One small step:
It wasn’t too long ago that exploring a derelict space station in a videogame had a fresh appeal, but with the influx of walking simulators, atmospheric horror titles and VR dives, the setting has become a well-worn one. But is “Downward Spiral: Horus Station” – the latest in a long line of VR spills through outer space chills – pulled ahead of the competition?
When I was an hour into Horus Station, I had the sudden realization that I didn’t really know what was going on. I was on a space station that was now empty – or at least, devoid of life – hurling myself around its quiet, atmospheric corridors without really knowing what was going on.
Similar walking sims have a focus on ‘found narrative’ – audio logs left after the fact that you help you piece together the history of the place. But Horus Station tries to do everything with its design alone, and it comes away wanting. I was never sure about Horus Station – the whys and the whos and the what-ifs – only that I was there and that pressing forwards satiated some in-built desire for progress that years of gaming has bestowed upon me.
The environment is well built enough to transfer a sense of dread and a vague history of something awful, but it’s too much of a burden to leave this up to design alone. A more hands on approach would have helped this game become… well, a game.
Pulling yourself around the – initially – empty corridors of Horus Station, with a variety of tools and abilities that let you traverse the zero-g environment is fun for the most part, and scratched an itch I’ve had for a long time as a sci-fi fan. Hurling myself through the games empty spaces towards my next destination felt like many moments from my favourite movies. Admittedly it began to wear on me as I ziplined between walls and struggled in the game’s trickier navigational sections, but it all aids that feeling of being adrift in space.
A lot of the best work of Horus Station is sadly lost, however, when the game introduces clunky, gummy combat. Using a hodgepodge arsenal of weaponry you can take down robotic threats, but I never felt like this added much – instead it seemed present only to check off a box on a list of ‘VR must-have features’. I think I’d have preferred if Horus Station had committed fully to its creepy exploration rather than gumming up the works with unenjoyable, three-sixty degree, zero-g fights.
It’s thanks to Horus Station’s tight visuals that the game is as engrossing and as atmospheric as it is. The dark station, flickering with emergency lights and cavernous dark stretches really sucked me in, and a couple of the game’s (somewhat cheap) scares had me gasping in the VR helmet. The sense of immersion is good here, and strangely comfortable. I was expecting to feel nauseous floating around the zero-g environs but I never felt sick.
The game’s sound design is mostly good too, with brooding sounds in the distance to keep you on your toes. Much like the fights themselves, the combat noise all feels a bit tinny and slapdash – even more reason it should have been skipped altogether.
It should be noted that there is actually a setting where you can remove the combat from the game, should you choose, but I wish the devs had been more confident in this setting to stick to it as default.
“Downward Spiral: Horus Station” struggles to stand up to some of the genres best, thanks to a lacklustre commitment to its story and some wholly unnecessary combat. Still, the game manages to deliver some strong 2001 vibes with its atmospheric romp through yet another space station brimming with mysteries. I just wish the mysteries had been a bit less… well, mysterious.