After the surprisingly good Vertigo Remastered, I jumped directly into Vertigo 2. Many reviews rated it as the best VR game since HL Alyx and I have to agree. Graphics are still simple in comparison, but the gameplay is top notch. The main trailer for the game referred to it as a Half-Like and I think it fits.
Vertigo 2 Graphic Improvements
When I played Vertigo Remastered, I noticed the simple graphics and textures in many parts of the game. Sometimes that is a design choice to help performance, but these games are developed by single person. I almost passed on that one. I’m happy to see the graphics in Vertigo 2 are a noticeable jump from the previous game.
The graphic improvements are apparent right from the title screen. Lighting and particle effects are miles above the original. There are still some simple textures and objects throughout the game, but plenty of fantastic set pieces to offset that. To be clear, Half Life Alyx is still king of VR graphics, but this effort by a single developer is a rare achievement.
Creatures are still weird like the first, but modeled with greater detail than the last game. Characters like Henrique are like nothing I’ve seen in a game before with his hovering severed arm on one side and tentacle on the other. The weird stretched skin over voice box face channels Hellraiser. I didn’t bother with a picture since he’s in all the trailers.
Weapons Look Great
Graphically, the weapons were a strength of the first game and Vertigo 2 greatly improves on them. Even most weapon upgrades are reflected on top of the weapon models with great Sci Fi flare. I especially loved the look of the Alien grenade launcher after applying radio shack style counters and laser pointers as upgrades.
The animations are still stock rigs, though I can’t really expect motion capture with a 1 developer studio. The style is a bit on the cartoonish side, but definitely more detailed. I am a bit annoyed the main character still has no legs. There’s too many mirrors not to notice that omission. No more legless VR games!
It’s also mixed when it comes to item collisions. Hands reliably collide with just about everything and weapons typically do also. Everything else is mixed. I can easily clip my weapons through my body or many other characters.
Vertigo 2 is a next gen level graphical upgrade comparison over the first, for sure.
Great Vertigo 2 Gameplay
Gameplay was a big strength of the first game and Vertigo 2 elevates that. More weapons, more game mechanics and interactions. Game length is much longer and environments are much more open with great ambiance. The story is also better. Love the spectacle of the wide open areas.
Vertigo 2 Weapons are Stars of the Show
I especially love the guns and upgrades in Vertigo 2. The energy shotgun was my early favorite and I upgraded that first. No more collecting orange teleport juice like the first game for upgrades. Upgrades are available via single use suitcase 3d printers. It still rewards exploration to find those, but I prefer this method.
What really impressed me was how almost ever upgrade reflected on the gun. Normal gun sights attached as you expect, but the other upgrades were like custom Radio Shack parts thrown together. As I mentioned about graphics, even the weird Alien gun’s mods were a nice techno touch. Even the final Alien gun upgrade projectiles change visually.
Unlike the first, game there’s no venting overheated energy weapons. Every gun required a reload. At least there’s no searching for ammo, it just restocks itself on a cooldown. The limited ammo capacity and reload mechanic forces switching guns often.
That is a fine mechanic to force trying different guns, but the trackpads on the Valve Index controllers were an issue. When in a tense battle like a boss fight, It was easy to accidentally hit the teleport button or weapon wheel. I wish I tried to unbind the teleport button from the trackpad since it was also bound to the left thumbstick.
Missing the Teleport Wand from Vertigo Remastered
The teleport wand was great in the first game. Aiming, then peering through the globe-like window to the other side, then pulling it to my face to complete the jump. Vertigo 2 replaced that with a high tech bracelet to one press teleport. Simpler sure, but also easier to accidentally activate.
I do like that the bracelet serves as a health indicator, storage and ammo regeneration. A nice tool for the game. In practice, it can be a bit awkward trying to grab items from it while moving. Part of the problem their might be that I chose to tie smooth locomotion to where my hand pointed.
I like to be able to look left and right while moving forward, so using headset direction for movement is out for me.
Boss Fights Weird Fun and Sometimes Frustrating
Much like the first Vertigo boss fights, those in Vertigo 2 are unique, fun and a bit frustrating. They are better than the first. Most were fun and strange, but there were two that annoyed me a lot. The first was the Alien leader of the hyper cube cult. Him and his big to turban took me 10 times to defeat.
At that point in the game, I had to choose whether to help the workers faction (basically Soviet Union) or the elitist religious cult (pretty sure they mean Americans). I’m anti religious cults, so I chose the workers. That faithful choice led me to the frustrating fight. Not sure if the alternate boss would be better or worse.
Dodging the cult leader attacks while he also spawned enemies to chase me was tough. It took me all those times to learn to be patient, hide to regen health and take out the smaller enemies first. It was such a relief when he finally died. Also great to know things would have been very different if I supported the other faction.
The final boss was almost as annoying with 3 different phases. After a few tries of getting past the first phase, I thought I was done, but then phase 2 started. Once I ended phase 2, it was frustrating to find out there’s a phase 3 with my health so low.
I actually lucked out the first time in phase 3 when the boss knocked me through the locked door. That led to a room with the health stations. I was so happy to replenish my health, but got killed trying to rush down the hall to attack.
Great Valve and Sci Fi Easter Eggs
Considering one of the games trailers mention it is a half-like, it’s no surprise for some Valve Easter eggs to show up. I found a portal gun when I picked up the energy shotgun, but assumed it was just a nod to Valve. Later, I found out there is a way to get into that room and use it.
Later on in the game, there was even a full on set of Portal test rooms. It was a great nod to Portal and sort of a proof of concept that a Portal game would work in VR. Valve just needs to be brave enough to deal with the possible motion sickness and just make one.
There’s a bit in the beginning where the game pokes fun at how ridiculous a crowbar is to fight aliens. I’d even say the open alien world areas remind me a lot of the Xen section of the first Half Life game. The Alien grenade launcher definitely feels like something I’d find in a Half Life game.
Possibly my favorite Easter Egg was a whole homage to Stargate. The startup process and the actual gate. Big thumbs up there. There’s probably a ton of other game/Sci Fi references I missed or I’m forgetting about.
Vertigo 3 Please
After playing both Vertigo Remastered and Vertigo 2, I’ll 100% preorder a Vertigo 3 if that happens. Considering the state of PC gaming, I’ve avoided preordering any games, so that’s high praise. I’m so impressed by the work the one developer at Zulubo Productions completed for these 2 games.
Sure there were some helpers, but the vast majority of the games are completed by one guy. Valve should buy Zulubo Productions and give them a budget with a bit of independence. I can only imagine what a full development team could do with a Vertigo 3.