Apart from wanting a superpower, Pokemon, or an invitation to Hogwarts, almost every kid (and this adult) inevitably desires a seat in their own sky-scraping, Gundam-esque Mech. Skydance Interactive, the same studio that worked on Gears of War 4, The Evil Within, and the Torgue’s Campaign of Carnage DLC for Borderlands 2, has attempted to scratch the itch we’ve all had with what can only be described as equal parts Time Crisis and Pacific Rim. And they get pretty damn close for a short while.
Archangel is set in a post-apocalyptic Chicago (some might even just say Chicago), and replays the same evil-syndicate-taking-over-the-world trope we’ve seen countless times, albeit with a lot more death, destruction, and family fun time. Players assume the role of Gabriel/Gabby, a seasoned combat veteran in charge of piloting an experimental mech with the hopes of fighting off the evil HUMNX forces and freeing the world. Everything goes wrong during the first tutorial and we’re thrust out into the world to wreak havoc and have periodic mental breakdowns.
It’s true that the story sounds a bit too pedestrian, but it’s also true that I stopped caring as soon as I could move my mech’s arms. Even in the scripted training phase, having the ability to roll my shoulders, make a fist, and clap my building-sized hands brought me unbridled tears of joy. The motions are smooth and tracking was never an issue (Archangel can be played sitting or standing), and it truly added to the immersion; I really felt like I was piloting my own trillion-dollar murder machine, and once more, the cost of my VR headset was justified.
Once the joy-stiffy wore down and I put on my nitpicking spectacles, I noticed that there wasn’t all that much to actually do. The mech itself is armed with a wrist-mounted machine gun, rocket launcher, and shield, and you do occasionally have to punch through buildings and overpasses, but all of the actual piloting is controlled by the game, so the predestined forward motion is completely restricted until you clear out each wave of enemy soldiers. I’m not saying the first hour wasn’t a blast, but think of how much better the game could have been if you could actually stomp around with a little bit of autonomy? As it stands (literally), you’re basically a remote-controlled siege tower stuck on the “Small World” ride.
Archangel attempts to throw in some variety with a small number of upgrades to choose from in between levels. You can beef up your hull integrity, add some spunk to your missile launchers, boost your shields, etc. etc., but it all kind of fades together. None of the upgrades were so astounding as to be noticed in the actual game, and it felt a bit hamfisted, as if every developer needs “upgrades” on the to-do checklist.
As if to make up for the actual lack of gameplay, the developers seemed to have thrown their backs out with the graphics. The game is absolutely beautiful, and though the screenshots look a little dark, I promise with most of my heart that the lighting is on point. The inside of the cockpit where you plant your psychotic ass is beautifully detailed and responds to the amount of damage you’ve taken, and the detail on the mech itself is astonishing (I spent several minutes switching between the cluster rockets and main rocket launcher just to watch the animation). The game also sports a diverse cast of voice actors who, while working with lines that could have easily been stripped from Terminator or Syndicate, did a fantastic job of further breathing life into the experience. Overall, Archangel is probably one of the prettier games I’ve played in VR.
All in all, Archangel is exciting and cathartic for the type of person who can only stand to play videogames for an hour. Beyond that, players will find that it lacks a certain staying power. Beautiful graphics and power trip aside, it’s just too easy to get bored while sitting in your mech, and that’s not something I ever thought I’d say.