Fear is in the mind. We can shock, disgust, and repulse with ease, but truly instilling foreboding terror or panic? That’s the real trick. You have to lull your audience into a false sense of security even though they know what they’re stepping into, working against that impossible contradiction to sell some pixels as not only a real threat but a genuine horror to behold. Developer Supermassive Games understands this perfectly, and nowhere is that more evident than in their standalone VR prequel, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood.
Where the original Until Dawn is a choose-your-own-adventure slasher story, Rush of Blood is a VR-exclusive on-rails shooter. By that description alone, you’d expect an arcadey experience, and it plays into that, at first. The carnival fairgrounds and enigmatic ringmaster promise a simple bout of amusement, letting you settle in before things take a far more sinister turn.
Rush of Blood is a delicate mixture. It eschews so much of what makes a traditional horror game while simultaneously bucking several VR trends. Most VR games boast their interactive potential — that you, the player, will have dramatically more input into the world. Rush of Blood does the exact opposite, embracing the power it holds over you. You never leave your chair, you rarely have a say in where you’re headed, and your guns can only do so much against the horrors that await.
Despite being set on the literal rails of a roller coaster, Rush of Blood is extremely patient. Because it holds all the cards, every element is precisely primed. Some of its most chilling moments don’t even involve combat. The dreadful breaths of a twisted jester right against your ear, helpless to stop him. Or the darting, demonic nurse whom you can scarcely get a bead on as she warps from clawing your face to speeding around the room like a hellish Sonic the Hedgehog. By fully harnessing PSVR’s head tracking and 3D audio, Supermassive draws your attention right where it wants it, heckling you at every turn.
This tangible sense of space leads to many of the game’s strongest combat encounters. Aiming with your ears rather than your eyes as you’re trapped in an elevator, wendigos clawing from everywhere without warning. Spiders crawling up your virtual body, chittering menacingly as you try to blast them away. Your final confrontation with the jester as he stalks you like Jason Voorhees, every shot merely buying you a few seconds as the bastard just, keeps, coming. There’s no option to look away, nowhere to hide, and failure to defend yourself leads to a swift game over.
All of these elements sing thanks to Supermassive embracing the freedom VR can grant games as a medium, rather than just letting players goof around. By zeroing in player focus on a handful of actions, much like Knack does, the world and what it offers is spectacular. Supermassive paints a picture with a handful of noises against startling silence. Your imagination is free to knit together the details, implications bolstered by the constant ebb and flow of danger.
Even in the brief moments where you find yourself free of the frightful festivities, you’re still bound to a chair. When sanity sets in, you find yourself in an asylum, undergoing treatment. Suddenly, your helplessness becomes that much clearer. For as few options as you have, you come to value your weapons leading into the final chapters. As twisted a fantasy as it may be, at least in your own nightmare, you can lash out. Lapses to sanity only strip away what little defenses you have left, leaving you helpless.
There’s greater safety in the madness, drawing you back down into the twisted visions. Just like the maddened mind of Rush of Blood’s protagonist (whom I won’t spoil), you come to welcome the cursed caves of those murderous mountains. Better to slaughter in hell than to serve a miserable sentence in sanity. In every way, Rush of Blood vividly draws a repulsive world worth getting lost in. More than a simple rail shooter, it’s easily one of the best PSVR action titles. Its grasp of pacing, terror, and presentation set a high bar for early VR horror games, and it remains a must-play to this day. It’s a carnival of carnage you simply must attend.