We have been playing ARKTIKA.1 since Sunday when we received a pre-release reviewer’s code from the publisher, 4A. These are the same devs who created the incredible Metro series for the PC which remains one of our favorite shooter series. Although ARKTIKA.1 is a VR shooter set in a frozen future wasteland and you play as a mercenary, it is not the same story as the Metro series which is set in Moscow. Rather, ARKTIKA.1 takes place in Vostok, a frozen region of Russia ravaged by intense climate change, and it is your job to defend the settlement.
ARKTIKA.1 was announced about a year ago and we were also able to demo it at NVIDIA’s booth at E3 where we were quite impressed, but weren’t quite sure how teleportation would work in the final game or if it would take the apprehension out of an otherwise-suspenseful action shooter. It’s also a game that cannot be played very well seated as the player has to move, duck and often hide, and this editor has issues with walking or standing without a cane for additional support. Fortunately, we were able to play ARKTIKA.1 with 6 video cards – and although FCAT VR is not able to capture frametime results yet – we were able to play the game with the Oculus Rift DeBug Tool’s performance HUD running and can give general recommendations for settings.
ARKTIKA.1 was designed exclusively for the Oculus Touch, and being able to dual-wield two weapons effectively is challenging but a lot of fun. Set a century into the future, our planet is in the grip of a new Ice Age. Only small pockets of humanity survive in small numbers existing in inhospitable yet resource-rich areas. The Vostok colony in the frozen wastelands of old Russia is beset by raiders, marauders, and deformed but powerful mutant creatures called Yagas (after the famous witch in Russian literature, Baba Yaga). And you are called upon to potentially give humanity a second chance as you unravel the mystery of Vostok.
Using the newest version of 4A’s own engine, ARKTIKA.1 delivers some incredible visuals, even surpassing CryTek’s Robinson: The Journey in our opinion. Best of all, the game engine is very efficient and you will not need a GTX 1080 Ti to play on the maximum, Extreme Settings. In fact, Extreme Settings are not so much more detailed than High Setting which a GTX 1060 or RX 480 can just manage. There are also Medium and Low Settings which still look decent for lower-end video cards.
We played ARKTIKA.1 using a Core i7-6700K at 4.0GHz where all 4 cores turbo to 4.6GHz, an ASRock Z170 motherboard, and 16GB of Kingston HyperX DDR4 at 3333MHz on Windows 10 64-bit Home Edition. We used the very latest drivers from NVIDIA (387.92 released today), and 17.9.3 which are the latest drivers from AMD at time of writing and playing ARKTIKA.1. Here are the six video cards we played ARKTIKA.1 with:
- GTX 1080 Ti FE 11GB
- GTX 1080 FE 8GB
- GTX 1070 FE 8GB
- EVGA GTX 1060 SC 6GB
- Gigabyte RX Vega 64 Liquid Cooled Edition 8GB
- Gigabyte RX 480 G1 8GB
One has to experience ARKTIKA.1 as a VR player to appreciate it, and absolutely not from viewing clips on a tablet, nor from watching Youtube gameplay videos. And there is absolutely no way to convey the sense of immersion that comes from playing it in VR with the feeling of actually “being there”. We received a reviewer’s code courtesy of 4A’s PR partner just two days before the game released this morning. And although we have spent at least 5 or 6 hours playing the game, we have not quite completed it yet. We are told that the game is about 6 to 8 hours long, depending on the player’s skill and how quickly the puzzles can be solved.
ARKTIKA.1 was stable for us although we had to restart the game twice to proceed. When battling a boss, the cue to finish it off was missing, and we had to restart the mission to complete it. There were also a couple of times where complete frustration took over when we could not throw a flare ahead easily, for example, and some of our interactions with the environment were not ideal.
Although the final build will not be released until tomorrow morning, generally we experienced few bugs and almost no issues with the Touch Controllers interaction with the environment until the dark areas in the third mission. The save system is checkpoint which means if you fail, you go back to the beginning of the checkpoint but you are usually not sent so far back as to be discouraged.
Weapon choices and upgrades are a big part of ARKTIKA.1. The players begins with a several gun choices including the basic revolver which can be significantly upgraded by using credits the player earns by completing missions. The player can dual-wield weapons, or choose to hold a weapon and a personal shield. The guns have a very good feel to them and they differentiate themselves from each other very well.
As the player gains more credits, he can choose to upgrade his weapons, improve and upgrade his armor, or choose other weapons like shields. We particularly liked an optional add on to our pistol that could highlight enemy NPCs through walls. And there is a really fun and powerful electromagnetic pistol that automatically targets NPCs in cover with enemy-seeking bullets. And of course, the player gets to customize his weapons with custom colors, and he can use the armory for target practice.
Locomotion & Enemy NPCs
ARKTIKA.1 relies on teleportation and there is no other movement choice available. Fortunately, like the best of VR games that use teleportation like Robo Recall, ARKTIKA.1 uses it to best advantage. Often the player is up against incredible odds with many enemy NPCs shooting simultaneously from all directions, and teleportation allows the player to instantly change positions and use strategy to take out the enemies before they have a chance to react.
There is no “natural” movement in PC or VR gaming, as pressing “W” to go forward is no more natural than teleporting to a location. It really depends on how well locomotion is implemented for immersion to be successful, and ARKTIKA.1 is one of the best VR games that use teleportation today. In fact, teleportation is even written into the story.ARKTIKA.1 is a lot of fun – this editor has laughed out loud many times, and he also cursed back at the enemy NPCs. Firefights are more intense in VR than playing on a flat screen and there are some moments that provide real thrills and great satisfaction in completing objectives.
ARKTIKA.1 requires that the player get good at finding cover. The cover points are well-designed to appear natural and strategic with few points leaving the player frustrated. The game is not difficult on easy even though there are many enemy NPCs fielded at once. You will have to look in all directions – especially up for snipers. But even increasing the difficulty level doesn’t improve the enemy AI although they become more difficult to kill and your armor protects less as the difficulty goes up. And there are the rare bosses which require learning their weaknesses and the correct sequence of moves to take them out.
ARKTIKA.1 is full of puzzles and although none of them are difficult, they keep the pacing of the game relatively slow. The player often has to look for clues in the environment, and a couple of times this player actually took off his HMD to make notes of future door codes. Sometimes it isn’t obvious what to do, and sometimes it may require just shooting your weapon in all directions to break through to the next teleportation location. The idea is to constantly move forward from one teleportation point to the next – you have to be able to look at the next point to move there, and sometimes requiring a light source to move is a factor you have to consider before moving.
ARKTIKA.1 is often quite dark, and the player may sometimes need his weapon flash just to see where to go next. There are also glow sticks available for certain pitch-black areas, but we found these areas more tedious than fun. The dark is also used to create tension, and the misshapen Yagas will often leap at the player with a bloodcurdling sound that is quite startling. At times, you actually feel you are moving though a dangerous massive complex beset by challenges to overcome at every turn.
Realism and Fun factor
ARKTIKA.1 is believable and it immerses the player into its frozen world of raiders and mutants with a story that is sufficient to move the action along, and it is logical to its own world. Virtual reality is particularly well-suited for shooter games as each hand holds a weapon naturally with each Touch controller and your eyes confirm it is happening in the VR world. In this way, a player’s sense of immersion becomes exceptionally deep. The HMD limits a player’s field of view much like a protective helmet does, and a VR player can look in any direction just as in real life. However, there is a mild screendoor effect that increasing the Pixel Density like SuperSampling can minimize, and this game’s visuals are among the very best available in VR today.
ARKTIKA.1’s audio is very good and it is positional which means that it’s easier to tell where enemy NPCs are based by their gunfire sounds, making the audio quite immersive. The audio from the Oculus Rift headset is particularly well-delivered adding to the immersion of the VR experience and the gunfire sounds are excellent. You will also hear the enemy NPCs taunting and cursing you with thick Russian accents remembering that it is a Mature-rated game and not for children.
ARKTIKA.1 VR Performance
We have favorably compared FCAT VR with our own video benchmarks which use a camera to capture images directly from a Rift HMD lens. For BTR’s regular VR testing methodology, please refer to this evaluation.
Until FCAT VR was released in March, there was no universally acknowledged way to accurately benchmark the Oculus Rift as there are no SDK logging tools available. To compound the difficulties of benchmarking the Rift, there are additional complexities because of the way it uses a type of frame reprojection called asynchronous space warp (ASW) to keep framerates steady at either 90 FPS or at 45 FPS. It is important to be aware of VR performance since poorly delivered frames will actually make a VR experience quite unpleasant and the user can even become VR sick.
Unfortunately, FCAT VR’s Capture Tool evidently needs to be updated for ARKTIKA.1. But by using the Oculus Rift performance HUD, it is easy to see how much headroom there is while the game is playing. The GTX 1080 Ti is able to deliver a constant 90 FPS with at least 20% performance headroom in even the very toughest firefights, and there is even room for increasing the Pixel Density which is similar to adding SuperSampling in a PC game which will sharpen the visuals although text is quite clear and easy to read even on medium or High settings. The GTX 1080 and the RX Vega 64 Liquid Cooled edition can both barely manage Extreme Settings although there is no performance headroom, and occasionally the game goes into ASW reprojection as 90 FPS cannot always be delivered.
The GTX 1080 and the Vega 64 are perhaps best suited for High settings where their extra performance headroom can handle some SuperSampling by increasing the Pixel Density. The GTX 1070 is perfect for High settings although there is little performance headroom, but the RX 480 and the GTX 1060 can barely handle High, and they both might be better suited for Medium settings with some added Pixel Density. At any rate, even when we played our cards with little performance headroom, we got no unease or discomfort as framerates were steadily delivered at either 90 or 45 FPS and the gameplay remained fluid.
Let’s head to our conclusion.
NVIDIA has released GeForce 387.92 driver yesterday that is specifically optimized for ARKTIKA.1, and for the best AMD experience, use their latest drivers – Crimson Software ReLive 17.9.3. ARKTIKA.1 is extremely well optimized and will play well on a range of cards from the GTX 1080 Ti on Extreme settings to the GTX 1060 and RX 480 on High or Medium. The tiniest details and the game design are incredible, and even when you step into your elevator, it actually plays “elevator music”.
ARKTIKA.1 is a really fun game with some replayability as different weapons and higher difficulty settings can be picked after the first playthrough. The immersion level that VR provides really adds to this game and it is perhaps the strongest argument for VR in gaming. VR performance is excellent with today’s modern video cards, and even a GTX 1060 or a RX 480 will be able to manage High settings without dropping too many frames or going into continual reprojection.
If we have to give it a score, ARKTIKA.1 deserves an “8.0” in our opinion as an excellent VR shooter with incredible immersion that stands up with the best VR shooters available today. Teleportation is particularly well done, and can be used strategically to eliminate the army of raiders bent on destroying you. However, there may be some interactions with the environment that may be frustrating for some.
ARKTIKA.1 comes highly recommended especially for shooter fans with a decent story and great gameplay. It is also a must-have for Oculus Rift Touch owners who like similar games including Serious Sam: The Last Hope and Robo Recall. The graphics and audio are outstanding, gameplay has a great feel, and the weapons options and choices for customization are awesome. We feel it is worth the current asking price of $29.99 for a decent-length, high-quality VR game with a good story, and some replayability.
ARKTIKA.1 will become BTR’s latest VR benchmark once FCAT VR is updated. Stay tuned as we have many more reviews and evaluations coming up. Our next scheduled review is of the VertDesk v3 and we are preloading Middle Earth: Shadow of War for a playthrough and an upcoming review next week.