Virtual reality is capable of a lot of very different things, but the main feat it accomplishes is to put you directly into a digital fantasy world. The real difficulty is getting it into people’s hands and onto their heads so that they can actually experience it, and there’s a real push to get VR units of all three manufacturers into shops, so that curious punters can try it out. Failing that, “mixed reality” is the next best thing.
This isn’t blowing the doors wide open on what the VR experience is actually like, but it’s letting you look through the keyhole and get a glimpse into the world that people are standing in, without being restricted to their particular point of view and the potentially quite erratic movements they can go through.
It’s still a complex system that requires a fair amount of additional equipment in addition to your main PC and the HTC Vive set up. For one thing, you need a green screen background – or a red screen in this case, as HTC shared a booth with AMD – but then you also need a camera, an additional Vive controller to strap to the top of it, and then a second PC that can be used to merge what the camera is recording and what the game is outputting from the exact same viewpoint, performing the chroma keyed composition on the fly.
Without much further ado, here I am playing Space Pirate Trainer:
This was a game available at launch for the HTC Vive, and featured as part of our week-long review of the system and the dozens of games available for it. A fairly standard arcade shooter leant a certain pizazz and flair from being in VR, there wasn’t a whole lot of depth to it at the time, but I-Illusions have continued to work on the game and add to it. The big new feature? The Volton, a convertible sword/shield that can deflect laser shots like a lightsaber and grab the drones coming at you with the Plasmalink.
It is, to put it quite simply, a lot of fun and something that really changes the game for me. Instead of simply cycling through the guns and getting a few moments of experimentation in as you see how many waves you can get through. In fact, while reviewing, I hadn’t actually hit upon the fact that you had a shield on your back, and even that opened up new ways to mess around, as I bounced laser blasts off it and aimed at the drones – I think I’m being fantastically inventive, but the devs have seen it all before – or simply used it to deflect shots from one angle while I focussed on taking out drones from another side.
The Volton’s a whole other beast, requiring a fair bit more precision to deflect incoming shots – that said, the drones aim at where your head is, which helps – but the Plasmalink latches onto drones and lets you swing them around in the air before smashing them into the ground. It’s not perfectly precise, and I wish I’d been able to smash two drones into each other, but it’s great fun to use.
With this, a few new gun modes, powerups, new droids and plenty of other improvements in an upcoming patch to the game, Space Pirate Trainer’s growing into a much fuller game.
But it’s not the only gun for hire in town, and Serious Sam is heading to VR to battle the forces of Mental once more. Serious Sam VR: The Last Hope isn’t quite ready for release yet, but it’s set for a spell in Early Access in the not too distant future.
All the hallmarks of a classic Serious Sam game are on show in The Last Hope, from the weird alien spiders that swarm towards you to skeletons firing twin chainballs your way, and yes, the beheaded humans with bombs for hands that run at you while screaming their heads off. It sounds and looks exactly like a Serious Sam game, except that you’re stood in one area defending yourself. Just like in Space Pirate Trainer, your attention is constantly pulled in more than one direction, trying to keep track of enemies, shooting incoming projectiles out of the sky, and so on.
There’s a good sense of progressions from one area to the next, as you earn money from each stage completion that you then get to spend in the shop to buy new guns and refill your ammunition. You’ll want to switch out your starting pistol as soon as possible, moving up to an assault rifle or a shotgun. You’ve got two hands though, so why not have a pair of shotguns? Or a pair of miniguns? Why the hell not.
My favourite has to be the cannon, though. These things are just ludicrous, taking up so much of your screen, clipping into one another when dual wielding because of how big they are. And then they fire out huge cannonballs that just bounce toward whatever you fired them at, dealing huge amounts of damage to whatever they clatter into. Holding down before you fire sends them off at an even higher speed, and it’s a cannon and a minigun that I resorted to when having to cut down the annoying harpies flitting around in the sky and the hulking red Biomechanoids that stomp towards you.
In essence, Space Pirate Trainer and Serious Sam VR are the first steps on a new generation of light gun game for VR. Both set you down in a small area and throw enemies your way, but they both try and encourage you to move just a little bit to avoid incoming fire. Blending this with a clear level progression as you move from one point to another, and you’ve got something that could be as enticing as those classic Time Crisis and House of the Living Dead arcade machines.