Today’s a sad day, as I end my voyages into the realms of virtual reality and have to send our HTC Vive review unit back. We’ve covered a lot of ground this week, looking first at the hardware, before turning to games of all sizes, both finished and in their early stages of development, to see where this nascent technology can take gaming in future.
This final selection of games starts off by taking us to the past.
Time Machine VR | HTC Vive, Oculus Rift | Minority Media Inc. | £22.99
If you have a time machine, chances are you’re either going to use it to go back and kill Hitler, or head quite a bit further back in time to visit the dinosaurs. Time Machine VR falls into the latter camp, and sees your visit the huge creatures that lived beneath the water. Whether it’s an ancient form of sea turtle, the deep diving Ophthalmosaurus or the predatorial Pleiosaurus, you’ll be seeing creatures that no longer roam this world.
Available on both HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, this is a seated VR experience, placing you in a time travelling capsule. Look straight above you and there’s a Back to the Future-esque clock, while below and behind you are a seat and some propulsion engines outside, but you’re essentially in a shielded bubble and able to look around freely.
Your machine moves at a very sedate pace, with the left motion controller used to gently move in any direction in 3D space. Meanwhile, your right controller acts as a multitool, letting you switch between various devices to tag and mark creatures, scan them, and more. As you visit their natural habitat you’re guided by an AI to perform various tasks in order to complete research missions and learn more about each creature and how they lived. Luckily, you can slow time to a crawl, a useful trick when it comes to trying to scan the apex predators that try to take a bite out of you from time to time.
This isn’t purely an exploration for the good of science, but one with a cataclysmic imperative in the future. In this way, with videos from a scientist leading the research, it takes the game a few steps beyond being a pure tech demo.
But it’s far from perfect. The controls for your ship feel just a little bit awkward, and it can be tiring to hold your arm up to move around – I took to lazily resting it on my leg and using this as the new centre point. More jarring is the way that every time you load to a new location, you’re booted out to the SteamVR void for a few moments, which led me to believe the game had crashed the first couple of times.
Quar: Battle for Gate 18 | HTC Vive | Steel Wool Games | £14.99
Based on the tabletop game This Quar’s War, Quar: The Battle for Gate 18 is a gorgeous looking turn-based strategy game. There’s a cartoon-like twist to the bright and summery environments, while the long snouts and hunched stature of the warring insect eating Quar is quite endearing. Or it would be, if the story didn’t depict them as an endlessly warring race.
Much like the tabletop game, you move your units around on a hexagonal grid, with both sides taking turns to move and perform an action with one of their units. You tower over this, invisibly standing on the battlefield at your feet and gazing down from up high as you issue your commands, moving units from cover to cover and trying to defeat the enemy. Some will have special abilities, such as the commander being able to improve nearby morale and stop your units fleeing, or call in an airstrike to deal damage to a wide area.
There’s a living and breathing base that you can return to between battles, letting you spend points earned from a military victory to upgrade various parts of the base and improve some of your units’ stats. However, you need to make the right decisions when picking what units to take into each of the 12 missions, with only so many points worth of units that you can take, and I soon discovered that a minor tactical mistake early on in a battle can be very costly, as an enemy tank outlived my own and quickly wiped out my infantry.
Quar’s a game that could very easily live outside of VR, and this is a game that can easily be played sat down, but it’s also a good example of how VR can give you a fresh perspective on a genre. You’re not doing anything fundamentally different as you order your troops about, but it feels more involving to be able to walk through a town or teleport your play area to get a different angle on the battle and see what dangers lie in wait.
Cloudlands: VR Minigolf | HTC Vive |Futuretown | £14.99
Sports and motion control have gone hand in hand since Nintendo struck gold with Wii Sports. The Vive’s room scale VR is perfect for this, and there’s several examples on the system already, with being Cloudlands: VR Minigolf just one of many.
With eighteen holes to play, it starts off quite sedately, with a straight putt followed by going round a corner, shooting through the blades of a windmill, and so on. It’s not long before the hole design takes a turn for the bizarre, though, with multiple levels, cannons, fans, moving blocks and more.
Truth be told, it’s all a bit over the top for my tastes. I’d actually rather it featured more of the conventional minigolf designs before venturing into the unusual, just so I could get to grips with the slight detachment between the controller in my hands and the virtual world. Translating the physical contact between putter and golf ball to the player needs a little work and, as with SelfieTennis, the physics can sometimes feel a bit simplistic at times.
Still, everyone loves a bit of minigolf, and Futuretown can continue to build on Cloudlands to cater to both the realistic and the outlandish sides of what VR can do.
Light Repair Team #4 | HTC Vive | Eerie Bear Games | £5.59
It turns out you only need a single person in VR to get the lights back on in Light Repair Team #4. It might sounds like a game that’s focussed on swapping light bulbs and flipping fuse switches – I kind of want someone to make this game now – but it’s actually a nicely thought out puzzle game, centred around manipulating lasers in a number of ways.
There’s no tutorials in the game and you can play the 25 puzzles in any order that you like, which is a fascinating decision from Eerie Bear. Of course, there is a gradual build up if you go through the levels in order, as you start off with one or two mirrors to bounce lasers to their destination, before having to combine them, split them and deal with moving elements in the world. It’s not too difficult to grasp what needs to be done in later levels though, even if you’ve skipped ahead.
It makes good use of the Vive’s room scale VR – another game that asks for 2m for your play area – putting you on some scaffolding in the middle of an excavated trench. You’re always having to aim for a target off in the distance, trying to place mirrors in a very precise manner and making use of the Vive’s exceptionally fine motion tracking to make tiny adjustments to the aim.
The only real downside is that the game feels a little barebones. The actual puzzles are very well thought out, but the graphics are simplistic and, to be honest, the reason why there’s lasers being bounced around doesn’t make much sense. It did bring a smile to my face the first time I noticed lights in nearby buildings coming back on when I was successful – I guess I really am a light repair man? – but it’s best to focus on what’s a lovely little puzzle game.
And on that note, we wrap things up on our HTC Vive review coverage. It’s a system with an awful lot of potential that’s only just beginning to be realised by developers, but just as they are only beginning to scratch the surface, we were only able to explore a fraction of the games out on the system – Pool Nation VR looks excellent, for example.