Fitness and history lesson combine in this action orientated reenactment of one of the legendary conflicts in Chinese history, the Battle of Red Cliffs. Apparently, this decisive conflict marked the final stages of the Han Dynasty and forms a major part of the narrative of the 14th-century Chinese novel the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Considered China’s own Trojan War story it has spawned a major film, the Dynasty Warrior series of video games, and now, a VR fitness battler title, where you are thrust into the action, charged with destroying the warlord Cao Cao and his army.
If you are anything like me, chances are that your knowledge of Chinese military history is somewhat lacking. In that case, I suggest watching this short video from this dazzlingly enthusiastic man who can give you the low-down on the details of the Red Cliff campaign, so that when you step into the game, you have some idea of what you’re fighting for.
Ok, so now you know the historical background and are suitably pumped for war, let’s talk a little about the game itself.
As you can see from the trailer, it can best be described as a wave-based sword/archery/throwing things battler where you are transported through various scenes to fight hordes of enemies using whatever weapons the game gives you at the moment. You start out using a wooden baton, then progress to a curved sword, a bow, long spear, throwing axes etc. Kill everybody in the scene and you will be transported to the next location.
There are also boss battles where you must learn to defeat your opponent using a series of choreographed, timed moves, similar to the boxing game Knockout League. In fact, although the historical period and setting is very different, I found the cartooned graphical style, to be rather reminiscent of that title. The boss battles represent the most intense part of the game physically, often requiring you to duck quickly under swinging ax blows, or jump out of the way of head caving smashes.
How intense this feels to you will, of course, depend on your own fitness level. I include here a couple of Youtubers playing, one an older, heavier guy who clearly found it exhausting work, and the other, younger and slimmer, who coped much better, but nonetheless still felt the pace.
Personally, I’m coming from fighting full 12 round fights in Thrill of the Fight and putting in solid one hour sessions on BoxVR, and I still found this game to be physically intensive. I was seriously winded after the second boss battle especially!
For this review, I set my Fitbit Charge 2 to monitor a timed 30-minute play session. As with all VR fitness games, I made the most of my play space and moved about as much as possible, attacking my foes with the fullest force.
The results of my session were as follows;
- Calories burned: 199
- Average heart rate: 135
- Max heart rate: 162
- Steps: 2222
- Active Minutes: 29
As you can see from my Fitbit stats, I found this game to be hard physical work! It starts out fairly lightly but really ramps up once you progress to the second stage and beyond. The boss battles especially are a physical challenge. It took me five attempts to defeat the second boss and the speed with which you have to duck, squat, and leap out of the way not only had me gasping for air but has left me struggling to walk two days later as I write this! Boss battles aside the game is mostly an arm workout, and as with most VR games, how intense you find it depends on how much effort you put in. http://vrhealth.institute/ have not tested the fitness level of this game but I would say it would probably be somewhere between Gorn and Knockout League in intensity. My 30-minute session had me burn 199 calories, which translates to 6.6 per minute, in line with that statement.
This game provides a solid arm workout, with a surprising amount of variety. You will be slashing and stabbing with swords, parrying blows with shields, firing arrows, hurling axes and impaling people with long spears and then tossing them skywards. It’s fun and works your arms from a range of different angles.
Legs 7/10 general game – 10/10 Boss battles
This is a funny one to score. The only time your legs are really worked is during boss fights. The rest of the time it’s mostly arm swinging with your legs providing balance and stability, similar to Thrill of the Fight. However, I found the second boss in this game to be the most physically demanding leg experience I’ve had so far in VR. Two days on from doing my play test my legs are still sore and I can hardly bend them. Given that I spend about 90 minutes a week doing all the leg workouts in BOXVR and never ache at all the next day this really surprised me!
Core and Balance 8/10
You’ll get a great core workout from this similar to shadow boxing. Because your sword swings and spear thrusts are against air, there is no object to stop your momentum, meaning your back and core muscles have to do the job of stopping the force of the swing and maintain your balance.
Time Perception 6/10
I found the game a bit frustrating at times, as you have to complete each section to progress. This often means repeating the same section several times until you get past it, which can become tedious. I got stuck at the second boss, and it took me five attempts to defeat him. Were I not committed to a 30-minute time test I think I would have given up at three attempts as I was exhausted. Glad I pushed through though!
The game has two modes, A campaign story, consisting of six chapters, and a challenge mode, which allow you compete in trials for high scores. I’m not sure you’d want to go back over the game once completed so I’d estimate 2 – 3 hours of play-time, more if you enjoy the challenge modes.
Fitness Scalability 6.5/10
The story mode is highly linear and you have to complete each section to progress. Obviously, you can choose how much effort you put into your movements and arm swings, but essentially you have little options for ramping up or reducing the difficulty level. One nice touch is the ability to choose whether you are left or right handed though, and equip the weapons accordingly.
Lack of Nausea 10/10
There is no locomotion in the game. You are teleported to an area where you have to kill all the enemies, at which point the next teleport highlights, and you are transported there. As a result, nausea should not be an issue at all.
Social Competition 3/10
This is a single player game only. The challenge mode has a scoreboard but you need to complete the game story mode first to unlock those.
VRFI Fit Score 8/10
This is a great physical game for fans of the timed, choreographed fighting mechanics of Knockout League. The historical setting is original and a refreshing spin on the usual medieval style sword games. It is quite short, and repetitive, however, as you will often have to attempt a scene several times to progress. Although the graphics are excellent, the rival bosses taunt you in conversation through text boxes rather than human voice-overs, which ruins the atmosphere a bit and leaves it feeling slightly unfinished. The fighting mechanics are fun, however, and work really well. As a game, it has some shortcomings, but as a physical challenge, it certainly ranks as one of the more challenging story driven games you can buy.
Great graphics and interesting historical setting.
Lots of weapons and excellent fighting mechanics.
A great physical workout.
Quite short in length.
Some sections involve a lot of trial and error and repetition to get past.
Not that replayable once you’ve beaten it.
Battle of Red Cliffs is available on both Steam and the Oculus Store. At full price it’s around $29 which is a little steep, but it’s regularly discounted at 50% off on both stores, so I’d recommend waiting for a sale. I bought it on the Oculus Store for £7.99 and was happy with the price.