For those who love Lovecraftian horror, Edge of Nowhere presents a pretty enticing hook: the ability to gaze up in terror at the underbelly of a gargantuan, otherworldly creature as it lumbers overhead, or experience the skin-crawling ickiness of having slimy tendrils and grotesque mandibles right up in your face, all courtesy of VR. This Oculus-exclusive thriller from Insomniac Games will be a proving ground for the way VR handles two familiar genres - stealth and survival horror - and thus far, things are looking good and creepy.
Rather than a foggy fishing town, Edge of Nowhere takes the fear of the unknown into the icy wastelands of 1930s Antarctica. You play as Victor Howard, an explorer who gets separated from his expedition team, which included a respected professor obsessed with the possible existence of strange, alien-looking creatures. As you might've guessed, those very same monstrosities are hiding out in the frosty caverns you just happened to find yourself trapped in, and you must guide Howard from a third-person, behind-the-back perspective in his quest to find his fiance Ava, avoid being slaughtered by freakish abominations, and somehow maintain his sanity all the while. Spoilers: that last one doesn't really seem to pan out.
The recent hands-on demo I played featured two clear-cut gameplay segments: classic platforming through the cold outdoors, and fearfully sneaking through a creature-infested cave. As those who've played Rise of the Tomb Raider know, the ever-shifting footing and slippery slopes of arctic exploration makes for some pretty harrowing action, as platforms suddenly crumble underfoot and force you to sprint towards safety. Howard's also an expert at scaling walls of sheer ice using his trusty picks, brave enough to leap between vertical surfaces with the kind of reckless abandon that would make Lara Croft proud. The VR perspective occasionally made it difficult to spot the path forward, but Edge of Nowhere's camera does a great job of conveying a sense of continuous movement upward and onward, and lets you take a pause to look down and experience the kind of brain-bamboozling vertigo that VR does so well.
Meanwhile, the stealth segments mostly followed the rule of 'get spotted, and you're just dead'. Actually, 'spotted' would be a misnomer, as all the creatures are blind and rely on sound and smell to sense your presence. Enemy design is as clever as it is creepy: the tendrils lining the backs and necks of the creatures give you a clear indication of when they're facing away from you, and the seemingly alive ground they walk on in pulses out rings that illustrate their line of 'sight' and the direction they're walking. At first, Howard's only defense is throwing stones to serve as auditory distractions, and his ice picks will only kill the smallest hatchlings (which cling to the ceiling and spring down on you for maximum startling, unless you peg them with a rock and score a quick execution before they can get the jump on you).
While I certainly experienced a string of stealth missteps that immediately sent me back to the nearest checkpoint, deciphering how to slowly make my way past multiple creatures was a gratifying challenge. And though you'll never have enough ordnance to plow through swarms of enemies, you eventually find some limited ammo for your shotgun, which serves as the perfect, creature-obliterating panic button if you accidentally alert something. I also had a great time using the alien environment to my advantage: by chucking rocks at the spined bulbs that have sprouted up on the ground and ceiling, you can cause them to violently expand, puncturing nearby creatures for an instant kill. It's comedic, efficient, and satisfying all at once.
Eventually, Howard's stressful expedition gave way to a vivid hallucination - an exposition-filled flashback to the classroom where Victor and Ava studied under their seemingly unhinged professor. The stark change in environment as Howard loses touch with reality works nicely in VR, and the one jump scare that was snuck into this scene got me good thanks to the inherent immersion. Fortunately, Edge of Nowhere uses its scares sparingly, frightening you for a brief moment before pulling you back in with its intriguing premise and exciting setpieces. If you've got an Oculus headset, you'll be able to play Edge of Nowhere on June 6, 2016.