In Death Unchained – Oculus Quest Review

July 26, 2020

In Death was released for Oculus PC headsets two years ago – a rouge-lite VR game that took seemingly took inspiration from Dark Souls to create a medieval procedurally generated world into which you fling yourself for run after run, hoping to progress further into its world, unlock new weapons and face tougher enemies. Now, In Death Unchained has been released for the Oculus Quest, aiming to take the experience from running on PC hardware to the Quest’s wireless internal guff.

While there is definitely a decrease in visual fidelity compared to the PC version, In Death Unchained still looks rather good. Your runs into its afterlife world will take you into heaven or hell (or the Quest-exclusive ‘Abyss’), which consist of grand, sweeping towers and halls which mix castle with cathedral and fade in from thick fog in the distance. While fog obscures the distance, you’ll still catch sight of enemies well in advance and be able to fire off some early shots to get ahead of the action, and the game’s frame-rate never misses a beat. Enemies, while not amazingly detailed, are still modeled convincingly and get more menacing as you progress through the game.

In Death Unchained is entirely an archery game, although you do unlock access to a crossbow early on, which I still count as archery. Everything centers around your bow, which means you need to become adept at nocking and firing arrows pretty quickly to advance through its worlds, which actually feels great thanks to some cool haptic feedback in the Oculus Touch controls, and accurate sound design. You eventually unlock further ways to upgrade your arsenal with different ammo types, like freezing arrows, fire arrows or ‘needle bolts’ that fire like a shotgun, and knowing what arrows to take into a situation is frequently important.

It’s a tough game, and one that’s relying on you to head in run-after-run to get results and make progress. While you might have more luck on one run, on another you might feel like Han Solo as you round a corner to come face-to-face with a genuine army of knights and zombies. Like a real horde of them, just an unfair amount. It’s up to you and your skill to make the best of every situation, with limited health pickups to bet on. You have a shield you can activate with your non-bow hand, but that will only get you so far, as you’ll need to rely on being able to dodge, move quickly and then re-centre yourself to tackle situations from a different angle. Luckily, a launch day patch has made all of this much easier. Initially, your only method for moving was to fire teleporting arrows to shift you to around the environment – which was fast and efficient, but tedious and tiring for fine movement. Now, you also have the option for analogue controller movement at the same time, allowing you to weave or advance on enemies simply (you know, as well as weaving and advancing in room-scale real life), while using teleport arrows to get out of jams or move efficiently through large areas. You also have teleporting daggers you can throw short distances, for quick strafing movements.

What all of this effectively does is leave you with a limited, but nonetheless fair and useful, toolkit of abilities with which you can come up with strategies and tactics to take on enemies, which progressively evolve into more murderous and dangerous forms as you progress through the game’s worlds. After you die (and you will die quite often), you’ll be thrown back into ‘Sanctuary’ where you’ll be able to see your overall progress in the game, along with any achievements unlocked and an amusing visual depiction of every enemy you’ve slain flying around you. This loop of progressing as far as you can, checking your progress, then throwing yourself back into the fray actually becomes surprisingly addictive, and you find yourself becoming rather good at archery somewhere along the way, as you come up with neat tricks and flourishes that make combat easier (and you feel cooler). Also new to this Quest version are small resting areas where you can safely exit the game and save your progress (until you return), and also stock up on rather expensive goods and supplies.

With all that said, there are a couple of niggling points that could easily be corrected in further patches. For one, the analogue movement doesn’t seem to play well with stairs, and you’ll find yourself becoming shorter the further you climb up them (although your proper height can be reset with a teleport arrow). Enemies can also temporarily freeze, especially if you manage to hit them while they’re doing something dramatic while lunging or jumping at you.

It’s not going to be a game for everyone – In Death Unchained relies heavily on you being interested in an archery game that goes all-in on the weapon (both bow-and-arrow and crossbows), as well as you being persistent enough to endure waves upon waves of hard enemy encounters and boss fights, only to unlock further even more challenging battles and boss fights. However, if you can get into it, it’s pretty damn addictive, and there’s also the draw of the Oculus-connected leaderboards to see how high you can climb on there. In Death Unchained is a tough son of a bitch, but it’s also a pretty engaging experience, if you’re up for the challenge.

In Death Unchained was reviewed on Oculus Quest with review code provided by publisher.