Before The Light Brigade, I’d never felt the urge to grind in a virtual reality game. Head-mounted experiences aren’t typically prone to the ‘just one more run’ mentality, as after a few hours, I’m probably looking for a rest. Yet here I was, playing this VR shooter until my legs started to hurt. And even then, I’d consider switching into seated mode to keep playing…
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Funktronics Labs’ The Light Brigade has all of the best parts of a flatscreen roguelike, with its slow burn hub development, moreish combat encounters, subtle but gripping story and nuanced class system. It just happens to be in virtual reality too, which adds another dimension of immersive fun.
But it’s not the novelty of playing a roguelike in virtual reality that makes The Light Brigade remarkable. It feels like Funktronics Labs is constantly out to surprise players with ever-increasing mechanical depth as you descend into its chambers and lose yourself to its tantalising rhythm.
The overarching premise is fairly simple. In a world shrouded in darkness, you enlist in The Light Brigade to fight back against the corrupted forces that are threatening humanity. What this means from a moment-to-moment perspective is that you shoot and loot your way through procedurally-generated battlegrounds full of enemies, wielding intricately simulated weaponry.
Killing enemies, picking tarot cards (which form the basis of your character build) and smashing pots provide you with souls, which you can purify at end-of-level altars to ascend through the ranks of your given class. Lose all of your lives, though, and you’re sent back to base with nothing. Each class has distinct pros and cons, and they centre around physics-based historical weaponry, from the Gewehr 43 to the STG-44. By trading off the pockets you use to store loot, you can dual-wield pistols and double your ammo capacity. On the other end of the spectrum, the Sniper class has a passive damage bonus, but you have to be accurate, as reloading the deadly bolt-action rifle is arduous.
My favourite is the Militia class, which gifts you a semi-automatic rifle with tracer bullets that help with accurate shooting, as well as a welcome boost to loot and tarot rarity. Every aspect of a given class can be upgraded with rank points at the Blacksmith, which you earn by levelling up. So once you figure out your favourite loadout, you’ll make tough choices about what to develop to sand down your weaknesses and make it through the gauntlet.
Every so often, you’ll hit a linear boss room that gates your progress in the procedural odyssey, and once beaten, this develops the story and fleshes out the hub area with vendors and narrative tidbits. Relying on procedural generation for all of its environments means that the placement of assets and enemies isn’t perfect sometimes, but generally, the combat scenarios that The Light Brigade threw me into felt fair.
Even when I was facing a tight avenue leading to a firing squad of shielded baddies, there were tools at my disposal that I could use to work my way out of it, and it was extremely fun to figure out how. You can clasp your hands together and pray to scan an area which reveals enemy locations and items on a cooldown, but what I love about this is that it also ties carefully to the game’s narrative. Praying is a huge part of the story, and you use it to advance between levels, purify bosses and wake up after death. It’s the little things!
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, though. There are a few hitches on the technical side that have the opportunity to hamper a run. I experienced some FPS chugging in boss battles, especially during the more involved particle-covered attacks. This can happen in later levels when there are lots of normal enemies too, and it threatened to stop me in my tracks at times, which is a big shame. I also kept experiencing an annoying glitch where the game would throw up tooltips during combat for interactions that I’d already figured out, obscuring the screen for a whole level.
VR comfort-wise, though, The Light Brigade is a peach. There are plenty of comfort options, resetting your position is easy. You can make slight movements with the sticks or zip around the map via teleportation, which is just quick enough that it feels vulnerable – meaning you can’t just whiz around to evade enemies completely. Elsewhere, the simulated shooting feels airtight and crunchy, with a lot of thought given to how weapons sound and feel as you’re peeking corners and popping heads. Picking stuff up from your Batman belt is intuitive, too, though I didn’t appreciate having to throw all of the allotted ammo into my pockets before every run.
There’s just so much to think about and do while on the ground in The Light Brigade. It makes every level feel like its own adventure. As well as the tarot system, which can boost soul intake and add various effects like paralysis and hypnosis to your bullets, you can stumble into all manner of game-changing loot drops and random encounters that totally flip an arena on its head. Occasionally you’ll find a Light Brigade member out in the field ahead of you, defending themselves against your foes.
Intervene and save them, and you’ll be rewarded with resources like max health boosters and other useful items like weapon attachments that you snap onto your gun to change its properties. Eventually, you’ll be rocking a pistol with a poison barrel and a charm that, when primed, causes a chaining effect when you hit an enemy, which is excellent for scouting out the danger ahead. Throw in decoys, grenades and cooldown-based magic spells, and you’ve got a combat system that just won’t quit. One of my favourite spells throws up an offensive forcefield that deals more damage to enemies if you shoot through it. This constrains your position but gives you the opportunity to deal tons of damage, which is a delicious tradeoff in a tough map.
Opening random boxes and praying at the corpses of lost brigade members (including other online players) rewards you with more souls, so you’re incentivised to explore in a way that feels natural, and this inquisitiveness The Light Brigade nurtures in you inevitably leads you into some harrowing fights to the death with even its most simple of enemies. When a couple of shots can mean death, every piece of cover and scarce mag of ammo counts, and the enemies know it, graduating from basic goons to homing wizards and bird keepers who send exploding homing eagles at you to catch you out of position. The consistently random setup of enemies and hazards makes even the big bullet sponges fun to deal with when they arrive.
It’s worth noting that even though the environments are procedural, they are grouped into select biomes that come with their own surprises, from sewer rats to bear traps and many other interactive tools that you can use to manipulate encounters in your favour. Without curating the experience, The Light Brigade always tends to make you feel smart if you are mindful in your approach to battle.
Like Hades, it even offers little events and shopkeeps that can crop up between levels, which keeps you on your toes as you yearn to spend your gold wisely, maintain your souls and defeat all of its bosses.
The only time it falls down is in the inconsistency of environmental assets being shoot-through or not, which can easily cause your demise if you’ve picked the short straw of the procedural environment. Broad scope, too, there seems to be a bit of a brightness problem on PSVR2, and I can never figure out the sweet spot, which is also a shame because the game is so nice to look at. The unique, cartoon-adjacent art style is reserved but effective – you always know what you’re looking at, and it brings a lot of character to The Light Brigade’s gloomy god-fearing apocalyptic setting.
The Light Brigade is out now on PSVR2, Steam and Meta Quest. We played it on PS5.
As well as being one of few ‘new’ games to play on the PSVR2, The Light Brigade is worth celebrating for bringing a convincing and consistently engaging roguelike experience to virtual reality. With its gripping physics-based combat, sticky progression systems and comfy controls, it’s easy to lose hours to this delightful surprise of a game. Funktronic Labs seems to have learned from all of the best flatscreen roguelikes on the market, only to apply its studies in a new dimension, breaking new ground in the process.
- Riveting roguelike systems
- Diverse classes and rewarding progression
- Challenging combat encounters with superb simulated weaponry
- Some technical hiccups