At its core, Vertigo’s latest feels substantially more familiar than other recent VR hits. In some ways, the game is more of a spiritual successor to L4D than even Back 4 Blood, a game with a direct familial link to Valve’s zombie series. At launch After The Fall has a set of five Harvest Runs with four difficulties to tackle in groups of four players (AI fills in if you want to play solo or with fewer friends). An introductory ‘campaign’ takes you through each environment before you’re let loose to revisit each level, earn more Harvest (the currency traded for weapons and items in the surprisingly efficient economy of a frozen-over LA) and grab weapon upgrades that will help you with harder difficulty modes.
And, well, that’s pretty much it. After The Fall’s appeal is more about jumping in with friends and having fun whilst grinding out new weapons and gear than it is making your way through a cinematic shooter story filled with immersive moments. Your interest in the game will entirely hinge on how much that idea appeals to you but, given the lack of quality long-form co-op shooters available to VR players, I’m willing to bet you’ll at least want to take a look.
It doesn’t take long to find the game’s groove. In fact, if you’d have told me this was a port of an existing flatscreen game, I’d have probably believed you; most weapons feel light as a feather, you can comfortably aim from the hip for pretty much the whole game and there’s even a near-instant reload option that sees you swinging your weapon near your chest, Arizona-style. You can switch this out for an immersive reload system closer to, say Medal of Honor or Sniper Elite VR, but we’re a long way from the weighty, more realistic zombie survival of The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners or the more grounded, believable shootouts of Half-Life: Alyx.
In other words, when it comes to core design, After The Fall really hasn’t moved on too far from 2016. This, in part, seems intentional.
This is an accessible shooter that casts its net wide, offering just the right balance of fun and challenge no matter your skill level. It’s a sprint more than it is a marathon; each run starts you off in a safe room — again, a lot of the game feels directly lifted from Left 4 Dead — and you’ll have about 5 – 10 minutes of gameplay between you and the next checkpoint. In that time you’ll run through the same level layouts (with some small randomized elements), with Snowbreed pouring out of holes in the ceiling and cracks in the walls. Dealing with them isn’t about strategy so much as how quickly you can pull the trigger.
Every run Harvest Run in After The Fall essentially plays out in this rollercoaster pattern. You have a few minutes of downtime as you gather ammo before sharply reacting to frantic bursts of action in which you’ll be constantly communicating about where your enemies are coming from. Things can quickly take a turn for the worse as enemy numbers overwhelm, and you’ll likely find yourself starting on the easiest difficulty, Survivor, to earn gear that helps you push on through to harder modes. Special enemy types, meanwhile, are an assortment of familiar bullet-sponges and explosive types, mixed with end-of-level bosses that require you to concentrate fire on particular areas.
But, intentional or otherwise, there’s just no escaping just how repetitive and straightforward the game can be. Having now finished each of the five levels included at launch and revisted them on multiple different difficulties, I was surprised at just how simplistic overall mission design is. I’m really not exaggerating when I say there’s no variety in After The Fall, beyond facing different waves of Snowbreed. There are no special objectives like escorting NPCs or carrying special items, no standout set pieces save for a final confrontation and even the bosses and minibosses — around 4 types in total — are recycled constantly over the course of the handful of levels.
Environments, meanwhile, don’t really distinguish themselves from level-to-level, save for a trip to Chinatown and a series of battles atop a skyscraper, and there’s not much in terms of enemy variety in the game to really change up tactics. It’s true that Vertigo was never aiming for a varied, linear campaign, but even compared to the original Left 4 Dead, After The Fall is too simplistic in its mission design.
It’s fortunate that the mindless core gameplay is pretty engaging with friends, then. Similar to the way Demeo’s social VR support props up an otherwise decent tabletop game, co-op turns After The Fall from what would be a dull, one-note solo shooter into a fun romp. Accept the game for what it is, and you’ll enjoy barreling into hordes of Snowbreed time and again. But, even then, the game doesn’t really capitalize on the platform. Aside from the usual thrills of aiming with your hands, throwing grenades or reviving teammates with a stab of a syringe, After The Fall is light on interaction and immersion, with the real VR kick coming from the dread of seeing zombies rush towards you. But, what the game might lack in groundbreaking VR design, it does partly makes up for in other areas.
For starters, After The Fall’s social offerings are unmatched. Whenever you jump into the game, you’ll load into a hub world with 32 other players across a wide variety of headsets. From Quest 2 to PSVR to basically the entire gamut of PC VR devices, the game supports full cross-play, and it’s a truly incredible achievement, though it does mean having to deal with lots of unwanted third wheels when first loading into the game and trying to locate your friends.
Making friends and partying up across headsets also works well, at least when you’re one of only a handful of players. I could quickly jump into a hub, find a friend with their username above them and then point and click to open up a menu, add them to my friend’s list and then invite them into a party. It works really well and a lot of other games — not to mention even entire online social platforms — should learn from this template.
That said the system does have its quirks right now. People seemed to be inexplicably able to join my party and, from what I could tell, there’s no way to jump online and just have access to my friends, thus evading a cascade of friend requests. Hopefully these options and issues will be addressed in the near future, though.