Review: Downward Spiral: Horus Station – No tailspins here

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Downward Spiral: Horus Station is a space-based survival title where players will navigate their way through a derelict in hopes to survive and find a way to safety. Along the way, they will encounter unforeseen puzzles, dangers, and secrets that lie just ahead. Find out what we thought of this atmospherically narrated game in our review today.


Pros:
+One of the most unsettling atmospheres ever designed in a realistic space-focused title
+Puzzles can be challenging, fun, and somewhat rewarding
+An absolutely astonishing atmospheric score from HIM frontman Ville Valo
+Controls with PlayStation Move wands are absolutely immersive and easy to learn
+Optional combat turns the game into an atmospheric thriller versus shooter title.

Cons:
-Non-VR controls are frustrating, clumsy and take away from the enjoyment of the game
-Online play is fun but grows rather stale in a matter of minutes
-Doesn’t support the non-VR use of the PlayStation Move Wands


When I imagine space, I don’t imagine starships warping in and out of their warp space drives. I also don’t imagine aliens walking about or the worlds that Star Trek has provided. Instead, I imagine a place that is dark, lonely, and no sound can be heard. I imagine a place where astronomical objects and other celestial bodies exist in an ocean of an infinite cold vacuum we can never inhabit.

I imagine survival in space is an ultimate trial of endurance, mental stability, and mind over matter. But what happens when something goes catastrophically wrong, when the infinite void we know as space has a different concept of time and space as we know it? As someone who lives in a house where a PlayStation VR is available, I’ve been given the chance to go on several of adventures that often tested my endurance and ability to maintain situational awareness.

But now, my first ability to experience living in space has been given to me thanks to the experiences that awaited in Downward Spiral: Horus Station. In this pseudo-simulator, the life of living in space wasn’t what I expected in a space-based sci-fi future where humanity had begun to live among the stars and would transcend every concept we’d imagined for space exploration.

Since my time with ADR1FT from 505 Games, I’ve been craving my time with the game, hungering for my chance to experience another space-survival simulation. Now, here I am, once more given a chance to freely explore a space station that has fallen victim to quite a bit of damage. With its 8-10 hour experience it has to offer, Downward Spiral: Horus Station is a rather happy medium of survival, space exploration, and semi-shooter elements.

Much like EA’s now-defunct franchise Dead Space, our latest space exploration leaves us with little to no idea what has happened, why it happened and what managed to kill off the entire crew. Now, what we do need to talk about is what makes Downward Spiral: Horus Station stand out among its peers.

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The station is all of yours to explore

Despite your having to survive the rogue A.I. that roam the ship (we’ll touch on this later), your time in Horus Station itself is a bit different than one might expect. Whether you are in VR or not, your control settings aren’t the cookie cutter “left thumbstick to move forward” or “use this button to warp” designs.

Instead, you have to use your hands, literally, your hands in order to move, raising and lowering them to grab onto walls, fixtures, and even computer consoles in order to move about. The sensation of zero gravity wasn’t an afterthought by any means. The developer themselves brought this to life, allowing players to take note of the narrative cues that are placed around each piece of the station.

In one section, you’ll find floating bodies of your team, some with damage to them, which tells you of the grim fate they had suffered. Other things include scorch marks around the station, damaged machinery or rooms that look as if they had been blasted to pieces. While this is rather enjoyable, it still left me with more questions than it did with answers. I didn’t understand exactly what was happening, what I was needing to understand or why the vision my character had of Egyptian ruins even played a massive role within the game.

Unlike Dead Space or ADR1FT, I had no idea what was really going on in the massive station I was exploring. All I knew were a select few things. One, the security robots have gone absolutely nuts. Two, I’m the only one alive. But why? Why did everything go absolutely wrong?

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The experience can be quite frustrating

Most of the time, however, I had to navigate bugs and quite a few of them at that. Playing in PlayStation VR was my only option at this point. DualShock controls were infuriating and left me feeling as if they were a second thought. They made movement hard, they made it hard to move, shoot and aim as I went through Horus Station.

To put things into perspective: You need to play this game with a VR headset. All of this is due to the fact that travel is physics based. The game wants you to move your hand in order to use surfaces, furniture, and fixtures to propel yourself around the station. The controller aspect doesn’t allow you to do this in a feasible manner. One thing that would have been nice is playing the game with PlayStation Move wands without using a VR headset.

Sure, the immersion would be a lot less possible, but it’s still there, it’s still something you’d be able to do. With the wands you can reach out, you can grab the handles, pull the levers, and even push the buttons and switches on each of the panels. All of them even responding to the actions you make such as the clicking of buttons and the flipping of switches.

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But it doesn’t mean Horus Station isn’t an admirably designed piece of art

Horus Station, for all intents and purposes, is now a derelict station. It’s an uncomfortable place to be and one that leaves you crushed by the sense of isolation. There’s no one to talk to, no one to interact with, and the only thing that even gives you some sense of life is the subtle ambient score from musician Ville Valo (singer from HIM) when you aren’t being attacked by the rogue A.I. that patrol the ship.

If you turn off the combat mechanics, you’ll find that Horus Station is just as haunting as it sounds. Death, unfortunately, isn’t permanent in Downward Spiral: Horus Station and it takes away that sense of immersion and claustrophobic helplessness that 3rd Eye Studio wanted you to feel. Without combat on, I was mortified by my overall experience all because I was alone, I didn’t know if help would come and find me and take me back to the nearest human civilization – if there even was one to go home too.

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That’s where Horus Station as a piece of engineering comes to life. It’s beautiful, it’s big and its something you could imagine yourself actually on. Whether it’s the floating coffee cups, memos or even the pieces of broken robots floating about – it’s a magnificent experience that is truly hauntingly beautiful. There were moments where I found myself just floating about with the VR headset on and taking time to look about, admiring the small details of the damage the station has actually taken.

When doing a spacewalk, it’s even harder not to admire the game as a piece of art. As I’ve said, it’s a hauntingly beautiful experience when you turn off the combat mechanic, allowing you to complete all the puzzles before you and making your way through the derelict you once called home. If you don’t, you’ll have a sense of panic to worry about as machines rain fire down upon you in order to take you out in a matter of minutes.

That approach took away from the artistic nature of the game and made me restart the game and finally enjoy it for what it is – a haunting space exploration title where I’m the only survivor in a catastrophic event that happened. An event that left me to move as quickly as I can through the derelict, finding keycards, completing puzzles and hunting down codes that are scattered through each of the heavily damaged sections of the ship.

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Downward Spiral: Horus Station is a truly haunting experience

While the animations, the scenery and traversal mechanics are haunting enough, the game truly finds a win through both its sound and visual designs. Those very elements are what make Horus Station as haunting of a place as it is. Often you will hear the creaking of metal, the bass-heavy thumps as you pull down door controls, forcing open an airlock or two so you can move from one part of the station to another.

Even the visuals themselves such as the old computers, the retro-fitted chairs, and clunky suits all feel as if they were inspired by movies ranging from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Ridley Scott’s 1979 masterpiece ALIEN. Just like Alien and 2001: A Space Odyssey, the game solely focuses on the graphical and artistic designs that somehow interweave themselves with the games sound design itself.

The atmosphere itself is so melancholic, so lonely, that there were times I could hear my heart beating as my chest as I desperately reached out to grab a hold of a nearby piece of debris in order to propel myself forward during one of the spacewalks. Unfortunately, I fell a few inches short and found myself slowly floating deeper into outer space, floating away from the only thing that kept me alive.

That feeling of helplessness as I drifted into the infinite black wasn’t something I could have felt without a VR headset and it’s something that has led me to believe that Downward Spiral: Horus Station is quite possibly one of the most terrifying six act games I’d ever played.

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I’m now a believer in psychological thriller VR games – The Conclusion

As someone who doesn’t do much VR, I’ve never really felt the horror I’d felt before. I’d never felt the panic I felt as my character drifted off into outer space, no one there to help him as he swiped at the floating debris and the subtle sounds of space emitted through my headset.

If you’re someone that wants that feeling, that wants to feel that overbearing isolation haunt you, then this is definitely the game for you. But remember, while you don’t need a headset, the game is night and day when played with and without a VR headset of any form. It’s one that’s haunting, it’s one that will leave you feeling claustrophobic even in its large-scale hallways where no one else is there to be seen. It’s just you, in the dark, in the night, in the cold black depths of space looking to survive an unknown space-born disaster that no one may ever save you from.

Downward Spiral: Horus Station
Platforms: 
PC and PlayStation 4 (VR headsets supported)
Version Reviewed:
PlayStation 4 via PSVR
Developer: 
3rd Eye Studios Oy LTD
Publisher:
3rd Eye Studios Oy LTD
Release Date: 
Available Now
Cost:
$19.99

Then again, what can save you from the depths of space where no one can hear you scream?


Our review is based upon a retail version that was provided to us by the publisher of the game. For information about our ethics policy please click here.


 Final Score: 7.5 out of 10


About the Writer(s):

dustin_batgr_prof

Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.

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