Hell Road VR Review: Running On Fumes
Sputtering in atop a rusty steel horse, Hell Road VR is as lifeless as the scores of shambling zombies you’ll encounter on your blood-soaked tour of the American West. Set amid a zombie apocalypse, the game puts players in the leather chaps of a nameless biker who picks up his pistol and hits the road after receiving a mysterious radio call from a woman asking for help. However, had he known how dull the trip before him would be, he probably would have just stayed home and watched Sons of Anarchy instead.
Highway To Hell
The best way to describe Hell Road VR is probably a mix between The House of the Dead and Road Rash. Albeit, without any of the things that make those two franchises so memorable. Throughout the game’s seven chapters, you’ll cruise through desolate deserts, drab industrial areas, and sterile city streets as you gun down, impale, and plow through any ghouls unfortunate enough to stumble into your path.
Controlling your outlaw biker-turned-zombie hunter is straightforward at first. But, it doesn’t take long before the misery sets in due to the unconventional way you steer your bike. When riding, you use your right hand to aim and shoot whatever gun you have equipped, while your left one works the bike’s throttle. Tilting your head left or right will cause your bike to veer in either direction. This works well enough when you’re on a straight road. However, taking wide turns is a whole different story. You need to turn your head nearly 90 degrees to negotiate many of the bends in each track. And if you ride off the road just a little bit, you’ll be whisked away to a checkpoint where you’ll need to try again. Not only does this absolutely kill the immersion, but it also needlessly shaves precious time off the clock that’s steadily ticking down as you race from checkpoint to checkpoint.
As you can imagine, this gets frustrating very quickly. Add giant boulders, deadly spinning turbines, and other hazards that you’ll need to navigate to reach your destination to the mix, and Hell Road VR will put you on the expressway to Crazy Town before you know it. Sound like fun? If so, you just might be a masochist and are likely Hell Road VR’s target demo. Personally, I found it to be a real pain in the neck, both literally and figuratively.
At the end of each level, your bike will overheat, and you’ll have to fend off waves of ghouls from multiple directions. These encounters would be exciting if the undead legions you were mowing down were at least interesting. Unfortunately, that’s not the case in Hell Road VR. Instead, you’ll mow down dozens of awkwardly shambling zombies, mutated dogs, and other creatures that look like Lowcost Cosplay versions of iconic Resident Evil bioweapons as they waltz carelessly toward conveniently placed red barrels, perfect for blasting. Sadly, these rinse and repeat encounters are about as ambitious as Hell Road VR’s moment-to-moment gameplay gets.
As you rack up kills and complete stages, you’ll earn points that you can spend to upgrade your character, bike, and weapons. While this adds some replay value to the package, these upgrades simply don’t do enough to make the game’s weightless combat more satisfying. It doesn’t matter whether you’re plinking a flesh-hungry hillbilly in the head with a puny revolver or unleashing a nasty load of buckshot with a maxed-out shotgun; the zombie’s head will still snap off at the neck like a broken mannequin just the same.
As for the weapons themselves, you’ll amass an arsenal of pistols, machine guns, shotguns, grenade launchers, and even a giant spear that you can use to joust your enemies like a post-apocalyptic knight. They’re nothing special, but they get the job done and mostly fit with the game’s theme just fine. I mostly stuck to using the standard 9mm pistol, though, as its deep magazine and speedy reload time made it a balanced choice for most situations.
Oh, The Horror
When it comes to its presentation, Hell Road VR isn’t for the squeamish. I already remarked on the game’s awkward animations and weird dismemberment model. However, these problems are just the tip of the iceberg. Hell Road VR’s lifeless environments and basic character models, and environmental geometry come together to create a game that looks far more dated than you’d expect, even from a budget-priced VR game. What’s worse, every stage is blanketed in a thick veil of fog that would seem right at home on the N64 – and this was when playing the game on max settings with a GeForce RTX 3080. Perhaps options to improve the draw distance will be implemented down the road to alleviate the issue. Unfortunately, at least in the game’s current state, there aren’t any.
Hell Road VR doesn’t fare much better in the audio department. All of the game’s music consists of what sounds like the kind of soulless butt rock you’d hear on your average episode of Pawn Stars. As for the voice acting, your omnipresent radio buddy offers up a non-stop mix of borderline gibberish and clumsy one-liners. The best way to describe the writing is if an A.I. wrote the script for every NPC in a House of the Dead game. Now, don’t get me wrong: I adore the dialog found in games like House of the Dead, Resident Evil, and their contemporaries and strongly feel the campy charm adds to the experience. But there’s no charm to be had in Hell Road VR’s clunky voiceovers and cringe-inducing writing. Instead, only misery awaits.
Get Your Kicks Elsewhere
Hell Road VR is the kind of game you might play in an arcade for a quick laugh and never think about again. While there’s an undeniable novelty that comes from spearing a zombie through the face with a lance at 60 miles per hour from atop your steel steed, the thrill fades fast. With its disappointingly shallow gameplay loop and needlessly frustrating controls, it won’t be long before even the most seasoned zombie hunters grow weary of this road trip. If you’re just dying to bag some ghouls on your favorite HMD, there are simply too many better options available to recommend adding Hell Road VR to your Steam library. So save your neck and your cash for something more deserving. You’ll be glad you did.
Final Verdict: 2/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Travolab Replay; Developer: Travolab Replay; Players: 1; Released: September 30, 2021; MSRP: $19.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a review copy of Hell Road VR provided by the publisher.