The First Person Shooter is alive and well on virtual reality, and while Sony are leading the charge with a number of exclusives and their gun-like Aim Controller, Vive isn’t to be overlooked. Front Defense: Heroes is a home grown effort, designed from the ground up by Vive’s Fantahorn Studios and putting 5v5 competitive multiplayer on the table. It’s out in Early Access now through Steam and Viveport, and it works really well, simultaneously aping classic shooters and feeling new and refreshing.
At the heart of this is what Vive are calling V-Move. Heroes is actually a multiplayer spinoff to Front Defense which released back in June, putting you into a variety of battles and tasking you with fighting off the incoming waves of enemy soldiers and vehicles. When you want to create a multiplayer shooter, mobility is key, and this is what V-Move enables, letting you move around the battlefield in a rather unique fashion.
Simply press down on the left hand touchpad and your character will run forward, leaving you behind as a third person viewer and steering with the controller’s motion sensors. Let go of the touchpad and you teleport to wherever you moved your body to. It sounds weird, like a dodgy out of body experience, but it actually works really well – full locomotion will eventually be available to those who can stomach it. Before long I’d started to learn the maps and was happily sending my body around corners to cover points that I knew of, though you do need to be wary of attracting enemy fire, as you can’t run and gun at the same time.
The rest of the controls are roughly what you’d expect with an emphasis on physical motions and interactions. To reload you grab the magazine, pull it out, drop it, grab another from your belt and roughly insert it into the gun again. Bolt action rifles have a bolt that you have to manually pull back and release. You grab grenades from your chest and physically throw them.
There’s some interesting wrinkles to the actual gunplay through. Without the rigidity of an Aim Controller-style gun to hold, you still have the ability to grab the barrel and hold it steady – this is cleverly calculated based on the height you tell the game you are – and for scoped weapons, bringing it closer to your face increases the efficacy of the zoom, which kind of blew my mind for some reason.
It takes a little while before you have the realisation of what room scale VR offers this title. While most of the moment will have you sending your body running and jumping around, depending on the size of your room you actually have a fair amount of leeway to move within the area.
For one thing, crouching actually means you need to physically crouch, and you can go prone just as easily – you might disagree if you’ve got a bad back. The true revelation came from when I spotted the barrel of a rifle sticking around a corner that I was stood right next to. If I ran around it, I’d be dead in moments, but hold on, I could quite literally lean out or just walk around it and get the drop on them.
Similar moments of realisation came from being able to crouch in a bush for cover, walk up some slightly glitchy steps (the game is still quite early feeling) and having to duck to go through small passages. Trying to do an overhead grenade throw while 6’5″ didn’t go so well though and I smacked my hand and VR controller into the overhead lighting. Luckily it didn’t break!
Played with teams of two, there were a bunch of really close matches across the game’s handful of maps. It’s funny how having the slowed down movement sees people reverting to type, using cover as much as possible, camping (and spawn camping) and more. Of course, with teams of five, the action is likely going to get much more frantic.
The relatively small maps will help keep battles hectic, with one map based around a town crossroads and offering plenty of sniping, while a church graveyard has tons of headstones to be used for cover. The game’s not necessarily going to knock your socks off with astonishing visuals, and the relative simplicity is part of what makes it feel like a classic WWII shooter, but the natural feeling gameplay and the tension of cowering behind cover and trying to outwit your opponents dispels that for me.
There’s still plenty to iron out during Early Access, such as better positional audio and more natural footstep sounds, making it less glitchy to go up steps and through certain doorways, but with its V-Move system, Front Defense: Heroes has found a great formula for a multiplayer VR shooter. Having just entered Early Access, it’s fairly limited to just Team Deathmatch, a handful of maps and guns, but what’s already there shows a lot of promise and can be a lot of fun to play.