There’s no doubt that Portal Studio’s Unknightly could take a page or two from Rogan: A Thief In The Castle.
Smilegate’s VR debut is, simply put, a visual feast the likes of which we’ve rarely seen in VR. Textures carry exhaustive details, the stoic medieval castle is richly littered with authentic extras and character models are inventively designed. Were you to compare the two side-by-side, you couldn’t be blamed for choosing Rogan’s shiny exterior over Unknightly’s relative scruffiness.
Flip that page, though, and you’ll find there’s much more the mighty Smilegate could learn from the more modest Portal Studios.
Rogan has its heart in the right place. It’s got a three-hour narrative-driven campaign and it does tap into the dangerous thrills of VR stealth however lightly. But it’s simply far too rigid in design and too limited in options to inspire anything like the adrenaline-fueled excitement of its contemporaries.
You play as a thief, Rogan, that breaks into a castle, intending to score a big payday but instead stumbling into a murder conspiracy. One of the kingdom’s most prestigious knights, Victoria, has been framed and you’re out to prove her innocence. That means sneaking through halls dutifully patrolled by guards and gathering evidence in her favor over the course of the campaign.
Expected foundations are in place. Rogan is a game about leaning around corners to catch a glimpse of the guards, throwing items to cause distractions and swiping keys from the belts of unsuspecting sentries. Move too fast and guards will hear your footsteps, take cover behind crates and watch through the cracks as they pass right by you. You can even smash bits of wood over heads to stun people. All of this is great fun in isolated use cases, but the individual elements rarely mesh together in a fluid way and the game’s too easy to necessitate many of its mechanics.
The only time I needed to distract a guard, for example, is when the game specifically told me to do it. For the most part, slowly walking behind an enemy until they rounded a corner was all that was needed. Rogan doesn’t have an inventory system, so you can rarely do things on the fly; the game will often give you what you need to get through the next area just before you reach it. More frustratingly you can only pick up specific things in the environment to throw or hit enemies with. Why an apple makes for a better distraction than a metal chalice is beyond me.