Gunfire Games formed from the remains of Vigil Games, the creators of the Darksiders series. The new studio claims to have a "big chunk" of the team behind Darksiders, including numerous key roles - and it shows. The elevator pitch for the game is Zelda meets Dark Souls, but Chronos is much more than that; it combines exploration, combat, and atmosphere into a challenging and rewarding experience that proves VR can play host to full-featured games for the hardcore crowd.
After selecting your gender, weapon, and one of two difficulty settings, the game starts with your character washing up on the shore. Your young adventurer embarks on a quest to challenge a dragon who lives in a labyrinth you can enter only once a year. If you fail, you reenter the following year, older and wiser as you try to unlock the secrets of this world.
Chronos is viewed from a third-person perspective, but the camera is set at a fixed point like early Resident Evil titles, and you use the Rift to manipulate the camera to examine the spaces. I got lost in the stylized beauty of the world; the environments feel large in virtual reality and the objects, enemies, and your character gives them depth. Due to the fixed camera (and the fact that the world is a labyrinth), navigation can be disorienting at times. You exit an area to the left, but return to it by going right, which adds to the feeling of being lost in a maze.
The journey starts slowly as you explore your first environment and learn the ropes, but you notice early hints that Chronos' universe is a futuristic fantasy that has a history in our real world. It's an interesting set-up, but the core is still rooted in classic fantasy adventure. You have puzzles to solve, quests to complete, weapons to find, and magic powers to learn. These features aren't revolutionary, but they give the action purpose, and infuse Chronos with a fun, classic Zelda feel.
Despite sharing some of Zelda's adventure trappings, combat has more in common with Dark Souls than Nintendo's classic. Battles are up-close and personal. Using your shield to fend off attacks is key, as is learning the attack combos of your enemies so you can pounce when you see an opening. From small soldiers to rock monsters, I enjoyed learning enemy patterns and fighting for my life, hoping to reach the next checkpoint intact.
Your health is a limited resource, but you get more Dragon Hearts as you progress, which refill your health like an Estus flask from Dark Souls. However, the only way to refill your supply of dragon hearts is to die and start over. Each area only has a few checkpoints, so opening shortcuts is key to navigating the world and working through the enemies. The battles are tough, and dying carries an interesting penalty: You age one year for each failure, and your options change the older you get.
Your character levels up quickly, and you can put points toward strength, agility, arcane, and vitality. You start the game in your teens, and attributes like strength, vitality and agility are cheap due to your youth. As you age, those attributes become more expensive, but arcane becomes cheaper. Your character also gets a new talent for every 10-year milestone, which adds an extra boost to your core stats. While you won't run out of lives, there is a certain pressure to stay young and build up your character's strength so each run is important. Each cheap death feels catastrophic. Your age is reflected in your character's face, so when I completed the game at age 63 I looked worn from the years of battle and had gray hair.
I still can't believe Gunfire Games completed Chronos in time for launch of Oculus. It's an engaging game that took me about 20 hours to finish. It travels to far lands, features challenging bosses, and does an impressive job of showing that, even from a third-person perspective, games in VR can transport you to another world. Chronos made a believer out of me, and I can't wait to see what this studio does next.