Those who purchased their PlayStation VR headsets at launch may remember Danger Ball. Part of the PlayStation VR Worlds five-game bundle, it was basically Pong in virtual reality, players moving their head to deflect incoming balls, bouncing them off walls and trying to score in the opponent’s endzone.
Sparc, from EVE Online creators CCP Games, feels like an evolution of this base concept, with more than a few hints of Tron alongside it, turning it into a virtual sport. It’s a major change in direction for the Icelandic powerhouse and has no links to its massive space-faring flagship. Instead of mining meteors and leading fleets into epic battles, Sparc is an energetic dose of competitive fun crafted specifically for two players.
Like all the best games for PlayStation VR, Sparc uses two motion controllers in tandem with the headset to track body movement. Compared to most virtual reality games using Sony’s tech, you’ll also need a little more room or at least enough to fully stretch both arms.
It won’t take long to nail down the basics. Standing on opposite sides of a tunnel-like arena, both players will chuck their orbs, attempting to hit each other. Although there are two balls in almost constant motion, you can only grab and throw your own, using the gauntlet-like Knuckles to punch away the other. On paper it sounds incredibly simple, but there’s a little more to it. For instance, when holding your orb it will create a shield which can be used to defend against attack. Then there are Strikes. If you opponent manages to sidestep your shot, there’s a good chance it will hit their endzone and trigger a Strike, increasing the size and speed of your orb until you next score a point.
The fidelity with which you can hurl the ball – applying spin and bouncing it off walls – adds another dynamic layer to each match. Within no time you’ll find yourself feinting, blocking, and dodging in a frenzied flurry of movement. Whoever hits their opponent the most number of times before the match ends wins.
Delving into Sparc, my biggest concern was the potential for server issues. My connection is touch and go at the best of times, let alone when matched with one of the sparse few players also looking for a Sparc match. Even when paired with challengers from the U.S, Australia, and Europe, I encountered no lag or disconnections whatsoever.
That same smoothness carries into the look and feel of Sparc. There’s a serene aesthetic that fans of CCP Games will be accustomed to – a minimalist, uncluttered design that strips everything back, focusing purely on the match at hand.
In terms of matchmaking, CCP has taken an interesting albeit risky approach, throwing a handful of users into the same lobby. They will be matched, two at a time, as everyone else spectates, gazing down from above. It’s very well done, but if there’s one thing I dislike when strapped into my PlayStation VR, it’s standing by idly, having nothing to do. There’s also longevity to think about too. It’s never taken longer than a couple of minutes to find a match, but if server numbers fall off a month or two after launch, Sparc has little else to entice players beyond a small selection of solo challenges. When you consider the £24.99 buy-in, it’s something definitely worth taking into consideration, however, player counts will hopefully be boosted with the eventual releases on HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.
Sparc is the first in what will hopefully become a burgeoning genre for virtual reality. It’s a frenetically charged competitive sport that doesn’t bog itself down with too many rules. At the same time, it’s a risky investment. I hate being a pessimist, but as soon as the number of active players begins to dry up, you’ll be left with an empty husk of a game.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4 Pro