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Preview: Arrowhead – Medieval Archery VR – Ye Olde Bullseye

Can virtual reality capture the essence of archery?

A bow and arrow is such a cool weapon. In anyone’s hands, it’s brilliant. I began a torrid love affair with the bow and arrow when I was quite small. Blame can be placed at the feet of the lead fox in Disney’s Robin Hood. From that moment on, if a film’s protagonist has a bow, I’m rooting for them, if a game features a bow, then that’s the weapon I’m using from now on. It’s a satisfying weapon; the stance, the twang of the bowstring, the thwunk of an arrow hitting a target.

Arrowhead – Medieval Archery VR (now to be known as simply Arrowhead in this preview) features all of those appealing traits. Aside from the stance, because my posture is terrible. From the moment I put on the Meta Quest 2, I felt like a badass. Using the two controllers, one holds the bow and the other plucks arrows from an unseen quiver – you hold a button while the controller is below your waist.

There’s a satisfying snap as the arrow nocks onto the bowstring. Your hands are poised to pull back the string and let fly, but hold the tension too long and your aim waves all over the place. The subtle movements of your hands are negligible at first. The aim is to score three stars on each level by using as few arrows as possible. We start by shooting at pumpkins at close distances, so a little swerve in your shot is forgiven.

Later on, however, you’ll need much more precision as the targets get smaller and begin moving. That’s when I began cursing, infuriated at myself for aiming a tad too far. But even failure is somehow great fun in Arrowhead. Mostly because each stage is short and can be replayed swiftly if failed. The action, as much as there is in target shooting, is non-stop. Plus, failing by aiming too high or too low is easily compensated in retrying, I tell myself.

Scoring three stars and hitting the bullseye on targets rewards you with cash to spend in the shop. There are new bows and arrows, each of which has buffs to certain stats, like the speed of the arrow through the air or extra tension in a bowstring. It takes a while to unlock these and raise enough funds, but that makes each purchase feel a bit more monumental in progression.

Away from the standard levels where time is unlimited, the challenges flip the concept on its head. In these firing ranges, time is finite, but the arrows are unlimited. These challenges tend to favour speed over accuracy, with a bullseye extending the time slightly. But they really are a challenge. I felt quite cocky after the first challenge of hitting targets as they pop up; the second challenge knocked me down a peg or two by using tiny targets.

Arrowhead leans more towards an arcade experience than a full-on simulation, and it’s all the better for it. With a minimal UI, no cluttered menus and simple graphics, it truly lets the sharp mechanics of archery shine.

The only area in which Arrowhead falls down is the music. It’s the same song. Over and over. Relentless. After ten minutes I turned it off and relished the basic sound effects instead, that twang and stretch of the bow is sublime. Some may say that pigeonholing the game into a medieval-style is shortsighted. It’s effective, but some sense of moving through time, with the equipment changing style would lend the game more scope. But for a title that boils archery down to the basics, it’s a bullseye.

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