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Downward Spiral: Horus Station has a new take on zero-gravity games

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Float on

Two minutes into my GDC appointment to play Downward Spiral: Horus Station (it has nothing to do with the Nine Inch Nails album, I checked), I floated painstakingly slowly across a small room. It was my own fault. I had weakly pushed off of a wall and inertia did its job. There was no way to speed up or change direction; I just had to wait until I reached some piping so that I could try again.

Downward Spiral takes place in zero-gravity, and it stays true to that premise. Locomotion can feel clunky and unsure until you train yourself to stop trying to move like you're playing every other game. It has a meaty feel to it, not unlike the cumbersome climbing motions in Firewatch. It takes effort and planning, and that's an interesting approach when most games just ask that you push forward to go forward.

The Finnish company behind Downward Spiral, 3rd Eye Studios, probably wants to do more with the setting because it has some familiarity in that area. While the development team has plenty of experience in games (Alan Wake, Quantum Break, Halo 5, and Ori and the Blind Forest are some of their credits), the lead designer, Greg Louden, brings film expertise to the table. He worked on Gravity and Prometheus in recent years.

The result is a space station that feels believable. It's tricky to navigate and its branching corridors invite exploring every nook. That's what 3rd Eye Studios wants. Downward Spiral is a game about discovery, but it's not willing to telegraph any of it. There aren't any cinematics or any lines of dialogue. Instead, the player is asked to piece together the story of this derelict station by visiting all corners of it.

This isn't some sort of simplistic floating simulator, though. Robotic sentries guard the place, and they aren't shy about engaging intruders. There are tools, like a staple gun, that can be useful in dispatching the threats. However, our demo concluded by escaping from a huge robot that was not deterred by mere staples. This is how Downward Spiral enforces a metroidvania component of revisiting areas when you're more powerful.

But, disregard that last paragraph if you're the pacifist type. Downward Spiral actually can be a floating simulator if that's more to your preference. There's a setting that disables the combat threats so players can explore at their own leisure. You can figure out what happened to the Horus crew without ever once feeling as if you're about to die.

It's all very immersive and I'd attribute that to the unique movement system and the seemingly-brilliantly designed space station. However, there's an option for a far more immersive experience. Downward Spiral will be available on most virtual reality platforms (PlayStation VR, Oculus Touch, HTC Vive, and Windows Mixed Reality), and this game is perfectly tailored to VR. It feels incredible to fling yourself forward with the Touch controls while searching for an endpoint to grab. For anyone with VR, this will certainly be the best way to play.

Downward Spiral bends itself so that it has something for most people. Apart from the pacifism setting and the VR support, there's also full cooperative play and an eight-player deathmatch mode. For anyone who's interested but wants to see more, there's a $2 VR-only prologue that's available on Steam. Otherwise, we don't have to wait much longer to see exactly how Downward Spiral: Horus Station turns out. It's going to release sometime in the coming months on PC and PlayStation 4.

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Brett Makedonski
Brett MakedonskiManaging Editor   gamer profile

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