Platforms PSVR (reviewed), Vive, Rift
Developer Phosphor Games
Publisher Phosphor Games
Release Date July 5, 2016 (Vive, Rift)
November 9, 2016 (PSVR)

Review code provided

The Brookhaven Experiment is a first-person shooter for an entirely new medium, built from the ground up for virtual reality. In this game you don’t go looking for the monsters, the monsters come to you. As the story goes, a pretty nutty experiment has gone horribly wrong and opened a doorway into another reality. Through this doorway a whole bunch of monsters are pouring through, and it’s up to you to gear up and try and close the breach.

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The Brookhaven Experiment is essentially horde mode with zombies and other nightmarish monstrosities. In VR. You play through a series of levels, standing still in such lovely tourist spots as a ruined town square, sewer intersection, abandoned laboratory and other equally delightful locales. You need to keep your wits about you, keep your head on a swivel and shoot your way through waves of freaky creatures to survive. It also helps to not panic.

This is a very cool concept for a VR game, brought to life with a few neat tricks. For starters, it offers a really great sense of presence. While the visuals are fairly basic, the game is designed to be dark. It’s only when things get really close that you’ll be able to make out some fairly low resolution textures. Of course, when things do get close, you’ll be too busy trying not to die to really care. The sound design, which plays a huge role in figuring out where enemies are coming from, is excellently designed. The binaural audio works incredibly well to let you know where and how close enemies are.

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Once you get a handle on the game and the types of enemies you’re facing, you’ll probably feel fairly comfortable in the world. This is The Brookhaven Experiment’s greatest trick – a sense of false security. Just when you think you’re safe, that’s when the game usually hits you with something unexpected. Each new level in the games 10 stage campaign mode brings with it a new type of enemy to ruin your night. The game does a fairly impressive job of cranking up the challenge at a fairly consistent pace, which heightens the tension of standing still in a mutant/zombie apocalypse with a dwindling supply of ammo and flashlight batteries.

Inventory management is key. You start The Brookhaven Experiment armed with a pistol, a knife and a flashlight. Between waves you’ll be able to swap your equipment around, choosing a new weapon from a variety of pistols, an Uzi and a sawn-off shotgun, each with their own pros and cons. You’re also able to equip gear to increase your survivability or modify your weapons, buffs that can help you do extra damage and throwable weapons like proximity mines and grenades.

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The catch? You have to find them before you can use them. Each level contains crates that you’ll need to spot and shoot to unlock a new item in your inventory. This effectively keeps your available equipment on a par with the challenges you’ll be facing, though it has to be said that crates can be damn difficult to spot. If you’re not carefully searching each and every level you may find the difficulty outpacing your ability to handle it (unless you’re really good with the starting handgun).

Ammunition and health don’t regenerate on their own, either. At the end of each wave you’ll be given the option to either restore your health or replenish your supply of ammo and throwables. In the opening stages this wasn’t an issue, but as the game gets harder and you start fighting more enemies and taking damage, deciding whether you need bullets or health can be an incredibly tough decision.

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If all else fails, you can use your trusty knife to score some kills. Or your flashlight. Or the butt of your gun. Basically, anything you’re holding can be used as a weapon one way or another. In a brilliantly realised system, it’s actually possible to simply beat zombies to death with whatever you’re holding in your hands. Although hit detection can be a little hit or miss (literally), it’s still a really cool mechanic that does a great job of immersing you in the world and feeling like you’re actually a part of it.

The only part of the game that really doesn’t hold up very well is throwing things. Whenever I was deploying a proximity mine or throwing a grenade, I never really felt like I had much control over the direction anything was going, or where it was going to land. It’s maddeningly inconsistent to the point that explosives just felt like a waste of time. It doesn’t help that they bounce around like they’re made of flubber after you launch them.

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There’s also a lot of inconsistency in the damage you’ll be taking. On one map, a single hit from a basic enemy was enough to knock half my health off. On a later level I took three hits from the same enemy type and lost a mere 40%. The game doesn’t do a great job of communicating how much health you actually have. There’s no UI to speak of, and no in-game health display. The only indication that you’re hurt is a red tint that creeps into the edge of your vision. The only problem with that is that the edge of your vision is generally shrouded in darkness, making the red tint next to impossible to actually see.

Aside from the 10 level campaign, The Brookhaven Experiment also comes with a survival mode, which is my absolute favourite way to play the game. This mode takes the wave-based nature of the game and houses it in its natural environment; an endless  (I assume) horde mode. Here your aim is to survive as long as possible, as opposed to simply holding out for a level transition, shifting the emphasis onto effective resource management.

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That’s what you’d think, anyway, but survival mode is actually quite generous with its resources. Here you purchase new weapons, equipment, health and anmo with currency between waves, and The Brookhaven Experiment hands it out like sweets on Halloween. Rather than cheapen the experience, this actually makes survival mode even better, allowing you to quickly tailor your setup to personal preference, free from the restrictions of the campaign. Here, the emphasis is on your skill and how well you can hold your nerve, as opposed to juggling ammo constraints.

Holding your nerve can be difficult, however, thanks to the creepy and grotesque monsters the game parades around in front of you. As mentioned earlier, you’re only really going to get a good look at them when they’re right up in your face. When they’re further away they’re pretty creepy, basically a collection of awful noises and a vague shadow. That’s enough to make you sweat. But when you get a good look at them, which you will from time to time, they’re pure nightmare fuel. Even more so when aided by the VR effect that makes it feel like they’re right there.

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The Brookhaven Experiment also successfully manages to bring the room-scale experience of the HTC Vive to Playstation, with a caveat. Don’t get me wrong, room-scale VR is still absolutely at its best on Steam’s headset, but Phosphor Games has added a really well thought out 180 degrees quick turn to allow for full 360 immersion. This can be momentarily disorienting, as threats on your left and right will swap sides when you spin around, but it helps ground you in the world and makes you feel like you’re really standing there, rooted to the spot, as nightmares from another dimension converge on you.


Summary

The Brookhaven Experiment is a really cool VR experience, and a fairly fully featured video game to boot. It takes a different direction to other VR games when tackling movement by simply having the action come to you. It’s an intense experience when the number of enemies starts increasing and your bullets start drying up. The Brookhaven Experiment challenges you to hold your nerve, pick your targets and steady your aim in the face of nightmare fuel. On top of all this, standing in the middle of a room shooting zombies with a gun that actually feels like it’s in your hand is also a damn good time.

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