Joy Way remains something of an enigma.
The Moscow-based studio — which last year rebranded from the arcade-focused PlatformaVR — has been pumping out VR games at a relentless pace, with no less than five projects either announced or released in the past two years. There is a worrying side to the developer’s speed – the conceptually-clever Time Hacker hasn’t moved out of early access since October last year, for example, and it seems to have lost interest in Brain vs Zombies, which it announced in 2020 also. It’d be easy to write off the studio for throwing everything at the wall in the hope that something sticks, then.
Thing is, though, most of their games are actually quite sticky. Stride has fantastic potential once it gets more modes, and Outlier is a promising future roguelite. But, for my money, Against might just be Joy Way’s best game yet.
If Stride is VR’s Mirror Edge then Against is… well, okay, it’s another VR rhythm combat game. But, as I said when I first played the game last summer, it’s a lethally good one, combing the heavy-handed impact of Beat Saber with the pinpoint precision of Pistol Whip and then coating it all in an intoxicating mix of supernatural neo-noir and a brooding shade of red blood.
In early access there’s seven levels and the beginnings of a campaign mode with a story. But all you really need from a game like Against is solid tracklisting and a healthy dose of style. This has both in ready supply.
What makes the game work is its refusal to stick with one gameplay style for too long. Each level consists of standing segments and on-rails sections, during each of which you’ll either slice with swords, shoot with pistols and tommy guns, or box with brass knuckles. Against has rhythm not just in the beat of its music but in the way it sequentially throws these different weapons at you, switching out upwards of 10 times over the course of a map. It really gives the game unprecedented flow to catch a new weapon, immediately understand what you’re meant to do with it, and then get back into the pace it sets.
Once you’ve played a few maps you’ll come to compartmentalize its individual components. Crowbar-wielding thugs are essentially humanoid Beat Saber boxes to be slashed in a certain direction, whilst more brutish foes need to be punched in the face with the timing and accuracy of FitXR. Firearms, meanwhile, are similar to Pistol Whip but ditch the reloading and provide a welcome bit of visual aid, with a target turning red to indicate shooting them to the beat.
As for style? I’m not exaggerating when I say Against is one of the slickest games I’ve seen. The moody noir tone works really well in VR, with rain beating down into levels and a blinding ray of light reflecting off of the tip of your sword. It proved to be a little much for a 2060 Super card, though it ran incredibly smooth on a 3070 Ti, so keep that in mind.
What isn’t quite there yet is a true sense of identity for each level. Some maps are propped up by memorable boss fights, but others are more run of the mill, even if they have a different environment. It’d be great to see existing levels updated with more elements unique to them over the course of early access.
But this is a hugely promising start for Against. Not only do I want to see more levels but I’d also welcome more weapons and other twists during early access. If Joy Way can flesh it out to offer a bigger, more varied package then it has a serious shot at being one of the best VR rhythm games on the market and, as we all know, that’s not something to be taken lightly.
Against is available now on SteamVR.