With E3 2017 getting fully underway, EGM’s Mollie L Patterson and Ray Carsillo had a chance to go hands-on (head-on?) with some of the virtual reality offerings at gaming’s biggest show of the year. If you’re looking for reasons to possibly get a VR headset, or already have one and are looking for the next big game, here are five virtual reality games that’s got the show floor buzzing at E3 this year.
|Developer: 4A Games
Release Date: TBD 2017
If there’s one thing the studio that brought us the Metro series of video games knows, it is how to depict a post-apocalyptic Russia, and they’re doing that again with their first major foray into virtual reality. In the near future of Arktika.1, the world has entered a new ice age. Everything beyond the equatorial region of the planet is inhospitable for humans, but a few souls brave the subzero elements searching for riches and resources that the remaining population will pay handsomely for. And this is the life of the unnamed mercenary you play as, braving the Russian wilderness and fighting off bandits…and worse.
Whether it was these gun-wielding maniacs, or the unexplained mutants—humanoid creatures with claws and fangs that love feasting on human flesh—your merc has his work cut out for him in VR. But it was also tremendous fun to dual-wield a wide assortment of firearms to take them down. Although I could only carry two at a time, my demo allowed us to pick from an assortment of common magnums, to rail blasters that fired hard-light projectiles that explode after embedding into your foes. With the Oculus Touch, this gunplay was fast and frantic and extremely satisfying. One concern I have, however, is each gun has a specific loading motion—some you’d have to wave your arm to the right, others drop to your waist, and others still had you swinging your arm to the left—and remembering how to reload (which isn’t automatic after emptying a clip) could be difficult in the midst of a firefight.
My other concern comes with the fact that Arktika.1 uses the “blink” method of movement in VR, where you look at a point and then click your controller to move there instantaneously. Though this cuts down on the motion sickness potential, it also hurts immersion, and actually can be just as disorienting in the midst of a battle when you’re blinking from cover to cover.
Despite these minor misgivings, Arktika.1 has the potential to be a fantastic action title for the Oculus and conveys the bleak mood and atmosphere that 4A perfected with their Metro series. It’s enough to make me put on a parka and jump back into Oculus when the game releases sometime later this year.
|Developer: Skydance Interactive
Headsets: PSVR, Oculus, Vive
Release Date: July 2017
I’m not a VR person. Even if we were to move beyond my general uncertainty on the technology being the “next big thing,” the bigger problem is that, usually, I simply can’t play VR games due to the intense motion sickness that I feel. So, on those rare occasions that I do strap on a virtual reality headset, it’s almost always for games that seem calm enough for me to stand for more than two minutes, something that really catches my eye, or both.
Archangel ended up being one of those games. As the first original VR project from Skydance Interactive, Archangel sits you in the pilot’s chair of a giant mech that’s part of a team from what I assumed to be some military group. I can’t say for sure, because while the demo was giving me a quick introduction to the story, I was busy looking around my surroundings and playing around with my giant robot arms.
In what felt a little like a more interactive Pacific Rim, each of the Oculus Touch controllers I was using gave me full movement control over each of my mech’s arms. Beyond simply being able to swing them through the air and wishing I was smashing my surroundings like a rampaging kaiju, each had other actuals functions, from offensive weaponry to defensive options for safeguarding my mech’s health.
Though my demo with Archangel was relatively short—in part because I did a bad job of that safeguarding due to constantly getting lost in checking out the wastes of a once great city that had been mostly swallowed up by desert—it left me kind of wishing that I had more tolerance for VR. While some of the ideas that have come for the platform haven’t left me excited, feeling like you’re piloting a looming robot that has some real power behind it was pretty cool. The concern I’d have, though, is how the full game will be for those who give it a go. The section that I played was fully on rails, and though I didn’t feel like that was a bad choice at all during the demo, I always worry about that style of gameplay when it comes to a full, much longer experience.
Hopefully, Archangel makes not just a great demo, but also an enjoyable final game.
-Mollie L Patterson
|Developer: Hidden Path Entertainment
Release Date: TBD 2017
There are some genres that are still trying to figure their way around the virtual world, and the real-time strategy genre can definitely be considered amongst them. With an aptitude for strategy in all its forms, though, Hidden Path Entertainment might have found a way to help bridge the gap with their RTS efforts in Brass Tactics.
Giving players a god-view of an entire map, players will construct a clockwork army of cavalry, archers, tanks, and more as they look to eliminate their opponents from any and every battlefield. Utilizing classic RTS mechanics, players will use one hand to swing the map around and zoom in, while using the other to place buildings and command units. And the best part of it all is that resource management is automatic. As long as you keep building, your keep will grow and more automated minion units will continue to mine for the supplies needed to keep your army strong.
Brass Tactics may not be the most immersive VR game I’ve ever played, but if you love strategy with a steampunk aesthetic, this one might be worth a look when it releases later this year.
Release Date: TBD
Given my inability to play most VR games as mentioned above, one of the roles I’ve found myself filling during a variety of gaming events over the last year or so has been as an official “will this make Mollie sick?” tester. That challenge was, in part, why I decided to try Luna. After talking to funomena’s Robin Hunicke, we were curious if their interactive fairytale about a young bird that swallows a piece of the moon would be a calm enough experience for me to get through.
Calm it definitely was. After a brief, wordless intro played out between our bird and a devious owl, players are left to explore a variety of dioramas that seem crafted from a combination of origami, papercraft, and stop-motion animation. Feedback from Luna is near non-existent unless you actively do something—which is part of the point. Hunicke told me that one of their goals was to encourage those playing Luna—especially younger players—to feel free to poke, prod, push or pull the things they found in the environments to discover what would happen. Such games can definitely leave some players feeling lost and confused on “what to do,” but once you strip away that expectation that you have to be “doing” something at every moment, such experiences can be a welcoming alternative to the sensory overload that VR games can often be.
For those who can appreciate such titles, Luna’s success or failure will depend on how enthralling it can remain once players get past the initial feelings of “oh, this is kind of neat.” That’s something that’s hard for me to answer from my ten or so minutes spent in Luna’s world, but I can at least say that the team at funomena really seems to be putting a nice layer of care and artistry into the game. So, hopefully, it’ll indeed be more than just another batch of virtual reality eye candy.
-Mollie L Patterson
|Developer: Ready at Dawn
Release Date: TBD 2017
This was one of the more curious demos I experienced with VR recently. Instead of showing us the puzzle-driven single-player campaign where players inhabit the body of an AI on a space station—including full range of motion in a zero gravity environment—we played Lone Echo’s multiplayer portion dubbed Echo Arena.
Still utilizing the full 360-degree navigation afforded by zero gravity, Echo Arena feels like a full-blown sports league waiting to happen. Teams of four race towards the middle of egg-shaped arena to grab a discus. Players then can pass the discus between each other or shoot for a circular ring. Getting the disc through the ring rewards two or three points based on throw distance and the team with the most points at the end of five rounds wins. To complicate matters (as if they weren’t complex enough with the zero gravity sensation), players can temporarily stun one another with punches to he head.
I played several rounds because I quite simply could not get enough of Echo Arena. My competitive nature completely took over and the surprising physicality as the Oculus tracked my jumps, ducks, and wild swings with great accuracy left me exhausted but also exhilarated. The boosts to work my way through zero gravity took some getting used to, but within two matches I was setting myself up near the ring to clean up errant throws from my teammates and score some game-winning goals. Even if Lone Echo’s campaign can’t get across the thrills of simulating a zero gravity experience, its multiplayer could be one of the first real must-have experiences you need to play here in VR’s early lifecycle.