At first look ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos appears to be an anime VR mech game with a branching story, on closer inspection though I found it to be mainly a visual novel with very little “game” to be found. Let’s dive in.
You play as Chloe, a human that’s been genetically engineered to pilot a mech in the defence of A.T. City, humanity’s last standing underground stronghold. What is Chloe like as a character? Let’s just say if she were in Snow White, she’d be a perfect Grumpy.
Chloe’s standoff nature at social events doesn’t like celebrating with squadmates after a successful mission and is only interested in the next fight with the Meteoras, that’s the mysterious enemy that’s driven humans underground, it makes an interesting contrast with her AI assistant Noa, who follows you almost everywhere with a cheery disposition.
The VR connection in ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos
VR is relatively new, and so studios are still experimenting with it, there is no official “rule book” on what makes a good VR game but I think player immersion is a reasonable starting point. I’ve seen studio’s take full advantage of the technology, enhancing the player’s connection to the game’s world through their senses, I’ve also seen others who’ve built an entire control system that disconnects players from the game entirely, unfortunately, ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos appears to be the latter side of this.
Players can’t choose to navigate the environment, during story sections, the game automatically moves you from place to place using a standard “blink” teleport system, any notion of exploration or submersion into the world is abandoned. You can point and interact with objects to get some further reading but a loading circle is needed every time, making the game drag on at a snail’s pace, you eventually learn this is less of a game and more of a story experience.
Combat is scripted, you don’t actually feel like you piloting a powerful mech in the defence of humanity, ironically you feel like your sitting at a console pressing buttons while a screen in the background plays a disconnected movie, any illusion that would normally draw you into the game is just not present. I honestly found myself wondering why the game is using VR at all.
The themes of ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos
The strength of the game is definitely in its writing, what I thought would be a generic sci-fi story began adding themes of philosophy, reality, and social commentary on state surveillance of all things.
The underground city of A.T. is, in itself, a semi-virtual world, the real city is a grey dystopian setting, no colour, no vibrance, the sky nothing more than a panelled dome. Citizens hide from this truth using an augmented reality called “textures”, when looking at a cold lifeless street they see neon advertisements, green trees, and crowds chatting away in the background, the lifeless dome ceiling is replaced with a night sky of vibrant stars. In a way it explores the same idea’s found in The Matrix (1999), would you rather live in the real world or a comforting lie?
Noa, the ever-playful AI, seems to follow you everywhere, monitoring your condition, trying to keep you happy, you quickly learn she keeps adapting her programming to be more human, her goal, to learn more about how humans think and experience the world, to better meet our needs, but there is something unnerving about a program monitoring your every action, its learning process coming close to influencing through social engineering.
At its heart, ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos is a choose-your-own-adventure game that’s very light on the VR. The story takes some 3 hours to complete and replaying the various story branches adds about 10 hours to the total game time. Apart from the few noticeable anime tropes that are to be expected, it’s a worthwhile story experience.
Just don’t go into this game expecting a lot of combat or action, It’s a slow-paced story, not a Gundam.