The Archangel mech in a destroyed city

Growing up on a healthy diet of sci-fi and anime, it's no surprise that one of my lifelong dreams is to one day pilot a mech. Since I don't see any governments starting a proper Jaeger program anytime soon, I realize that video games are likely the only place where this fantasy can become a reality. Thankfully, I've got games like Archangel tackling that task head-on.

When the PlayStation VR headset first launched, I remember thinking to myself, "Okay, when are we getting a rad mech game?" For the most part, Archangel fits that bill nicely, though the overall experience is somewhat hampered by a short runtime and a few technical issues. But we'll get to all of that in a moment. First, a proper handshake.

Archangel is the first VR game from Skydance Interactive, comprised of folks who have worked on such games as Gears of War 4, XCOM 2 and even the PlayStation Move game, Sorcery. That pedigree shows as Archangel strives to be far more than your basic on-rails shooter.

In the game, players take on the role of Gabe or Gabby Walker. In the future, an evil corporation known as HUMNX has taken over most of the globe and Mr./Mrs. Walker is part of a resistance that will stop at nothing to overthrow them. You'll discover within moments of booting up Archangel that it sets itself apart from the VR pack. While most VR games in these early goings are little more than a glorified tech demo or proof of concept, Archangel begins with a well-acted, dramatic series of scenes that set the player on a quest for revenge. I won't ruin the plot here but, before long, you find yourself strapped into the resistance's first mech, a six-story behemoth with firepower aplenty.

Unfortunately, the story that unfolds will only last you about three hours, but at least it's a rip-roaring good time while it lasts.

Archangel

As the mech pilot, you are in synch with an AI known as M1KL, or M1 for short. I know, I know; how did they not just call it Michael? Anyway, missed opportunities for logical nicknames aside, Walker is also accompanied by a trio of fellow soldiers, each flying their own little drone that provides covering fire and the occasional health pack. They also provide lots of helpful callouts to let you know where the enemies are coming from, as well as plenty of dialogue to flesh out the world of Archangel.

Since you're basically experiencing a Pacific Rim-style neural bridge with M1, your AI companion handles the walking while you take care of everything on the upper half of the body. That's super smart design in my book, as it opens up the combat controls without worrying about controlling locomotion, too. Also, free movement in VR can be tricky and teleportation isn't as immersive, so this seems like a nice compromise.

Besides, you'll be too busy fighting to worry about walking. While you can certainly play the game with a controller in hand, I'd recommend taking on Archangel with a pair of Move controllers instead. The mech's arms will move the way your arms move, making it super fun to bounce between holding up your shield, spraying machine gun fire or locking on to the enemy with your missiles.

My only gripe (and it's a pretty big one, actualy) is that one of the Move controllers would occasionally lock in place. The game would still recognize I was aiming in different directions, but the virtual arm itself would just sort of freeze at a random point in space. The only way to fix this was to disconnect the controller and then connect it again, which is kind of a pain. An even bigger pain is that there's no way to pause Archangel once you get rolling in a level, so I had to just stand there and wait to die so I could bounce to a menu and try reconnecting the controller. This happened several times, otherwise I wouldn't be complaining about it here.

Archangel

When things were working properly, though, it was fun as hell to punch through obstacles, deflect attacks and carefully aim my missiles before pulling the trigger. Unfortunately, catching health packs in VR was a challenge in and of itself, though the process was much easier with a standard controller.

So, yeah, you'll need to decide which route is best for you. A controller feels much less realistic, but you won't have issues with aiming, grabbing health canisters or finding your arm locked into place.

While there are only a handful of missions, the story continues between each chapter. You're given the chance to catch up with M1 and your teammates, adding further weight to the characters and their current mission. You can also spend the points you've earned on various upgrades, such as better or longer lasting shields, improved cooldown speed, more powerful weaponry and the like.

As a warning, Archangel is pretty hard, so don't feel guilty if you want to just start off on easy. It's a short enough game that you'll likely want to play it again at a harder difficulty anyway, and you'll be doing so after honing your skills in a less daunting version of the game. After a while, you'll be juggling your various weapons and shields while mowing down the enemy like a pro, but reaching that point is more difficult when you're frequently hitting the game over screen.

While I wouldn't go so far as to call Archangel the PlayStation VR killer app, it's certainly a step in the right direction. It has some frustrating technical issues, pretty bland environments, and a short runtime, but it's also one of those rare games for the platform that feels almost like a complete package. It's got a solid story and some fun mechanics, not to mention a competent voice cast. It may not quite fulfill my all-out Gundam fantasies, but it's definitely the closest any video game has ever come.

This review based on a PlayStation VR code provided by the publisher.

7 / 10 stars
Rating: movie reviewed rating

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