Let’s get this out of the way upfront: Yes, Into the Radius is S.T.A.L.K.E.R. in VR. There’s just no getting around the comparison. You venture out to investigate anomalies inside dilapidated environments, uncover artifacts that offer gameplay enhancements, and scavenge for your supplies.
The influence of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is undeniable, right down to its look. There are also shades of Death Stranding and Arkane Studios’ excellent 2017 reboot of Prey — the latter is especially noticeable, as its iconic Mimic enemies are straight up replicated in design and movement.
Does that make Into the Radius derivative and unoriginal? Not really! It’s obvious that it’s an amalgamation of other well known games, but its core loop is engaging, and the overall vibe is nothing short of tense and unnerving. There’s definitely a familiarity of having played a game like this before. However, being inside of the game through VR makes the gameplay feel fresh.
Into the Radius uses mission-based progression that requires you to fulfill various objectives, like making deliveries or photographing certain enemies. Progress enough to unlock the next story mission, and you’ll unlock new weapons and gadgets to purchase back at your base. This structure works in its favor more than a linear narrative would because it makes the journey a little more personal.
There’s an early mission which tasked me with returning a roll of undeveloped film from inside a large compound that will stick with me for a while. On my way there, I stopped to scavenge a shed and carefully peeked through the doors, a pistol in one hand and a flashlight in the other. My risky effort was rewarded with nothing but a rusted lighter and an energy drink, but I pressed on.
I snuck through the compound and into an abandoned building. Immediately, horrible noises echoed in my ears and forced me to retreat under a desk for fear of being ambushed. After I found the film, I slowly crept out the way I came, feeling proud of myself for avoiding a fight — until I was suddenly hit in the back by a stray bullet from an enemy that literally chased me away. I had to take off my Quest 2 headset when I returned to base and catch my breath.
It’s those unpredictable moments that make missions feel thrilling. And that’s good, because you’ll be returning to places frequently for various objectives. A handful of early optional missions took place in or around that very same compound, and I was worried that I’d grow bored of the area.
However, those repeated trips actually made me feel like my growing familiarity was a gameplay advantage, rather than being a deterrent. Knowing the layouts helped me complete missions more efficiently, and allowed me to map out my own paths and escape routes.
I haven’t been able to log enough hours yet to see how many different areas Into the Radius has to offer, but what I’ve unlocked so far seems pretty different from the starting location. It’s much more open and creepy. Just getting there required sneaking through a heavily guarded trainyard, and I’m equal parts excited and terrified to see what I’ll be faced with next.
The biggest reason I’ve been loving Into the Radius is how immersive it is. Reloading weapons means having to manually eject the magazine and refill it yourself. To restore your hunger and stamina, you can open canned food with your hands, then eat it by using your knife as a fork. Your weapons will get dirty and you’ll have to clean them yourself using oils and toothbrushes. To clear the barrel, you’ll need to tear off pieces of paper and stick them onto a ramrod, then forcefully jam it inside.
Those might seem like tiny details, but when you combine that level of immersion with a genuinely tense and unsettling atmosphere, the result is enthralling. Into the Radius doesn’t have the most realistic graphics (which is likely more of a problem due to the Quest 2’s hardware limitations, rather than the development), but I still get completely absorbed into its creepy world every time I load up the game.
When Into the Radius works, it really works. What’s hindered my experience so far is a fair bit of jank. Your inventory is tied to your virtual body, which also houses your map and backpack. I can’t count how many times I tried to check my map, only to instead pull out my backpack or the flashlight from my chest pocket.
It’s made more annoying by the fact that enemies can — and more importantly, will — sneak up on you whenever they get the chance, so being able to quickly reach for what you need is crucial to survival. Playing while standing alleviates this problem a bit, but I imagine it’ll be an issue for anyone who prefers (or requires) playing seated.
What I also want to highlight is the game’s approach to difficulty. I love survival games, but their usual level of challenge isn't for everyone. Into the Radius offers individual gameplay options so players can tailor the game to suit their own needs. This also means you can make the game even more challenging in the specific areas you want. You could lower enemy detection and how much damage they dish out, for example, but increase how quickly your hunger drains.
Preset difficulty modes are available as well, and I appreciate that the lowest setting is labeled as a “story” mode rather than “easy” mode. It’s a very small touch for sure, but when gatekeeping is so prevalent in gaming spaces, it’s one that makes the game feel truly welcoming to players who want a lower challenge.
So far, I’ve really enjoyed my time with Into the Radius, and I definitely see it as my next big VR time sink. CM Games estimates there’s 20+ hours of gameplay, though I imagine anyone trying to rush through the main story will be able to shave off at least five hours from that. Obviously a game’s length doesn’t determine its quality, but if you’re someone who wants to make the most out of their purchases, Into the Radius seems like it’ll be pretty meaty. And if survival shooters aren’t your cup of tea, there are always other great games that you can find on the Oculus store.
Into the Radius
Into the Radius offers an impressive level of atmosphere and immersion. The inventory system can be clunky, but it doesn't diminish the enjoyment of this survival shooter.
Buy at: Oculus (opens in new tab)
Nick is a freelance journalist and games reviewer with a passion for RPGs, bad puns, and VR. When he isn’t guesting on podcasts or streaming on Twitch, he’s probably playing Borderlands with his husband.
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