Downward Spiral: Horus Station is a zero gravity, psychological puzzle thriller. The developers and publishers are 3rd Eye Studios, and the game was released on the 31st May 2018. The platforms this game can be played on are for the following: PS4/ PSVR, PC, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Windows Mixed Reality, and it can be played solo or through multiplayer. The team behind this game comes from all forms of the entertainment industry, whether that’s from video games, films, the arts and music. Here are a few references they have collectively worked on: Toy Story 2-3, WALL-E, and games such as Ori and the Blind Forest, Halo 5: Guardians, Alan Wake and the Trials series. There is a diverse mixture of knowledge and skills which are found in Downward Spiral: Horus Station, which feels familiar yet wholesomely different as the blend of all fields comes together to create a compelling tale of survival, exploration and discovery.
A Story That’s Discovered Not Told
The story behind Horus Station reminds me of films such as Event Horizon and Alien, where the themes of space travel and threats (being extraterrestrial or supernatural) loom large over everyone involved. In this adventure, you start off on a planet with no explanation or reason, mountains are all around and you are drifting towards what looks like a stone arch. Dust storms cloud your vision in every other direction, and then the screen whites out.
You wake up and you’re floating. With no traditional narrative to guide you, the rest is up-to you. Exploration gives way to curiosity, and you start on your adventure into this very lonely place. The whole game has been designed from the ground up where the environment and the accompanying music are your guides. Areas and hubs are highlighted by the retro-futuristic designs which help distinguish certain segments of the station. Brightly coloured lights bathe wide open spaces, highlighting paths that are potentially blocked off to give you a visual clue that you shouldn’t go that way. Likewise, some areas have serene lighting indicating areas of safety and that this is the way to follow.
I Wonder What’s This Way?
This is not always the case though, as in my playthrough I quickly found that exploring the Horus Station is filled with many threats to your survival. Opening up an airlock could lead to a room filled with crates of supplies and gear, or it could be housing threats that are ready to pounce on you with the tenacity of a dog on a bone. Fight or flight is the name of the game here. Find cunning ways to outmanoeuvre your foes and use the environments to your advantage, and you’ll see what your made of.
This tension is also heightened by the accompaniment of the music. Just as much as the environment is a key player in the narrative, the music is what keeps you hooked (in my opinion) as the ever-changing electronica-style music sets the tone and feel of what the developers are creating here: a sense of isolation, fear and curiosity. Find a keycard floating in a room, the music then kicks in to highlight what’s happened as a result. This was never more apparent when seeing a body floating past a window. The music made me jump and look all around to find the source of the change, whether it be good or bad. It made me ready, finger on the trigger.
Fight or Flight?
That is the response this title thrusts upon you. Do you fight and annihilate the threats that are gunning for you, or do you find another sneaky way through to avoid battles you’d rather not fight? In my playthrough, it was a little bit of column A and little of column B. Not all situations are easily solved with a weapon in your hand and a can-do attitude. Sometimes the threats you face are just too difficult to deal with and need some out of the box thinking to escape. For example, I was faced with a big threat, I kept dying over and over again thinking I could take it out. But after numerous retries, it dawned on me that maybe I wasn’t meant to fight it, just avoid its gaze and sneak around to carry on to my objective. Once I discovered this for myself, I was able to use this thinking in the later scenarios the game had in store for me. The ability to look at a situation, analyse and plan my best course of action was key to surviving.
In each scenario presented to you, you find an array of tools to help you in your plight. The game’s developers wanted to create weapons that weren’t there for show, like the bolt thrower. This would be used to help with maintenance and repairs but can double up as a makeshift weapon. These tools get more elaborate as the game progresses, and each has an array of effects that can help you. None more so when you get your hands on the two most useful tools in the game: the grapple line and the zero-G booster. These two tools alone make your life so much easier as you can quickly move around without having to find the nearest wall to push yourself off of.
In Horus Station, No One Can Hear You Scream
Downward Spiral: Horus Station has many mechanics to get your head around, and once you’ve learned how to fully navigate the environment, you can solve puzzles with a bit of creative thinking. That’s the beauty of this title, you can learn how to play at your own pace. There’s even a mode that lets you take away hostile threats. You can explore and solve puzzles without having to worry about what’s in the next room that may be locked and loaded. Also, in response to this option, you can invite a friend to join you on this puzzle thrill ride together. In doing so, it opens up more revenues for you to explore as the game will have co-op specific challenges to overcome that you would not be able to do on your own, thus creating a fun gameplay experience as you explore Horus Station together.
However, that’s not to say the game hasn’t got its downsides. I did notice a few things whilst playing that caught my attention mainly the loading times when entering a new zone. You would go to open a door and the game would glitch, turning you upside down and the wrong way around, and by the time you had turned around again, the door had inevitably closed (at least for me it did). When exploring certain rooms and areas that are off the beaten path, you can find rooms that are not meant to be explored and will teleport you back to the start point. This happened to me on my very first spacewalk outside of the ship. My curious nature got the better of me, and I floated off for an explore, only to be brought back to the beginning which was a bit of a downer.
As Horus Station can be played with a VR headset on numerous platforms, playing this game without it can feel like you’re missing out on the full immersion of the experience the creators put so much work into. That’s not to say that the game isn’t fun to play, far from it. But the way in which the controls are laid out lends itself to the VR arena more.
All in all, I definitely enjoyed this experience as the feel of the game is spot on for what they were going for. The setting of space and the theme of engaging puzzles to be solved will appeal to players who like to sit back and take their time. But if action is what you’re looking for, you can find it when you progress through the game and have the enemies on for the full experience.
Developer: 3rd Eye Studios
Publisher: 3rd Eye Studios
Platforms: PS4/PSVR, PC, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Windows Mixed Reality.
Release Date: 31st May 2018
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