STRIDE has been in early access for SteamVR headsets for nearly a year, but now Oculus Quest owners can take a crack at the free running action, which effectively replicates a few ideas from the parkour-style platformer Mirror’s Edge (2009) and translates them pretty well into VR. Stride’s single player modes are fun arcade affairs which offer just enough reason to come back for more, although it will be interesting to see how the studio does with its upcoming campaign and multiplayer modes.
STRIDE for Quest Details:
Available On: Oculus Quest
Cross-play: No (multiplayer planned for future)
Developer: Joy Way
Release Date: August 5th, 2021
Reviewed On: Quest 2
Stride on Quest offers up some vertigo-inducing gameplay that will force you to move quickly, shoot accurately, and use the full gamut of movement options to traverse the crenelated rooftops of its heavily Mirror’s Edge-inspired world, as well as the obstacle courses that provide an admirable mashup of the game’s most challenging stuff. At present, there’s three modes, all of which are single player: arena, endless, and time run mode. It’s not a bunch, but it may be enough.
You can focus on honing your best parkour moves in endless and time run, but arena mode is more open-ended, requiring you to be a little more pragmatic as you digest all sorts of imposing jumps and surprise bad guys on your way to specific objectives. It offers up a seemingly Mirror’s Edge-style classic rooftop area which is chocked full of enemy waves and various tasks like stealing briefcases without being spotted by snipers or reaching random checkpoints.
You might even want to call it “Mirror’s Edge in VR,” but that’s not entirely accurate. It’s cool and well executed, but it’s smallish arcade-style affair that takes those wild parkour things and applies it to quick bursts of gameplay, and not a long-format game with a narrative, characters, voice actors beyond the tutorial—at least for now. There’s supposedly a story mode coming, but more on that below.
Anyway, you can mostly find your own way around and you’re almost always obligated to take out baddies, either by your trusty semi-automatic pistol or melee. This is where the game’s three-second slow-mo button comes into play, as you make epic jumps and cinematic kills for a truly John Wick-esque thrill. Slow-mo is recharged automatically, and can be handy when you find a gaggle of gun-totting biker dudes just around the corner or a sniper has his laser pointed at your head. It feels awesome when it all comes together and you can execute a jump, grab a ledge almost just out of reach, and pop over a wall to slow-mo shoot a group of baddies.
Although arena looks the most like the narrative-heavy Mirror’s Edge, this mode is essentially a straight forward race against the clock as you fulfill increasingly difficult objectives. While you’re definitely missing out on the overall reason for why you’re shooting dudes in the face, the game’s large format levels make way for a wider variety of movement possibilities than the more linear modes I’ll talk about below.
Endless mode offers up linear levels that are procedurally-generated and ramp up in difficulty until you lose all three of your lives. A red line follows you which can steal a life if you fall behind, and every bullet or nose dive to the ground detracts one too. A creeping black pixelization slowly infects the world around you so you know when the red line is near—a subtle but really useful touch. Once you reach the hardest difficulty, it becomes an unlimited series of the game’s most challenging stuff.
You can chose which level difficulty to jump into, or start from the very beginning and naturally progress your way to the hardest difficulty tracks, which require crazy wall-slides and the highest, most difficult jumps in the game by far. I am all about endless mode too. The red line offers enough incentive to keep you on your toes, and the masterful mix of obstacles are always a surprise to encounter, like successive windows that you can artfully crash through like a super hero, or successive wall-slides that transition into a zipline to an platform with two snipers waiting for you. It’s insane.
Finally, there’s time run, which presents you with about a dozen timed tracks to test your skills against the leaderboard. Time run feels similar to endless, however it’s compartmentalized so you can learn each level by heart and go against the game’s greatest players on the leaderboard. At first, this was the most daunting of modes since you’re almost assuredly going to be slower than anyone who’s mastered the game’s specific locomotion scheme.
One of the interesting ways the game uses to keep things feeling fresh is its reward system. Stride doesn’t reward quickly or easily, so you’ll have to spend time getting good in order to unlock even the most basic things like added health packs, full-auto fire, and a low level of armor. Across endless and arena mode you can also put on the training wheels for a zero-sum win if you just want to check things out and practice, or you can alternatively switch on more difficult modifiers for larger point gains, such as instadeath.
The combination of robust locomotion (more below) and challenging obstacles make for really fun moments, and that interplay is basically the main draw to the game. Were it any less interesting or well-done, these three modes might otherwise feel like sideshows to a main event which still needs to be added to the game. Joy Way is aiming to add both a story mode and multiplayer to the Quest version at some point in the near future, although those may just be icing on the cake for people looking to simply play an over-the-top game that promises fast-paced climbing, jumping, wall-running, and sliding down ledges.
If anything, it’s nice to see that the studio has taken the time to get the fundamental bits right before extending beyond arcade-style gameplay, but I really wanted to play online infection tag in Stride, which plays a lot like the breakout hit Gorilla Tag. I also would love to see more weapon options come into play with a greater range of enemy types, but I can concede that maybe Stride isn’t about being a shooter so much as it’s focused on getting players to build parkour skills.
When people say Stride is “the Mirror’s Edge of VR,” I see what they mean in some fundamental ways. Sure, it has rooftop jumping and shooting action, but in Stride it’s extremely apparent from the get-go that you’re playing an arcade-style game with no lore or overall objective. The tutorial is a long and pointed bit of gamey gristle to chew through, which could be improved for more when it eventually adds a bonafide campaign.
That’s not a knock on Stride: it’s perfectly capable of selling itself through its collection of fun and interesting gameplay mechanics, but it’s still super clear you’re playing a game that plainly throws discrete objectives at you and nothing more. You kill the samey-looking dudes who randomly spawn. You always shoot the same weapon. To its credit, baddies aren’t dumb and they’re well-animated to respond to physical punches and pistol whips. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun busting through a pane of glass to get there.
On that note, the shooting experience is an overall adequate mix of arcade-style reloading—lower the pistol to your hip and it automatically reloads—and real shooting prowess which relies on iron sights. It’s a shame though that the gun is pitched at a slightly higher angle than many other VR shooters. I have some ingrained muscle memory from Pistol Whip, Space Pirate Simulator, and The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners. All of those seem to offer more or less the same physical pistol-shooting dynamic, so it took some time to rethink my natural shooting stance. A slightly lesser gripe comes down to wall-slides, which can be unpredictable at times if you’re not being completely deliberate with your movements. I didn’t know where to complain about that, so here it is.
In the end, the Quest version of the game proves to be well-optimized, which is probably helped somewhat by its more minimalist art style and mostly static environments, save the odd door to open or window to smash through.
Considering how fast-paced the game can be, requiring frenetic combinations of jumping, climbing, and shooting, I found it exceedingly comfortable. This is because you’re nearly always in direct control of your virtual movement; the game’s running and jumping mechanic are cleverly designed to make those two actions super comfortable, and require a good degree of physicality to perform. Here’s how it works:
To accelerate to a running speed, you need to pump both arms back and forth like you’re drumming or running in place. To jump, you need to hit the ‘A’ button and release it while making an upward thrust with your controller. When the physical movement of your hand combines with artificial locomotion in-game, it removes a lot of the inherent weirdness of simply hitting a button and doing your thing.
The game is best played standing, although there is a seated option that includes adjustable height so you can dial things in. The game’s reload mechanic requires you to have access to your hip, which isn’t easy if you’re in an office chair with arm rests. You’ll also need to physically crouch to avoid overhead obstacles, which is absolutely a silly prospect when seated. As you’d imagine, it’s also a pretty intense workout, so make sure to have air conditioning/fan in the hottest months and some sort of cover for you facial interface if you don’t want to soak it with sweat.
STRIDE Comfort Settings – August 5th, 2021