I’ve always been a fan of games with derelict sci-fi environments. I could go on forever about every little detail that made System Shock 2 so good. When I saw Downward Spiral: Horus Station on Steam, I just knew that I had to review this space station exploration adventure developed by 3rd Eye Studios. The game happens to have a VR feature, but without a VR headset, I’ll be unable to cover that portion in detail.
The game throws you in the shoes of a nameless protagonist in the empty Horus Station. As you slowly explore the desolate space station, you’ll find new tools and weapons to make traversal and combat more efficient. Downward Spiral throws a variety of objectives your way, but most of them focus on the restoration of the station. It provides a very familiar structure through its mostly simple puzzles and bog standard keycards. However, it deviates quite heavily from your standard space station exploration game through its unconventional movement mechanics.
The most notable gameplay aspect is the unique zero gravity mechanic. It ties your movement to your aiming reticule. The only ways to move in zero gravity are to push yourself against walls, shoot a grappling hook, and propel yourself with an air gun. It spices up movement during exploration. However, the mechanic comes at the cost of freedom in combat.
The combat is the real pace killer. In the game’s equivalent to normal mode, I found it very easy to die. This was due to the fast, deadly, yet fragile security robot enemies. There was little variety in the enemy design, and it limited the tension and suspense while exploring. The enemies were threatening, but that was due to how slow the protagonist was rather than the enemies actually being challenging. I died a lot during early combat encounters due to the fragility of the protagonist and the powerful swarms of flying Roomba.
Thankfully, the respawn locations are plentiful. However, it comes at the cost of demeaning death in a way that’s very reminiscent of the Vita Chambers in Bioshock. The game offers the player a mode to avoid combat encounters altogether, but it’s a solution akin to throwing the baby out with the bath water. Even with its problems, the shallow combat did provide some joy as I had a great deal of fun just gunning down security robots with my somewhat interesting arsenal. In a way, blowing up these bland Roomba-like enemies was one of my highlights.
Another highlight to the game is its atmosphere. Its 2001: A Space Odyssey-inspired environmental design coupled with the isolation from human contact made for a somewhat immersive experience. Even so, it comes with its own issues. Although it’s certainly a game that emphasizes a feeling of desolation, it lacked any hard-hitting impact. Unfortunately, Downward Spiral is a somewhat sterile experience.
As it is now, it’s a journey that lacks personality beyond its intriguing zero gravity mechanics and appealing environmental design. The loneliness of the experience could’ve made way for a little more horror or narrative. There was very little to truly keep me invested in the plot, though I admit that I enjoyed piecing the very minimalist story together. The enemies were just obstacles that I would eventually defeat with or without any skill due to the forgiving nature of the checkpoint system. The puzzles usually had you finding the next key. When the game threw real puzzles at you, they were more annoying than they were puzzling.
Honestly, Downward Spiral: Horus Station shows a lot of promise. I see what the developers at 3rd Eye Studios were going for, but they seem to have fallen flat in their execution. The excessive amount of minimalism in the story really held the game back for me. The gameplay provided a one of a kind experience, but it didn’t make for that great of a time. Though I’m not all that enthusiastic about the game, I’m very eager to see what 3rd Eye Studios makes next.