With its blend of Uncharted lite platforming and Lovecraftian horror, Insomniac’s forthcoming Oculus Rift exclusive, Edge of Nowhere, is positioned close to slap bang in the intersection of my interests. Nonetheless, despite being excited to see what the studio was cooking up for Facebook’s face-mounted sensorium, I also felt a bit sceptical about how what seemed like a fairly trad gameplay model would work on the rift.
That fear was allayed early in my short demo with the game at E3. The controls could scarcely be simpler. The left stick guides your goggle-wearing Antarctic explorer, apparently here on some sort of rescue mission, around the snowscape, while the A button enables him to leap gaps and clamber up ledges. Nathan Drake for dummies, essentially, but with one significant difference: your head position rather than the right stick manipulates the camera.
The first hint of a supernatural element comes early on, in what's clearly a super-condensed demo designed to show off as many features in the shortest time possible. A couple of Cthulu-inspired flying creatures that look like manta rays with bonus tendrils glide past overhead, and the natural reaction is to look up and track their flight.
The demo is full of little touches like that: cues designed to attract your attention towards things happening in your peripheral vision. The discovery of these really helps draw you into Edge of Nowhere’s eerie world. Entering some caverns, the explorer predictably flicks on his lighter, and after finding a couple of people who’ve been turned into deathcicles, a shape drops from the ceiling in the space between your character and your point of view. I jumped.
From there, you take a long-ish rope descent (a bit like a reverse of that classic scene in Metal Gear Solid 3) deeper into the cave system, which immediately turns out to be a bad idea as the light picks out more creatures scattering up the walls around you.
At the bottom the demo shifts to chase mode, with tentacled, quadruped monsters about the size of hot dog carts loping after your fleeing, jumping adventurer. Make it back out into the light, and there's a four-storey beast striding above you. Hopscotch across some ice floes between its legs and you find yourself suddenly transported to a Victorian country house library.
A candle sputters in front of a Georgian wingback chair and a log fire burns. Above, an ominous portrait of a lady is placed. A voice—her voice?—whispers: “you do not belong here”. Something draws my gaze to the right, where I find bookcases suddenly illuminated by a flicker of light, and tendrils dancing behind. So ends the seven-minute demo, having surely managed to cram in a record number of nods to At The Mountains Of Madness.
I particularly liked that final surreal touch, as it hints that Insomniac are planning to play around with hallucinatory stuff and use your character’s sanity (and crumbling thereof) as a gameplay mechanic, hopefully like Silicon Knights’ Eternal Darkness.
While not doing anything radically new in terms of player input, Edge of Nowhere gave me a significant kick of The New amid the continuing glut of military shooters here at E3. And, aside from some slight issues with focusing my Crescent Bay unit at the start, it made me excited for the Rift’s eventual bow next year. I’m also something of an apologist for Insomniac’s Resistance games, (particularly the third and final one), so it’s cool to see them doing something creepy again. This is very much one to watch.