‘Evasion’ Review – Strafe, Shoot, Heal, Rinse & Repeat

Evasion is a first-person sci-fi shooter from indie AR/VR studio Archiact. With its co-op campaign missions, the game is decidedly aiming to capture a Halo-esque shooting experience along with massive numbers of enemies, something the studio has been couching as a bullet-hell genre shooter. While it’s a technically competent game that looks and feels well polished, some lackluster enemy types and repetitive gameplay left me feeling pretty ambivalent about moving forward through the off-world colony.

Evasion Review Details:
Official Site
Developer: Archiact
Available On: Steam (Vive, Rift), PlayStation Store (PSVR)
Reviewed On: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive
Release Date: October 9th, 2018

Gameplay
As a sci-fi super soldier, you’ve been dispatched to a mining colony that’s been overrun by a race of robots called the Optera who’ve broken an armistice in search of a super rare substance, a metal that’s used in powerful illegal weaponry. We’re not really here for the story though, because as it goes, it’s a pretty cookie cutter pretense for exercising your trigger fingers—one dedicated to firing, and the other dedicated to secondary attacks, healing, and interacting with key items in the game.
With four classes to choose from, Striker, Surgeon, Warden and Engineer, you’re offered up a few fixed variables such as max health, shield size, gun strength and ultimate ‘Surge’ attack. There’s no in-game currency or weapon upgrades to look forward to, making it essentially the same shooting experience throughout the entire game.
Image courtesy Archiact
Your singular primary weapon has three fundamental firing modes: semi-auto standard shot, charge shot, and an ultimate, all of which requires collecting yellow power canisters dropped by enemies upon death. You can speed the collection process by using your secondary heal/tractor beam weapon on critically damaged enemies, and getting a guaranteed power or health pickup. While healing are predictably doled out randomly, if you play in co-op mode you can infinitely heal your buddy at no material cost to you, something I felt detracted from the overall co-op experience. With two players, I never had the sense that I would run out of anything at any time, and a life-saving heal was always just a simple ask away.
While the emphasis here is on cooperative play to make for a balanced assault, you can play the entire game in singe-player mode if you want; difficulty appears to scale depending on the number of players in your party.
Visually, the game has very few flaws, delivering masses of articulated enemies and lasers at a buttery smooth frame rate even on top settings using my testing rig (GTX 1080 and Core i7 – 6700K), a testament to Archiact’s ability to create a truly cohesive VR environment. Specific destructible points in the game, while entirely inconsequential to gameplay, make for an interesting sideshow to the sprawling industrial facility.
Image courtesy Archiact
The studio has however labeled the game as “the next generation of VR combat,” and a bullet-hell shooter. Here’s a few reasons though why those monikers don’t really fit.
The bullet-hell shooter genre is pretty well-defined. At its essence, it’s a test of a player’s skill to be able to recognize patterns in the stream of enemy bullets and successfully navigate your way through, all the while accruing minimal damage. Throughout most bullet-hell shooters, you’re also given increasingly cool weapons that you have to tactically use for fear of running dry at critical moments. There’s always an even cooler weapon around the corner that’s risky to get, which not only provides a sense of urgency, but also fear of failing the mission after taking too much damage in the process. Simply put, there’s a carrot and a stick. You desperately hate the stick, and you’ll almost die to get that carrot, making Evasion more of a ‘bullet-heck’ flavored substitute.


In single player mode, what actually follows is an exercise in blandly strafing back and forth as you deflect oncoming barrages (with varying amount of success) and sponge-up whatever stray lasers are fired from randomly spawning baddies. Bad guys always shoot where you are, and never where you’re going to be, so it’s a simple task in making sure you have enough lateral room to escape the lasers as they land at your flank, and simultaneously prioritizing targets.
This changes in co-op mode as baddies have multiple targets to consider, namely you and your friends, but then it erupts into something of a blind chaos. Without a good idea of when I was deflecting shots or absorbing them—both audio cues are deceptively similar in sound—you’re left with the job of sallying forth, taking the inevitable damage, and maximizing your health pickups along the way which you can tractor-beam to your position without any added fear of losing out. However you slice it though, it’s a bog standard arcade shooter with lots of the same enemy types in quantity, and no new weapons to look forward to.
And by ‘bog standard’, I mean it comes replete with some decidedly tired VR shooter tropes: floating gun reticles for easy aiming, repetitive enemy types, the “helpful” AI voice who tells you exactly where to go and what to do, and waypoints as breadcrumbs to your next objective. Walk here. Scan this. Shoot these guys until they’re gone for whatever reason. It’s the same story throughout the entire game. I was also always waiting for those big boss reveals that bullet-hells are notorious for, but I was led through the game with continuously repeating B-class baddies until the very end.
That said, I made full use of my three available lives in the later levels where difficulty ramps up significantly—so personal gripes notwithstanding, it’s does present a challenge that a group of proficient marksmen will find difficult. My personal playthrough took just under five hours to complete on campaign mode, which consisted of nine missions. A co-op survival mode is available as well, which should keep your party entertained for a while longer once you’re done with the game’s story.
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Immersion
Full-bodied avatars, created with IKINEMA’s inverse kinematics, are fairly well done, although they’re scaled strangely to fit a range of heights—from four feet to seven feet tall. At the bottom end of the range, you’re treated to a child-sized avatar holding giant guns, which while hilarious, is somewhat immersion breaking in co-op. More on that in the ‘Comfort‘ section.
Speaking of guns, they have a typical ‘VR weightlessness’ which is really hard to avoid without a dedicated peripheral like PS AIM (supported in the PSVR version). By not providing any recoil though, it makes them feel more like magic wands than massive weaponry fit for a space marine super soldier. No reloading or ability to drop your gun (they’re glued to your hands) puts any hand presence out of the question for Evasion.
Image courtesy Archiact
Enemy animations are competent, although all but a single rolling exploding robot type ever offered any up-close and personal encounters, as I was hoping for some melee from the hulking nine foot-tall walking bots that never materialized.
Vive controls are less capable overall, as I found it difficult to do tighter strafing maneuvers than on Oculus Touch’s analog sticks. Interactions in the game are however very simple (point and shoot), and while Vive movement is fairly sludgy, you can get used to them.
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Comfort
Because of the range of heights made available, you can easily play sitting down by putting your avatar’s height in the upper range.
Evasion also offers a number of locomotion modes that makes it a very comfortable game. You’ll be able to choose from a free locomotion mode with both variable snap-turn and smooth-turning, a ‘dash’ mode that turns your movements into a sort of instant teleportation slide show, and a jogging mode that allows you to jog in place to move in the desired directions. Of course, if you have a 360 tracking setup, you’ll be mostly relying on the head-relative forward movement.
Comfort vignettes can be toggled on to provide a temporary limiter to your field of view when you turn, which has been shown to help with motion-related nausea.
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