There are very few games within the VR space that drive as large a hype train as After the Fall.
Originally announced as a PCVR exclusive in 2019, Vertigo Games made waves recently when they announced that the game would launch simultaneously on PCVR, PSVR, and Meta Quest 2. This news came as a blow to Quest 1 users who would need to wait until Q2 of 2022 for their turn but was a welcome surprise for owners of the newer headset.
In 2017 Arizona Sunshine was a veritable masterpiece in VR gaming. Still, times have changed, and it remains to be seen if Vertigo have managed to bring their undead shuffling into the current generation of mobile VR.
FROSTY THE SNOWBREED
For those who hoped that After the Fall would be a more modern take on Arizona Sunshine’s format or a faster-paced take on Saints & Sinners, it’s not. After the Fall is not an epic narrative-driven campaign. There are no branching pathways or character choices, nor is there any physics-based melee. However, what it does have is a series of incredibly intense, multiplayer-focused, fast-paced shoot fests. After the Fall strips away many of the pretences of modern gaming and serves up relentless action like a severed head on a silver platter.
Set in the not too distant future, After the Fall takes place in a snow-covered, post-apocalyptic iteration of Los Angeles in which Hell has, quite literally, frozen over. A new breed of undead have taken over the surface, and these SnowBreed roam the world en masse. The sparse narrative sets up the player as a Harvester, a gun-toting warrior who risks everything to harvest from the surface to keep the human race alive. Don’t really need any more than that, right?
One thing you will definitely need, though, is a squad. After the Fall does have a single-player mode, but its co-op multiplayer is at its heart. Single-player mode simply replaces your buddies with AI ones. After the Fall is a multiplayer shooter, and playing it without real people is almost as odd an experience as trying to play it without the shooting part. But more on that later.
GOTTA CATCH EM ALL
At release, the game consists of five levels, each taking around 30 minutes to complete. Once these levels have been beaten, you could be forgiven for believing that was the end of the game. Vertigo Games, however, are banking on the fact that you will be left wanting more. Hidden within each level are additional credits, items, and weapons that will be taken back to the game’s hub if carried successfully through to the end of the run. Here the player can upgrade and refine their favourite loadout ready for the next run.
Trust me, you do not play After the Fall in order to complete it and then shelve it. You play After the Fall to relentlessly search for items, which you use to better your ability to continue to search for items which in turn you use to better your ability to… well, you get the picture. If this kind of gameplay loop is something that you see yourself enjoying, then you are in for one hell of a ride. The action is great, the level design is good, and the mechanics are excellent. If, however, you demand a clearer sense of purpose and progression in your games, then you may need to approach After the Fall cautiously.
If the gameplay loop sounds familiar to you, you might be familiar with Valve’s Left 4 Dead games. After the Fall ‘borrows’ the same general style and loop. A party of four, killing zombies and trying to find their way to the next safe house, to replenish their supplies and saunter forth to kill more zombies.
If you’ve been hoping for a VR version of L4D, this is as close as you’re likely to get unless Valve decides to make one themselves.
THERE’RE TOO MANY OF THEM!
Where After the Fall really shines is within its core loop of large scale action. Each level is essentially just a series of happily violent set-pieces connected by pathways that lead you towards the next kill zone. Your troop will wander in and have no choice but to blast your way out.
Above all else, what makes After the Fall so enjoyable is the sheer volume of zombies that it throws at you and your party. Horde after horde of frozen undead will literally teem out of the walls, holes in the ceiling, or just flood over the walls to charge at you in unrelenting waves of death. It operates on a scale unlike anything else on the Quest and is worth playing just for the chance to experience that thrill.
There are only around six different enemy types, but you will dispatch them in their hundreds. For the most part, you will be dealing with your standard running or crawling zomboids, but thrown into the mix are several larger, more challenging enemies that will demand your attention no matter how deep into a horde you find yourself. From exploding Eaters to fast-moving, armoured Brutes, these variant opponent types add a dynamic element to the combat that makes it all the more manic.
There are also Boss fights, although, in fairness, there is only one type of boss that is repeated on every level. Don’t get me wrong, the boss fights are fun to beat, but the repetition is somewhat disappointing. Overall, the enemy types are good, but I wish more were included at launch.
There are six weapon types available, each of which is unlocked as you successfully complete harvest runs. Each of these can be upgraded in many different ways, making up the final core conceit of After the Fall. During each run, you can find new upgrade parts for your guns. With sights, grips, barrels, and magazines, the guns can be systematically improved using the spoils of each previous run. The higher the difficulty level, the greater the spoils, so this provides the final incentive to keep diving back in time and time again, improving both your skills and your arsenal.
Vertigo have incorporated a range of reloading mechanics and incentivised using the more cumbersome “manual” reloads. Players are awarded an extra 50% harvest score when using manual reloading, leading to more money and bigger and better guns. That is, of course, if you can survive the extra pressure.
ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS…MORE!
Sadly, somewhere mixed within this gameplay loop is also where After the Fall trips over its own identity and becomes more of a niche proposition. At least for now, there is a limited range of weapons, enemy types, and levels to enjoy. You can supplement your primary loadout with pipe bombs and health syringes, each of which can be stored, Alyx-like, ‘inside’ your wrists, but there aren’t any other devices, traps, or items that add to the gameplay. This really feels like a missed opportunity.
Even though everything that the game does is great, there’s just not that much of it, and there is a genuine threat of things becoming stale all too quickly. If the Vertigo team had launched After the Fall with 7 or 8 levels, some additional items to spice things up, or maybe even a perk system to give you more reason to grind out your harvest, then perhaps it would feel a little more fleshed out.
Having said that, Vertigo have announced a roadmap of soon-to-be-released free content that includes additional enemy types, an extra weapon, and a new map.
Although the bot-driven single-player mode can quickly get dull, After the Fall is a real joy to play with a group of people all looking to cover each other’s backs, working together, and having a bit of a laugh while gunning down snowbreed.
In a multiplayer context, the action in After the Fall stays fresh, the tension intensifies, and the sense of relief your team survive a heavy combat section becomes all the sweeter. This really is the best way to enjoy After the Fall, so if you prefer single-player games, you should definitely factor that in.
It’s worth mentioning that there is also a PvP mode where players can face off against each other in 4 vs 4 gunfights. However, that is more an added bonus than a reason to play. I could experience this mode during the pre-release press window. My impression is that the PvP is decent but not original enough to depose any current MP shooters. If Vertigo threw some snowbreed into the mix and turned it into PvPvE instead…well, that might make it far more interesting…
THIS IS NOT DISNEY ON ICE
After The Fall is not a stunning game visually, but it is a highly efficient one. Anyone who has been following the pre-launch hype train will no doubt have seen the PCVR footage, and so the big question is, “how much worse does it look on Quest?” Well, it looks a lot worse, to be honest, but don’t let that put you off. The team at Vertigo Games have worked pseudo miracles with ATF to translate all the most essential visual elements faithfully over to the Quest. Sure, the textures are a lot less detailed, and there is an overtly blocky geometry to the limbs and chunks of head that fly off the snowbreed as you slay them, but the essence of the game is nevertheless there.
Most importantly, though, so is the body count.
For all that it lacks in textures and lighting on the Quest, After the Fall more than makes up for it in the sheer number of enemies that the game can handle. There are dozens of zombies on screen at multiple points, and in my hours of playing, I never had so much as a single frame drop. There was only one point in my playthrough that made me think, “Wow, that looks great”, but there were so many moments that made me think, “Holy shit, there are so many of them!”
The Sounds of Death
The audio landscape that Vertigo have wrought is really top-notch and incredibly well suited to the game. The soundtrack is effortlessly engaging, switching between increasingly intense 80’s synth vibes to ambient stillness, allowing you to dwell in the atmospheric spatial audio with ease. Sounds of an impending onslaught mix with the groans and slithers all about you to create just the right amount of unease as you traverse the streets and corridors of each level.
The gun sounds are reasonably weighty, each with its own character, and the rest of the game’s auditory cues combine well to create an atmosphere that walks right up to the line of genuinely unsettling before stepping back in favour of being a little more fun.
The voice acting is limited in its scope but competent in its delivery. There is scant little material to work with, but it fits the game well, bringing some levity to the proceedings and reinforcing the arcade vibe that the game exudes. Overall, the sound is balanced, well delivered, and brings everything together artfully.
AFTER YOU FALL
After the Fall is a glorious tribute to arcade based mayhem that delivers some of the most frantic action that the Quest currently has to offer. While not boasting anything that could be meaningfully described as a campaign, After the Fall crafts its own type of depth with an abundance of stylish, adrenaline-pumping action.
Sadly, the content available at launch is “light”, to say the least. With only five missions to play and six weapons to unlock, After the Fall is a game that will be best enjoyed by those who love looter shooters. Whether or not this becomes your new gaming addiction, the intense action and insanely high enemy count alone make it easy to recommend this title to anyone with even the slightest interest in post-apocalyptic zombie madness.