I heard about Apex Construct a few weeks ago and instantly became interested when I found out that ex-DICE employees are behind it as I love my PSVR but other than a few amazing titles (a few on the way this week) the majority of the games have been either stationary puzzle games or horror games so far. I loved Raw Data last year and it quickly became one of my favourite PSVR titles of 2017, Apex Construct seems to remind me a lot of it in terms of its combat and setting, yet it brings with it an engaging story and memorable, diverse locations. The developers themselves recommend you play this game on a PS4 Pro, which I have done; however, I have looked around and the experience on a standard PS4 isn’t that bad, the image just may not be at the same resolution/graphical level. Also, the amount I’ve played so far is before the day-one patch so I’ll update the review if the patch brings anything significant. That being said – let’s find out why I’m talking so highly of the game.
In Apex Construct, you are the last surviving human on earth after a battle has been waged between the humans and an army of machines. The machines have taken over and seemingly wiped out all traces of everyone but yourself. Upon awakening, you are met by Fathr – well, Fathr talks to you as you don’t actually see him – and you are told that Mothr is the AI who created and sent forth the machines. It’s up to you to discover the truth behind humanities destruction as well as eliminate the robot threat upon the Earth. On your mission, you will solve puzzles, fend off robotic menaces, traverse simple platforming, and read up on the lives and research of the people who came before you.
I’ll begin with the most interesting part of Apex Construct in terms of mechanics, the puzzles. Apex Construct doesn’t just have puzzles in the standard format, it also has a sense of exploration and problem solving behind them. For example, as soon as I left the initial elevator and I was looking around to get my bearings, I looked to the left and saw a terminal. I walked up to it and, as you do, started slapping my hands on the virtual keyboard whilst going “tappy tappy tap tap!” – what? You don’t do this whenever you see a keyboard in VR? – to my surprise, everything I pressed on the keyboard was on the DOS command prompt on the virtual monitor. At this point I was literally laughing – so I tried ‘dir’ and I got the directory, and then I opened and read all of the documents. Now, this probably won’t mean much as there is a giant poster next to the machine saying how to use it, but I didn’t see that – I just started typing and it worked – amazing!
Now, I know what your thinking, “what has this got to do with puzzles?” Well, throughout the game you see various terminals, some hold documents as you see in games like the Talos Principle, some require passwords which you find scattered around, some give you passwords to use on other machines, and some operate things such as doors. The password may not be as simple as a post-it note saying “Password = 1234” though, some will be a year or even a cryptic clue.
Apex Construct also adopts a basic Metroidvania approach to various puzzles as well. For example, at one point you’re placed on a walkway with 3 exits (not including where you came from) – one of which you can access, one you can’t and one has a worded password which you won’t find out until later on. This means you will have to return once you have said password. Also, there is a part where you are helping Fathr ‘find himself’ and certain machines and doors aren’t working. Once you upgrade your bow to emit an electrical pulse, you can return and proceed as normal. As such, it’s a great experience when you obtain a new ability or you find out some new information as it makes you want to go back and see what you have missed – I’ve not felt like it’s a chore to go back on myself so far.
In between traversing the world, playing in DOS and reading documents, you will be at home, relaxing. Well, in your room. Once you complete a mission you will return here – this is where you can buy health items, upgrade your bow or shield and put on display all of the items you steal throughout the missions. That’s right, you can steal a lot of different things whilst you are out and about and bring them back with you – I’ve not found out a reason for this yet, but I’m building up quite a collection. As you progress throughout the game you find keycards that take you deeper into the construct; however, you have to carry one with you at all times and ensure you put it back into your inventory upon use (as it tends to fall through items and through the world). The inventory system isn’t the best but I’ll cover that with the combat down below.
Another thing you can do whilst you are in your room is, go and take a look at what mission you wish to play next. You are presented with past and new missions upon a map and you can see at a glance how many secrets you have found and how many times you have completed the level (? – It says completed and a number next to it, so I’m presuming that’s what it means). This allows you to backtrack and jump back into any previously completed mission at any point which, as I said above, is required if you wish to find everything out as you can’t see everything on your first pass without certain abilities/knowledge.
Movement within the game is simple, or at least on paper it is. You must play the game with two move controllers, there is no other option, but you can either teleport or move freely. Even if you pick move freely, you still have the ability to teleport at will, just not vice-versa. So, using free-move, you hold the main button on the left controller and you move in whatever direction the controller is pointing in – similar to Skyrim and Raw Data. Now, in regards to turning, you have two options – Smooth Turning and Snap Turning. Smooth turning means you can use the X and O buttons on the right controller to turn – again like you would in the aforementioned games. Snap turning, however, requires you to hold the right triangle and give the controller an iPhone swipe to the left or right. considering the combat does get quite fast and manic at times – I would recommend the Smooth Turning.
The developers have advised me that they are looking at releasing an update (not the day-one one) that will map the Snap Turning to buttons rather than swiping. Once that’s in place then it will help those who have trouble with motion sickness and it will offer the means of turning fast and efficiently.
In regards to combat, you are armed with a bow early on and this has taken the place of my favourite bow-mechanic in all the PSVR titles I have played. There is no guide and no laser sight, so you must learn to aim and fire for yourself but the game makes you really feel like you are there shooting those arrows. Later on, you find grenades as well but I never really used them as it requires you to go into your inventory, take them out, throw them and hope they hit – all whilst the enemy is coming at you. If you sneak up on the enemy then yeah, go for the grenade, otherwise – open fire!
One of the major downsides to the combat is the lack of multitasking. You have two hands, two independently controlled hands, yet if you ready your bow with an arrow then you either can’t raise your shield to protect yourself or your arrow will unload and the shield will rise – which means you have to quickly reload, aim and fire before the enemy shoots you again. This gets very fiddly and feels like it might not be doing exactly what it’s supposed to do? You cant keep your shield up forever, as it has an energy meter, so making it operate as either a shield OR a bow, but not letting you aim, shield an attack, then fire in a smooth motion just doesn’t feel right. Don’t get me wrong though – it’s not unplayable and it’s far from being ‘broken’ – it’s just a bit too easy to die at the expense of multitasking not being an option. When you die, you lose more than just your dignity as well…
In terms of gaining experience in order to perform upgrades and purchase health recovery items, you must defeat enemies, pick up the materials they drop and then make it back to the safe house in order to bank the RP (Radiance Points). If you die before you reach your room, you lose everything. This is a bit of a pain, to be honest as the combat can be a little unforgiving and it’s resulted in me losing a load of RP which I gained from secret areas and non-respawning enemies. The only way to re-obtain it would be to restart the level or come back later on.
Just to touch on the VR aspect of the game – I never play my VR games with ‘comfort mode’ on – I see it as limiting the game as I’m stuck to the floor with only teleportation possible. As such, I played Apex Construct with smooth movement and this game is awesome! Personally, I would have smooth movements with no comfort at all but Apex Construct creates a vignette effect around your vision as your moving in any direction or looking around – this reduces any nausea you may get and allows more people to play in this mode. Seriously, if you purchase this game and usually only ever play with teleportation, turn on smooth movements and see how you get on.
Graphically, Apex Construct is simply beautiful, well, as beautiful as a post-apocalyptic world can be! No browns and greys here, the opening shot where you enter the Earth for the first time actually reminded me of Bioshock Infinite. The buildings are all colourful, the artistic style is realistic yet simple, the sky and water are bright blue, the creature designs are great, everything is readable and easily distinguished, no pop-in, and the whole architectural design is great. True, I saw quite a lot of LOD effects kicking in (the textures change from lower to high/regular textures as you approach) but this was mainly on the grated flooring, and I saw a few holes in the world where parts of the scenery didn’t meet, but in general, unless you’re looking for it, you won’t notice the imperfections.
Sound-wise as well, this game just keeps giving. From the dead silences filled with ambient noises to the music kicking in once an enemy is within range and aware of your presence, it all feels both manic and lonely at the same time. There is nothing scary about the game, no jump scares, no horror, no death and even no blood – but whilst you traverse the empty hallways, look through the leftover remains of what was once here and even when you explore the inner workings of the places you are sent to investigate, there is always a feeling of being watched by someone or something.
Apex Construct is a must-have PSVR title. The story is interesting and always leaves you with a feeling that you don’t know who to trust, the puzzles and exploration are great for a VR title, and the combat, whilst a bit clunky to begin with, is actually surprisingly solid once you’re used to it. There is plenty of replayability with all of the secrets hidden away and areas which demand you to go back on yourself and the game actually does a great job of making you want more, not for trophies but because you are interested. I highly recommend the game to anyone who has a PSVR, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or Windows Mixed Reality.
- - One of the best looking FPS style games on PSVR in my opinion
- - Great mix of combat and exploration sections
- - Metroidvania style mechanics
- - Really interesting story
- - Lots of secrets to uncover
- - The typing on the keyboard is a bit clunky
- - Combat is a bit iffy at the moment with the inability to multitask and manoeuvre quickly
- - The rogue-like aspects of collecting XP is a bit unfair