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After The Fall Hands-On Preview: Seamless Social Shootouts

We’ve played Vertigo Games’ latest zombie shooter. How’s it holding up? Find out in out After The Fall hands-on preview!

I know you don’t want to hear it and I sure as heck don’t want to say it, but After The Fall feels like a proof of concept for how the metaverse could work.

Yes, I said the word, and I’m sorry. I’ll try not to say it again.

After The Fall Hands-On

As I boot into a demo for Vertigo’s upcoming Left 4 Dead-like VR shooter, I’m readying myself to dive into a sprawl of menus, searching for the username of my guide, prepared to wait for party invitations and connections that eventually land us in the same level together. Much to my surprise, as the door opens to the game’s hub area, my guide is already standing there waiting to greet me. If I point at him and press an icon above his head, we can party up near-instantaneously, not to mention hang out in the hub spending time playing arcade minigames. If I walk into the weapon customization room I’m taken out of the multiplayer instance but, when I return, I’m seamlessly transported back into it.

And that’s the key word here: seamless. Or at least near-seamless. To me, the most impressive element of After The Fall thus far is just how easy it feels jump into a social experience. When full, Vertigo says this hub will comprise of 32 players all connected across PC VR, Oculus Quest 2 and PSVR (and, yes, you can turn cross-play off if you want). Granted there is still some fumbling required for cross-play with friends: you’ll need to use friend codes to find each other given you’re playing across different platforms, but support for spawning into a hub based on an in-game friend list location or a party leader instance is coming post-launch.

Not quite perfect, then, but for Vertigo’s Arizona Sunshine follow-up to really work, it needed an effortless infrastructure that allowed you to easily jump in and out of games with friends no matter which platform they’re using. Granted I haven’t seen a full hub working together yet but, from this glimpse, I think it’s quite possible they’re going to pull it off.

The game itself? Well, that’s looking pretty good too. Describing After The Fall in a post-Back 4 Blood and Aliens: Fireteam Elite world is much easier because, well, you’ve likely recently played something that’s almost exactly like it. Up to four players go on short-ish ‘runs’ of levels that take place in a frozen-over LA with frosty zombies known as the Snowbreed pouring out of basically every open space in their masses. You need a fast trigger finger to thin the herd as quickly as possible, two items can be stored on your wrists in an Alyx-like inventory and, brilliantly, you’ll discover new weapons that are still attached to the frozen bodies of other humans, still standing upright from where they perished as if Mount Vesuvius spat a thick plume of liquid nitrogen instead of ash.

Though the game remains basically the same as when I first played After The Fall two and a half years ago now, it’s clear Vertigo has listened to at least some of the feedback from then. If you want, you can still reload as you did in Arizona’s fast-firing arcade action by swinging your weapon near an ammo pouch placed on your body. But there’s also an immersive reload option that requires you to press a button to eject a clip, load another back in and then pull a charging handle. You can even do this whilst dual-wielding, as the weapon in your other hand will disappear when you grab a clip, for example.

It’s a bit of a tricky fit, and there are mental gymnastics involved to reloading both weapons with a horde of Snowbreed breathing down your neck, but you’ll also get a 50% increase in Harvest (the game’s brand of currency) for playing this way, which makes a huge difference to end of level results. You can also grab weapons with two hands, which is basically required to shoot straight with a rifle.

Outside of the reloading, though, After The Fall is still a fundamentally accessible shooter, with little of the physical complexity of The Walking Dead’s brain-eviscerating melee or Boneworks’ unwieldy weapon handling. While long-time VR players might be hoping for something with a bit more depth to it, I suspect it’s the right approach for the game’s appeal – I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve mistakenly booted a first-time VR user into Saints & Sinners before realizing that’s really something you need to graduate to. A lot of new and existing VR gamers will find After The Fall under their digital Christmas tree this holiday and pretty much be good to go.

Other than that? You’re getting a lot of what you expect here. Minibosses appear throughout the levels, requiring everyone to focus their fire on armored Juggernauts or avoid the bloated Eater who explodes in close proximity. Vertigo also says there are branching paths in some areas.

Simple, then, but not without some twists. Floppy disks are hidden in levels and can be loaded into arcade machines known as Harvest-O-Matics in safe rooms throughout a map. They’ll unlock new weapon attachments should you survive the rest of the level, upping the stakes the further you get into a run. You’ll also be able to restock on supplies with those machines.

When I first played After The Fall in 2019, I said the game felt familiar, but the draw of an accessible social VR experience that could keep players coming back could be big. Over two years on and I’m now much more confident that will be the case. There’s still a lot to prove – I don’t know if this base package will have the long-term progression structure and right number of maps to help it stick. Vertigo is promising four difficulty modes for launch and you’ll be able to add better weaponry to your inventory to tackle more challenging runs, but given other games like Back 4 Blood have launched with a pretty generous amount of content of late, the bar is going to be high. We’ll find out how much the game really offers when it launches next month.

After The Fall hits Oculus Quest 2, PSVR and PC VR headsets on December 9. An Oculus Quest 1 version will arrive in 2022. We’ll have more coverage of the game soon, but check out our Upload Access interview too.

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