50 years from now, it’s not football that brings the crowds in and has people glued to their TV screens, it’s the Mechanized Combat League. Small teams of highly skilled pilots and the rigs they drive go to battle in bright and colourful arenas, fighting for fame and glory.
It seems that every hardware launch leans on a few staple genres to start with, trying to cater to different audiences, and Rigs is Guerrilla Cambridge’s answer for the FPS crowd – that said, it’s an FPS dressed up in sports game clothes and with a little hint of Wipeout to the visual design.
Common wisdom would tell you that a fast-paced first person shooter in VR doesn’t work, and yet Rigs deftly sidesteps a number of the problems that this throws up. Having the mech suit and the heads up display as fixed points makes you feel like you’re in a vehicle, which is a major step towards banishing motion sickness, but the game is also heavily customisable to suit how much fluid, freeform motion your mind can handle. That said, this is a genre that is particularly prone to motion sickness, so beware that your mileage may vary and consider trying the demo packed in with the PSVR.
You can turn by looking or have the right analogue stick control the mech’s orientation, letting you simply look around within the cockpit. Additionally, you can either show the world while being ejected and relocated to a new mech – there’s no death, just property damage here – or you can have some or all of it blocked from view.
It’s partly because of this that the game’s initial tutorial and set up feels like it takes longer than a modern blockbuster film – the demo’s introduction is much shorter. The other reason is that your chief engineer literally takes you step by step through how to use a clearly labelled menu system. It’s good to have this there for total novices trying VR for the first time, but most early adopters are going to be avid gamers. We can figure out how to use menus.
Controlling your Rig feels great, with just enough heft to make it feel like a very lightly sprung ride. There are four Rig types: the hulking Sentinel, tall and lithe Mirage, squat Hunter and my personal favourite, the Tempest. Each has their own particular style of jump, whether it’s charging it up, a double jump or being able to leap up high and hover in midair.
That’s why the Tempest is my favourite, letting me leap up high and then hang there, sniping with the burst fire rail gun. Whatever the weapon, they use head tracking for aim, but the number of times I been a shade off target, that’s more difficult than it sounds. Some weapons do home, like the smart missile, but it’s really about the role you want to play and the game mode, as to which weapons you want. The impulse cannon pushes enemies about, which is great for objective game modes or close quarters fights when combined with a swift melee, while the beam cannon just sends out beams of pain that make ejection feel utterly inevitable if you’re caught in the open.
You don’t get to customise the loadout yourself, but instead pick from seven sets of rigs. These boast the livery of a particular team, and add an extra passive ability to the mix, from having a shield on your back to being able to healing nearby teammates or drop a nuke upon death – expect to see this used a lot online.
You’re constantly juggling the three power states of the rig. Using the face buttons, you can toggle between moving faster, having your rig repair itself or dealing more damage. Getting takedowns and picking up energy orbs gets you closer and closer to getting overdrive, which triggers all three states at once and giving you a fairly sizeable advantage.
Though there’s only three players on a team, the matches are often fast and furious. The three game modes are sporty takes on staple game modes, with of Team Takedown, a One Flag Capture The Flag mode called Touchdown and the most original of the bunch called Power Slam, in which you have to try to get overdrive then jump into a goal hoop in the middle of the map.
Games are fairly short, with 5 minutes in total and a half time break, which resets and spawns you on the opposite side of the map. However, once the game has started, you can respawn at any of a dozen points on the map, your rig rising from a hatch in the ground and dropping you into it a few moments later. It’s up to you whether you risk spawning close to the enemy or on the other side of the map, and this point can feel quite tactical for it.
While the game is clearly focused on multiplayer, there is a single player mode, which has you hiring different AI to accompany you and playing through three divisions of the league and knockout tournaments. The AI difficulty ramps up, forcing you to hire better and more expensive AI, as you gain enough fame to do so, but slowing down the rate at which you can buy a new rig – thankfully, you also accrue fame and money when playing online.
Even a team of one star AI can surprise you. That’s down to their weapon loadouts and abilities and how effectively they use them. I found myself unable to score in Touchdown because I was being hammered and pushed away from the goal by impulse cannons whenever I came close.
Beyond that, each map has a series of trial events, like racing through checkpoints on a map, fighting waves of dumb grunt Rigs and hunting down targets, and there are weekly challenges on the way for launch. Do well enough and you’re rewarded with cosmetic items, which can also be earned from completing sponsorship goals, both online and offline.
Online has plenty of options as well. Matchmade 3v3 is bound to be the most popular, but there’s also AI assisted 1v1 matches and the ability to play private matches. Online progression follows the typical sports game model of having you play in faux divisions, with each win adding points toward a target that will see you promoted to a higher division. One thing that would help would be being able to pick a playlist that includes all game modes, as opposed to funnelling yourself into a single game mode.
The game looks beautiful, and despite being a faster and more freeform style of game, and so having more difficulty packing detail into every corner, I’d say it’s bright and colourful arenas vie with Batman: Arkham VR for being the best looking game on the system. That said, there’s not really enough maps to play across. With just four, you’ll know them like the back of your hand in just a couple hours of play.
They all look fantastic, though, with Nevada in the shadow of a huge dam, or gorgeous views over Rio, but they’re so few in number, and when combined with the dearth of game modes, it can feel like there’s not too much to the game. That said, you can get several hours out of the single player before getting stuck into the multiplayer.
The main failing with the presentation comes from the amount of time spent before getting into the action. You’ve got a few moments with fist pumping teammates before you head up into the arena, sit through a little sequence on the plane home afterwards, for one, and the half time whistle means you get to look at the leaderboards for a few moments before having to try and find your groove again. The stadium commentator struggles to keep up with what’s going on, as well. Either it’s a blow by blow that’s just a shade behind, or there’s the whimsical notion that a team can come back into it, despite being 10 points down with just a minute to go. I’d love for him to be able to, quite rightly, say that the losing team haven’t got a hope in hell, at that point.
As the only real first person shooter on PSVR, Rigs is fantastic. So long as you’re not affected too heavily by motion sickness, and aren’t put off by the price to content ratio, you’ll find a fast and fluid multiplayer shooter that gets the best out of PSVR.