2018 has been a stellar year for PlayStation VR. After Sprint Vector kicked things off with a speedy locomotive system that had everyone at Push Square Towers working up a sweat, we’ve been treated to the likes of cutesy platformer Moss, horror fanatics were swept away with The Persistence, and those looking for a Super Mario-like experience on PlayStation rallied around Astro Bot Rescue Mission. It’s a grand line-up, but the real cherry on top takes the form of Arca’s Path. From developer Dream Reality Interactive, this is one of the most relaxing and tranquil puzzlers you’ll find in a VR headset this year.
While Arca herself is a real person who plays a major role in the story, the vast majority of the game takes place inside a virtual reality headset all of her own. Tasked with simply getting to the end of each and every level, you take the shape of a sphere inside the digital world, with movement dictated by your own head. Not a single DualShock 4 nor PlayStation Move controller is needed to make progress in Arca’s Path thanks to a mechanic that puts the skull at the epicentre of motion.
In order to do this, you’ll control a small cursor that wraps around the sphere itself, and in whichever direction it is pointed in, the ball will roll. You can control speed by moving the pointer further away in order to quicken the pace, close the gap to slam the breaks on, and hover over the sphere itself to bring things to a complete stop.
It’s a simple process, but it works well in practice. The novelty of controlling every action by the movement of your head never wears off, and it also lends itself well to the grace at which a level can transition from requiring a speedy decline that clears a series of jumps to precise and intricate actions that could lead to your demise if not performed correctly. Tying control to your noggin works just as well as any other analogue stick would, and we don’t think we would have performed much better even if we had a PS4 controller in our hands. It’s a testament to the amount of time that has been put into perfecting this mechanic that we don’t even lament the loss of a controller we’ve used our entire lives.
The game does get into a slight bit of trouble once multiple paths are thrown on top of each other, since the cursor can land on either track to confuse the ball when dictating where it needs to go, but this was only a minor inconvenience that didn’t crop up too often.
Even though you won’t encounter the issue straight away, that’s not to say that the opening chapters are a breeze. A variety of obstacles are placed in your path to cause concern, but the calmer tone that runs through the heart of Arca’s Path isn’t lost here either. Thanks to the introduction of hurdles at a gradual pace, difficulty spikes are completely alleviated. There’s bridges to push over, altars to activate, blocks to smash, jumps to make, and sheer drops to avoid, but these barriers only aid the experience by adding an extra level of depth to gameplay. The proving ground for that can be found in the final chapter, which culminates in a seriously impressive stretch of five levels. While one more newly introduced mechanic dictates your every move, other obstacles you’ve crossed paths with return for one last hurrah as you conquer everything they could throw at you. It’s seriously fun stuff that you need to see for yourself.
When your head isn’t dictating the action, a plot plays out that links the four chapters together for its four hour duration. Arca lives on a scrapheap just outside of a large built-up city, when one day she comes across a sort of mask that transports her to a digitised world where we control the sphere in question. An android then comes into the equation who gives Arca another headset that takes on a much darker tone.
Without any dialogue, the plot is told through imagery that takes the shape of a comic book. The style looks phenomenal visually, but despite being fairly easy to follow, it does little to make the tale being told particularly interesting. It gets the job done with a triumphant ending that points towards a more positive future for Arca, but there’s little to shout about outside of its closing moments.
Alongside the campaign, each level has a time trial mode that is unlocked by collecting crystals from the story missions. With a gold, silver, and bronze time to aim for it does enough to offer a decent amount of challenge, but without any online leaderboard functionality, the mode feels a little lacking. The actual act of collecting the crystals themselves is by far the best aspect of the feature due to the fact that they can be obvious pick-ups on the path to victory, or well hidden out of your immediate vision. It’s rather comical when one is positioned right in front of your eyes but you don’t catch a glance of it because you’re so focused on keeping your ball on track.
When it comes to presentation, what defines Arca’s Path is its intentional texture pop-in that enhances the visuals in every meaningful way. Because the title takes place entirely inside another reality, it embraces that by painting in scenery and plant life as you approach their location. Watching it all draw in right before your eyes is particularly impressive, and the bold pastel colour palette the game uses compliments that further. The soundtrack works in unison with the aesthetic too thanks to glitchy techno beats that weave their way into the experience to create the effect of a malfunctioning world, while intricate audio cues give life to the backdrop as you pass by.
Arca’s Path is yet another title that PlayStation VR users won’t want to miss. It’s most importantly a relaxing and tranquil puzzler, but with a brand new way to play, controlling the experience with the movement of your head is an ingenious input method that proves how far the technology has come. Fun, inventive, and beautiful, Arca’s Path should be played by every VR aficionado.