If you’ve ever hunted through a monster-infested dungeon and thought, “man, I wish I were really there,” Left Hand Path is for you. Part dungeon crawler, part Dark Souls, and a little dash of horror complete the spell-slinging virtual reality package. Get ready to step into the shoes of a hero about to meet his doom. This is our review of Left Hand Path.
I came into the game dark and that’s probably the best way to experience it. The fun of Left Hand Path is in the discovery and some of its best moments are rooted in it. Discovering the path through a zone. Discovering a new spell. Discovering an enemy’s weakness. Going in, I’d heard that the game was essentially a virtual reality Dark Souls from Strange Company, the machinima studio turned development house of Hugh Hancock, and that was enough to catch my interest.
When I realized that I’d be casting spells by drawing runes in the air, I was dismayed and then delighted. Drawing spells, saying spells into a mic – these are ideas that have been tried in the past and fallen flat. But in Left Hand Path, thanks to the fidelity of the Vive controllers and some smart design that allows movement as they’re drawn, it actually works. Being nimble on your toes is important, too, because enemies are tough and will send you sprawling in a few scant hits.
If that discovery is one half of the recipe that makes the game work, the sweet satisfaction of overcoming is the other. Left Hand Path expects you to memorize a lot if you want to survive, both in the levels and in the enemies. Getting to that point takes more than a little trial and error and you should expect to die.
If you’re the kind of gamer who gets frustrated easily or are more interested in the “experience” over gameplay, Left Hand Path isn’t for you.
You’ll be creeping around corners, scouting out deadly rooms, and putting yourself in harm’s way throughout. The impetus here, like most RPGs, is booty; in this case, books and readables to upgrade your spells. This is room scale VR, which allows you to wander about, and it’s here that the horror elements come into play. The atmospheric sound effects and dark and dingy spaces, coupled with the ever-present sense of danger keep things tense. There are a few jump scares, but only due to well-placed enemies. All of this works far better than it would if Left Hand Path were a “normal” PC game. The game leverages VRs sense of presence to excellent effect.
Unlike many games on Vive, you can teleport or use normal movement simultaneously. When enemies find you, you’ll need to be able to move fluidly. Mastering this system takes a little bit of time but is important to do. In the thick of a fight, you want to feel nimble on your toes. It’s a nice touch, having both options, but be prepared to take some time climbing the learning curve of dual control.
Even though Left Hand Path is a fun game and likely to deliver what a lot of VR fans have been hoping for, it’s a bit of a let down graphically. VR players are used to scaled back graphics, but even so, Left Hand Path feels distinctly rough around the edges. Everything is a bit too blocky and finer details, like door handles, are often painted on instead of being modeled. Animations, too, leave a lot to be desired. Virtual reality and that feeling of physically being in the space does a lot to make up for these shortcomings but even compared to many other VR games, Left Hand Path falls short. Animations shouldn’t shatter your immersion. Here, they sometimes do.
There’s also the occasional bug still to find. And, players savvy to the tricks of VR can game the system by simply peeking their head through walls to see what’s on the other side. That’s not on the developer so much as the gamer, but it will be a happy day when gamers simply have this kind of temptation blocked from the get-go.
At the end of the day, Left Hand Path is doing something gamers have been clamoring for in virtual reality. It’s a hard, retro- and Dark Souls-inspired dungeon crawler that rewards exploration and doesn’t end after its first hour-long episode. Add to that a number of small touches that show the developer understands virtual reality and what it can do, and you have a game that’s definitely worth exploring, as long as you can get past the too-polygonal art and disappointing animations.
Note: Our review was conducted on the HTC Vive with a code provided by PR.
- Exploring is fun and tension-filled
- Rune-based spell slinging works well
- Compelling sense of progression
- Presentation needs work
- Still some bugs and clipping issues