the break of the moto… but why using the break in a game based on adrenaline?

The hud of the game is very immersive and is embedded onto the handlebars of the motorcycle: on the left, you can see your progress towards your goal, while on the right you see the remaining time and the actual speed you’re going. The fact that the UX is completely embedded onto the elements of the game makes the game more immersive and this is another point this game has scored.

Apocalypse rider virtual reality game review
On the left, there is the progress of the game, while on the right the speed and the remaining time (Image from VR Monkey)

After this first level, that is very easy to win (you have half an hour of time to complete it!), you enter the menu. The menu is actually a room: yes, it is an immersive 3D menu and you know how much I love them (you can read the reviews of Sneaky Bears VR or The Price of Freedom where I already praise them). The menu is the garage where you store the motorcycle and through it, you can:

  • Launch a new game;
  • See your stats;
  • See the coins that you own;
  • Buy upgrades for your motorcycle;
  • Buy new performant motorcycles;
  • See the maps with all the levels of the game;
  • See and change the game settings.

This is possible thanks to some UI elements inside the room that react to your commands. You have to look around you 360°, since some menu items (like the settings) are behind you: this is great on one side since employs all the space of the garage, but it’s not good since most people just look in front of them in VR (see stats on 360 videos).

Anyway, I’ve talked about coins: the more you win levels, the more you get coins. Every level has a fixed coin prize, plus you get some more coins for the time you managed to spare for its completion and for the “near misses” that you manage to do (more on this later). Notice that you win the jackpot only if you win the level… there’s no money for losers! You can then go back to the garage and use the money to buy upgrades and new motorbikes: without these upgrades, it is impossible to complete the game.

Apocalypse rider virtual reality game review
The part of the garage where you can select the motorbike that you want to ride and also buy new motorbikes (Image from VR Monkey)

About the “near misses”… well, you make a “near miss” when you overtake a car in front of you by passing very close to it, so you go really close to make an accident, but actually, you survive. The game rewards you for you recklessness by:

  • Giving you bonus coins;
  • Giving you a speed boost.
Apocalypse rider virtual reality game review
I’ve almost died, but actually, I survived, so I made a Near Miss! (Image from VR Monkey)

The speed boost given by a Near Miss increases with a multiplier if you make consecutive Near Misses. Making Near Misses is cool because they increase the adrenaline level of the game making you risk lots of accidents, but especially because they transform your enemies in your resources (thanks Max for having explained me this concept). The reason is that in most levels you desperately need those speed boosts to win, otherwise you run out of time before reaching the destination. Without this behavior, the game would have simply been: “avoid the cars in front of you” and would have been too easy or boring. Due to this mechanism, if you want to win the levels you have to risk an accident with all the cars you meet because you need the speed boosts they can give you: the enemies you should avoid becomes resources you have to milk, but to do that you have to risk to die. That’s damn ingenious. So the game becomes adrenaline because you have to run like crazy, touching all the cars you meet, but without actually hitting them. It ain’t easy, baby. And the more you go on, the more the game gets complicated, for instance with cars abruptly changing lane and making it super-easy to collide with them!

Apocalypse rider virtual reality game review
You can make Near Misses combo to gain a super extra speed (Image from VR Monkey)

About the easiness of the game: first levels are very easy because they introduce you to the game, but later on, things may become frustrating. I lost a lot of time on a special level asking me to make 20 Near Misses in 30 seconds: I think I replayed it at least 20 times before winning it. Another level didn’t admit any error: at the first accident, I already knew I couldn’t win it. And when a level is really hard to be won, it becomes hyper-frustrating and the fun vanishes away. Developers have just released an update that makes things easier (that insane level now requires only 15 Near Misses), but I think that some levels still require some tuning. Anyway, the fact that they’re listening to the feedback of the players is very very positive.

The graphics of the game are nice, but nothing more. This is not Archangel or Robo Recall… the visuals are pleasant, but not astonishing. It’s great anyway that the game provides you different settings (so, for instance, sometimes you run with daylight, other times at sunset, other times at night…).

One last notice about motion sickness: VR Monkey claims that their game is motion sickness free and that’s a bold claim. But… they’re right: I think they’ve played around with accelerations (the bike reaches a top speed and then continues running with that speed, avoiding sickness) and with fixed elements on the screen (the model of the moto fixed on the screen diminishes sickness for sure) and the results are very good. I’ve felt no sickness at all. Even if I have to say that after having played with Home and Lantern, I think that I’ve very high standards for sickness-inducing experiences!

Anyway, the final impression is that the game is very fun, adrenaline and original. The levels are very short (the time to end them is something like 1-2 minutes), so it’s an ideal game even for short intervals of play, maybe during a work pause. But the fact that some levels have to be replayed to be won, makes it a durable game. It just needs some tuning on the difficulties of some levels to be really epic. It’s a little indie game and I think that is completely worth the €4.99 price it has on Oculus Store, so I really advise you to buy it!

(Header image by VR Monkey)

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