The original In Death by Solfar Studios was an addictive, unforgiving roguelike that pitted you against the forces of heaven and hell in an eternal never-ending battle for glory. Beautifully rendered, procedurally generated churches stretched out across an expansive, heavenly white void, filled with the types of biblical creatures you’d expect to find. The title has now come to Oculus Quest thanks to a new studio, Superbright, with a new name In Death: Unchained. But how much has changed and what’s remained the same?
Like many PC titles which have made the leap to the standalone headset the main noticeable difference is the visual quality. It’s not taken a massive hit when it comes to the feel and ambience of the experience but it’s the finer environment detail which is lacking (and not unexpected). Character-wise the Knights Templar still look and act as formidable as ever whilst the faceless monk archers retain their usual dull brown robes.
In Death: Unchained might not be as pretty to look at but the core gameplay mechanics remain. And that’s either a bow or once you’ve played a couple of times the crossbow. It certainly personal preference over which weapon you rather have equipped but the bow is more physical and seems a little more accurate at range whilst the crossbow is far easier to wield and much better for rapid-fire situations. They both use the same arrow upgrades so there’s no need to pick and choose in that regard.
Whichever one you pick it’ll soon become your best friend as there are no other weapons, meaning no loadouts or any inventory organisation to deal with, just get in there and kill enemies. Be very well aware that In Death: Unchained is built around repetition, in fact like many procedurally generated titles repetition is core to the experience. You can only take a select number of hits – which can be replenished – and once they’re gone you return to the Sanctuary to start again, tallying up your kills and score. This process will allow you to unlock achievements to help in the journey such as acquiring new upgrades. However, as you improve so do the enemy, spawning more or releasing new monsters to deal with.
It’s why In Death: Unchained isn’t going to be for everyone because this single-player experience is all about relentlessly wading through opponents with little in the way of extras to collect. What you will find is a videogame nicely tuned to the Oculus Quest, where you can duck out the way of arrows and generally feel you’ve got more room to breathe and manoeuvre when it comes to attacks.
Now when it comes to movement both the original and In Death: Unchained use a teleportation system by way of shooting arrows. As teleportation mechanics go it’s one of the best, giving you complete freedom to quickly jump short or long distances. There will be plenty of instances where using a teleportation arrow simply isn’t quick enough. In which case, there are crystal shards which can jump you a very short hop to evade danger; too short for any useful locomotion over distance.
Yet it’s a system which becomes clunky the further into the game you go. Once you get to a boss and suddenly find a horde of enemies to deal with, trying to fire arrows to move or throw a shard – which is on your draw hand – just isn’t fluid. Thankfully, there is a continuous locomotion system available for those who can use it, which makes all the difference. Benefits include being able to walk and strafe with the bow drawn, a godsend when dealing with groups. Plus its lefty friendly with options for head or controller centric movement and snap turn fine-tuning.
For those that have played the original, In Death: Unchained isn’t a massive change with the main bonus being the wireless freedom Oculus Quest provides as well as the new Abyss area. If you happen to be new to the franchise and a fan of bow videogames like Apex Construct then In Death: Unchained shouldn’t be overlooked. There’s no storyline or character to embody so it is an experience devoid of soul, instead replaced with pure arcade gameplay from start to finish and instant enjoyment.