Star Wars: Vader Immortal Episode I had a real spark to it. There was the revelatory terror of confronting an iconic villain, the elation of immersive lightsaber combat and the promise of a story that got behind the stoic mask of Vader himself. As its short runtime drew to a close, I was left eager to press on with the next installment. That flicker of ingenuity dims a little in Vader Immortal Episode II.
Developer ILMxLAB struggles with difficult second album syndrome in its middle chapter. Though there are many peaks, including continued industry-leading production values, much of this episode is stuck in the same rut you find yourself in after a tumble down an elevator shaft.
The promise of force powers was the main draw in this episode. Understandably, that’s relegated to simple push and pull mechanics utilized in fairly rudimentary fashion. Catch a rock in midair, toss is at an enemy; that sort of thing. As with lightsaber combat before it ILMxLAB strives to make this uniquely Star Wars. Instead of using analog sticks to push and pull, you simply move your hand back and forth. When it works, it’s a wonderfully intuitive bit of design. I even caught myself instinctively stretching out my fingers as if that might somehow help.
Still, it’s a familiar invention to anyone with more than a little VR experience and unavoidably less addictive than lightsaber combat, which plays second fiddle this time around. Opening up combat options starts to show the cracks in Vader Immortal’s framing. At times the episode insists you use force powers when you’re mere inches away from solving your problems with the pointy end of your saber. There’s a potent pairing to be made in combining the two, but this episode never gives you the room to test those curiosities.
In fact, there’s little room to breathe here in general. So much of Vader Immortal Episode II is spent on wearisome exposition, often recapping what we learned in the first episode. The plot inches forward, criminally leaving Vader himself behind. In the series’ first episode we were promised a more intimate and desperate look at the character, but that fails to really materialize here. Before you’ve even had the chance to feel settled in, the episode draws to a close (35 minutes in total) without ever feeling like it’s achieved much.
Save for the Lightsaber Dojo, that is. The wave-based survival mode remains a highlight here. That’s thanks in no small part to the addition of a lightsaber throw that is as hellishly fun as it is viciously effective. Tossing it back and forth comes so naturally (it invites comparisons to throwing Thor’s hammer) I couldn’t help but wish it had sliced its way into the story segment somehow. The result is a dojo that loses some of the focus (and much of the challenge) of the original’s set of trials, but I was so lost in the mayhem that takes its place I found it hard to care.
Contextualize all this, though, and you still have a pretty compelling VR experience on your hands. Vader Immortal continues to look stunning, with intricate architecture and character designs, and there’s still something to be said for standing in the presence of Vader himself. It’d just be nice if we didn’t spend so much time running away from the title character and exploring more of what his foreboding command of a room can really do in VR.
Final Say: Recommended
There’s still plenty of opportunity for the series to gather its bearings and deliver a strong finish, though. Vader Immortal Episode II has the odd tone of a mid-game tutorial, more concerned with laying the foundations for what’s to come narratively and stubbornly determined to explore less-exciting gameplay mechanics. With those foundations established, though, there’s a hope that ILMxLAB has removed some of the hurdles it might have otherwise encountered in Episode III.
Star Wars: Vader Immortal Episode II is available now on Oculus Rift and Oculus Quest for $9.99.
This review is based on the Rift S version. For more on how we arrived at this score, read our review guidelines.