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Preview: AGAINST – Slicing a Hardcore Rhythm

AGAINST doesn’t instantly hook but there’s a little magic under the surface.

When a virtual reality (VR) developer reveals another rhythm action videogame it can be a little difficult to get excited about the whole prospect. However, when Joy way revealed that its latest project AGAINST would be in this genre it piqued VRFocus’ interest due to its dark aesthetic and multiple gameplay features. Looking unlike any other rhythm action title is one thing but providing a unique gameplay experience, that’s a bit harder. Due to arrive as a Steam Early Access videogame, AGAINST does have its own flair, even if it is a bit cheesy at points.

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You might have already played a version of AGAINST as Joy Way took part in Steam Next Fest during the summer, offering an early demo of its gritty design. The look and feel of AGAINST has been significantly enhanced since then, particularly where the visuals are concerned. Gone is the very striking, almost film-noir style in favour of an environment a touch easier on the eyes. That hint of colour which would only appear in an enemy’s eyes or as the indicator to slice in a particular direction has made its way across the landscape, making for a far more polished looking experience.

AGAINST might look prettier but it’s no less brutal in its delivery, where you can hack henchmen in half, cut the heads off giant snakes and uppercut gormless goons with visceral trails of blood. Unlike a lot of other rivals AGAINST doesn’t pretend to try and handhold new VR players with friendly, bouncy rhythms; it’s brutal, in your face and definitely looking to attract those hardcore VR fans.

In a similar vein to Pistol Whip 2089, AGAINST employs a narrative campaign strategy rather than loads of individual songs you can swap between. So you get a story set in 1930’s New York City, playing out over seven levels. Full of the stereotypical comic book tropes, there’s an over-the-top villain who wants to unleash darkness on the world and you play a detective determined to stop him. While the narrative does provide a mildly humorous respite between levels and provides some explanation of why you’re fighting werewolves, burly blokes and snakes, if you skip it you won’t be missing much. Although the skip function never worked, so replaying levels meant having to listen to it all again and again, unfortunately.

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When you first start AGAINST it drops you almost immediately into the tutorial, and for good reason, there’s a lot to get to grips with. If you’ve played any rhythm action title several components will be instantly familiar such as using the sword to slice opponents, knuckle dusters to punch them, and a revolver – followed by Tommy guns later on – to shoot them at range. Kill them in time to the music – which is mainly Dubstep or heavier EDM – and you’ll score points, helping attain that leaderboard position, you get the gist.

AGAINST mixes things up by adding punchable directional arrows, thus activating a short wall run sequence or boosting you up to a higher platform. The wall running especially helps to open up the dark and moody levels, providing a novel switch in focus for a moment. However, later levels naturally bombard you with opponents, obstacles to dodge and these switching moments. Even on the normal difficulty setting (Easy and Hard are also available), this can get quite fierce which some players may find jarring.

Get past that and you’ve got a really challenging experience that takes two or three levels to get into. The first just seemed ridiculously difficult even on normal with multiple restarts required to complete the level. The second and third were a breeze in comparison and moments where you have to use the sword to deflect bullets back at the shooter became mini (John Wick style) badass moments that were very satisfying to complete. What you have to get used to is the constant weapon switching between the sword, guns and fists. As any Beat Saber player will know, you find a nice rhythm and flow that makes the more expert levels manageable. AGAINST doesn’t quite have that as it just feels like it’s trying to do too much all at once.  

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That being said, AGAINST has a personality that other VR rhythm games lack and additions like the mini-bosses at the end of some of the levels help to give it a classic arcade vibe VRFocus loves. Joy Way says that the Early Access period will be used to add a couple more weapons and polish and that the core campaign is done, which is slightly concerning regarding longevity as there are only seven levels. There is a free Beatmap Editor (VRFocus hasn’t tested this tool yet) which could extend the experience by making your own custom maps if you really want to. AGAINST didn’t instantly hook, it takes time to warm to but there is a little magic under the surface. Hopefully, Joy Way will nurture it and not leave it in the early access abyss.

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