You’re swarmed. Things are looking bleak. Coming from the left and right are a mass of angry machines. You glance down. Two lives left. Not impossible. Laser fire engulfs your field of view, causing a reactionary dance. There’s too many! Flinging your arm behind you and grabbing your shield, you manage to deflect the volley back. No time to stop. Another volley. Reality slows. Your left hand fumbles at the gun, cycling through the modes. Your knees go slack, allowing gravity to pull you down, turtling on the ground, like a shield-bearer greeting a hail of arrows. Grenade launcher? You reach outside the shield and fire, the grenade detonating almost instantaneously. A cacophonic serenade. Next wave.
Space Pirate Trainer is the VR equivalent of a score attack game from the arcades of the 80s and 90s. Even its visual aesthetic seems reminiscent of those infrared halcyon days. Its gloomy metals, laser-fire and floating billboards constantly remind me of the arcades of the future spotted in the background in old sci-fi and cyberpunk films. They were an impossible glimpse of what could be, when we were still in awe of 3D. Now that future’s here, and it’s awesome.
The tools of a space pirate are finite but versatile, with six different weapons to choose between. The default is a rapid laser that is probably the easiest to manage and often my go-to. Dual wielded, this makes you feel like vintage, badass Lara Croft – until my fingers began to seize up! There’s also grenade, beam, charge shot and shotgun functions to suit every occasion. It’s possible to manage your guns’ modes independently although I found it fairly difficult to wield different modes simultaneously.
Reaching an arm behind your back will bring out a shield that does more than simply offer protection. Not only can you deflect incoming bullets and dual wield shields for a moment’s respite, but you can transform a shield into the Volton. This is a sort of intergalactic cattle prod, but it can also latch onto enemies, activate turrets and features a tesla coil that can quickly dispose of clusters of droids. It’s entirely viable to play sword and board style, especially for moments when you’re surrounded or just being careful.
Once this arsenal becomes ingrained in your muscle memory, Space Pirate Trainer becomes quite spectacular indeed. Dodging shots, switching weapon modes on the fly, deflecting barrages of fire and getting critical hits – being a space pirate feels amazing.
Your sense of place is excellent, aiming with the Moves feels instantaneously rewarding, and there’s no compensation to figure out, ala Superhot. It’s possible to be quite accurate, even getting critical hits with your shooting, and with practice you’ll become even adept at blind fire, which will leave you unbearably smug.
When projectiles are incoming, bullet time triggers to let you dodge them or, if you’re super cool, shoot the projectiles out of the sky. Although you can move around a bit, you’re restricted to a small area which is marked on the floor. Playing on PSVR as opposed to with Vive’s or Oculus’ room scale VR, it can be a little too easy to move outside of the play area, and avoiding this takes some practice especially when you have a lot of stuff to dodge. Accidentally moving outside of the play area is a little discombobulating, but at least it’s brief.
Your adversaries are millions of increasingly aggressive and massive droids. Whilst not hugely remarkable, the waves of enemies have a logical escalation pattern to their design and visual cues for attacks. I haven’t made it to the end yet, but there are bosses to contend with and later waves are absolutely chaotic, as droids increasingly move outside your field of view. Here the 3D audio really supplements the experience, and it is expertly done.
Dispatching droids in quick succession will lead to combos and spawns shoot ’em up style powerups. These all feel particularly satisfying to use, but activation requires shooting them, adding an extra later to strategy and aiming, since you may want to save certain powers for harder enemies.
There’s a smattering of modes, but they’re all variations of arcade. There’s an easier wave explorer option, with regenerating health allowing for a bit more longevity, while a hardcore mode removes the bullet time slowdown, which requires some serious reflexes. In fact, I’d go as far to state that this is the hardcore difficulty setting absolutely worthy of its name. Weapon configurations and power-ups can be adjusted, but all in all, SPT is unabashedly a score attack arcade game. And an exceptionally good one at that.
Whilst Space Pirate Trainer is fundamentally a singleplayer and online score competitive title, it is also a wonderfully wholesome pass-the-VR game to play with pals. The main screen displays a local scoreboard with classic 3 character namess. There’s a party mode in the settings too, providing a temporary fresh scoreboard for you and your friends/cats to compete.
If I had one major complaint it would be that there is only a single level to look at, although buried in the options it does seem there’s another to unlock. I haven’t managed it yet, despite getting quite far in arcade. The setting presented does have a charm, like you’re overlooking the gates in Cowboy Bebop. I initially had a few problems with the Moves, but that was with their design, rather than the game. Spoiler: it’s the buttons.