There are some experiences that can only exist in VR.
Whether it be donning a weaponized suit and soaring through the skies at break-neck speed or leaping improbable distances from rooftop to rooftop, virtual reality grants us mere mortals the chance to become the stuff of legends.
Some players will relish the opportunity to embody the role of a blockbuster movie badass in VR, performing feats of death-defying heroism and overcoming logic and physics with glorious slow-motion leaps.
If that piques your interest, then I have two words for you.
What is it?: A roguelike combat shooter featuring fast-paced movement and swinging action.
Platforms: Quest 2, Quest Pro
Release Date: Out now
My Heart Will Go On…
Dead Hook is the latest addition to the Quest library’s ever growing pantheon of rougelike games, where users play through successive “runs” and gradually upgrade their character, with the hope of progressing further than they did last time.
In Dead Hook, each run will see the player battle through a series of creature-infested rooms, blasting a path through the treacherous biomes of an alien world. Rooms will offer particular missions that players can select before entering, allowing some agency over the type of combat and reward faced as the run progresses.
In the opening minutes, Dead Hook establishes a fairly light touch narrative that fits the genre well. Through the rhetoric of a voiced companion character, players are given enough context and motivation to feel grounded in a world that otherwise centers almost entirely around high-octane ultra-violence.
The story provides an almost ambient study of loss, love and choice. It understands the audience, treading the balance between action and narrative well, giving just enough to create a connection to the character without slowing anything down.
Where Dead Hook really shines, however, is in its action.
With Dead Hook, JoyWay has crafted an intense combat system unlike anything else on the platform. Players are armed with grappling hooks on each hand, which let you dash in any direction via simple gestures or swing in arcs through the cavernous biomes of the undead world. It’s an incredibly intuitive movement system – you can expect to be darting around with precision in a surprisingly short time.
Once movement is mastered, you can focus on the game’s range of sci-fi inspired riffs on classic gun types. You begin with a randomly-selected weapon, which you can either upgrade or replace depending on the items that are yielded out as you progress. The action is designed around perpetual motion, with the guns well-designed to match the fast pace of combat, resulting in solid, satisfying gunplay.
A charged super move, in the form of twin retractable blades, can be deployed in order to reap maximum carnage. While these look great and do yield a powerful attack, using the blades can be a bit underwhelming and often forgotten in the heat of battle.
Successfully dodging projectiles or stringing together combos will trigger ‘Rapid’, a bullet time mode that slows time around the player. Make no mistake though – this does nothing to slow down the pace of action. Each second in Rapid is an opportunity to link together dance-like sequences of pain onto enemies.
The final element of combat is a gesture-based power known as ‘Gust’, which inflicts damage and freezes enemies in their tracks.
When all of these elements are used in combination, there is a flow state energy to Dead Hook’s violence that stands out as some of the best “power fantasy” combat available in VR. Evading projectiles with well-timed aerial acrobatics, swinging into a pack of monsters, freezing them with a wave of your hand and then blasting them to pieces with dual-wielded shotguns is a decidedly cool experience. It can’t be understated just how powerful you feel when you’re able to successfully combine all the game’s mechanics together.
Dead Hook offers a study in roguelike tropes that show JoyWay has been attentive to the successes that came before them. From upgradable weapons and power-ups to embellishments that permanently strengthen your character across all future runs, Dead Hook has all the elements to keep fans of the genre satisfied.
As with all good roguelikes, Dead Hook starts the player with the comparative strength of a disgruntled 8 year-old. Likewise, death is a certainty at first, as you begin to grind out the means to upgrade your character. Dead Hook provides multiple paths to do this, which allows for a decent amount of player agency.
There’s also a crafting system for perks, which will give permanent buffs like increased health or speed, as well as increasing the rarity of instance-based items found in-game. Although the system may seem overwhelming at first, it’s ultimately a satisfying way to use resources gathered across each run.
With each successive death, players will be able to enhance their character even more until eventually once-fearsome early encounters become almost too easy and the endgame becomes far less impossible than it felt at the beginning.
One of the game’s few structural issues is the very limited range of mission types, all of which feel so similar as to negate the point of making the choice. More variation in the number and style of missions would go a long way and offer huge gains to the game’s long-term value proposition.
Bring The Noise
JoyWay delivers a decent graphical benchmark with Dead Hook. The different biomes feel uniquely hostile, each providing a distinct visual character that also has impact on gameplay via themed environmental hazards. They help give the world a character that feels both dangerous and engaging, but don’t quell some of the general repetitiveness that sets in at times. It would have been good to see more diversity in each of the worlds and environments, along with the combat in them.
Dead Hook’s soundtrack is one area that is surprisingly strong, featuring driving metal anthems that are instrumental in bringing the game’s adrenaline-pumping combat to life. The track selection does lack breadth and can occasionally feel a little like “generic metal,” but the music is nonetheless an incredibly powerful facilitator for the pace and energy of the action.
Dead Hook Review – Comfort
Dead Hook is not a game for those who are new to VR or easily affected by motion sickness. In terms of comfort options, vignetting is the only option available to players.
Even with vignetting enabled, there’s really no way to experience Dead Hook without being able to endure smooth locomotion. Intense artificial movement is at the core of the gameplay, so even experienced VR players with a slight susceptibility may wish to tread with caution. This one is not for the faint of heart.
Dead Hook Review – Final Verdict
Dead Hook sets the bar for intense, fast-paced and visceral combat on Quest. While it does little to innovate in the increasingly-crowded roguelike genre, it nonetheless features an excellent assortment of tried and tested mechanics that stand shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the genre’s best.
The unique element that Dead Hook does offer is the pure adrenaline-fueled gameplay – there’s little else that can match JoyWay’s latest offering of power fantasy action. For those who can handle it, Dead Hook is easy to recommend as an intense and thrilling VR action experience.
UploadVR focuses on a label system for reviews, rather than a numeric score. Our reviews fall into one of four categories: Essential, Recommended, Avoid and reviews that we leave unlabeled. You can read more about our review guidelines here.