Vader Immortal is a new kind of Star Wars story, but an authentic one
As far as mascots to carry your new platform, you can hardly do better than Darth Vader, the iconic Star Wars villain who manages to be dangerous and sympathetic at once. Vader Immortal, the much-hyped virtual reality interactive story exclusive (at first) to Oculus Quest, is a story about our dark lord, but also about you.
Developed by ILMxLAB, (a branch of Industrial Light & Magic and part of LucasFilm Ltd.), Vader Immortal is a Star Wars adventure that you experience through the perspective of a smuggler captured by the Galactic Empire near Vader's secret base. Without spoiling too much, let's just say that there's something special about you that leads our husky-voiced Sith to take a particular interest in your fate. And yes, that involves the ability to use a lightsaber.
First off, it's important to stress that this isn't a video game. Anyone on tenterhooks for a modern VR Jedi Knight will have to keep waiting. Instead, it reminds more of an extended series of interactive cutscenes. As the story unfolds, you will be prompted to take certain actions like walking to a certain area, picking up an object, pulling a lever, climbing a ladder. But unlike in video games, it's not really possible to 'fail' and there aren't really any options. Rather, you have to follow the script, making you feel like an actor in a Star Wars movie. But that's a nice piece of wish-fulfillment on its own.
100% Star Wars
What Vader Immortal lacks in interactivity it more than makes up for in atmosphere, however. ILMxLAB can be proud of creating a Star Wars experience that feels truly authentic to the franchise. Smugglers, stormtrooper shootouts, jedi, dashing escapes, silly pseudo-mysticism, lightsaber swashbuckling and even a wisecracking droid sidekick. All the elements are there and done really well.
The mobile hardware of the Oculus Quest doesn't give you a photorealistic experience, with jagged edges and 2D backgrounds being noticeable, but manages to be very attractive and immersive closer to the action. Star Wars fans will get real thrills the first time you do a hyperspace jump, glimpse an imperial star destroyer or the onslaught of the stormtroopers, and see a lightsaber activate in their hands with that distinctive hum.
Vader himself has a suitably imposing and intimidating presence, and interestingly used. You don't get to fight the Star Wars bad guy yourself. After all, that's not how his story ends. But the scenes alongside Vader are highlights and if the title is anything to go by, there's much more to come in the next episodes. Special mention also goes to ZOE3, your droid companion, who, in the absence of your own voice, really helps bring the journey to life with quips, observations and advice excellently delivered by Maya Rudolph. Characters like these will be essential in keeping the series interesting given our silent protagonist.
But the lightsabers though
The lightsaber combat in Vader Immortal itself is exciting at first but won't challenge anyone. There are a few battles with droids, and a sequence where you can deflect laser blasts back at Stormtroopers in a nicely done escape sequence. Don't expect a challenge in the fight sequences though, the enemy moves are slow and loudly telegraphed and you can easily defeat them by the dishonorable yet effective 'stick it forward and wiggle it about' method that VR sword fighting became notorious for. It's all about making you feel powerful. In other segments, you'll activate your blade with a loud 'wom' to illuminate a dark corridor to slash through some obstacles.
For gamers looking for more of a challenge, Vader Immortal also includes a Lightsaber Dojo, where you can practice your skills against waves of increasingly difficult enemies, practicing techniques and encountering situations that never come up in the main story, but are hopefully a taste of things to come. Lightsaber Dojo is really fun and should take your much longer to complete than the main story, there's easily over a couple of hours with of activity there.
Watch our VR newbies try Lightsaber Dojo alongside other VR games for the first time:
Worth a buy?
At $9.99 for this first episode and mini-game bundle, I'd say that Vader Immortal gets the balance right in terms of price. Just know that you're not getting an in-depth video game with multiple story paths or much replayability. It's more like buying a movie, but the Lightsaber Dojo is a nice casual game that's great to show to friends. For more fully fledged video games though, the Oculus Quest also has plenty of titles on offer.
- Oculus Quest review: finally, VR that 'just works'
- How one of the best VR games made it to Oculus Quest
Vader Immortal's 45-minute main story left me wanting more, no doubt by design. For future, episodes, we see hints that point to using force powers and revealing some juicy tidbits of Darth Vader lore.
Vader Immortal Episode 1 was reviewed on Oculus Quest. The series will also be available on Oculus Rift S in the future.