With VR finally reaching consumers’ hands, independent developers have begun to swoop in to fill the market with software to experience. And though VR has only been out for a few years, the market has become very competitive with certain genres already reaching a high level of saturation. One of the most common games to reach the VR market places are arcade shooters, think Space Invaders brought to the 3D space and blended with the immersion and controls of VR. Yet in this populated market, My.com has just released their take on the genre: VR Invaders. Does VR Invaders do enough to stand out against tight competition with unique mechanics and twists on the genre?
Dual Wield Your Way Through a Treacherous Assault
Your core arsenal to defend against the invading horde is a basic repeating laser gun in your right hand and an energy shield in your left. The laser gun has a nice amount of haptic feedback and is satisfying to use. However, I do wish there was some sort of incentive to take a more accurate tap firing approach versus just always holding down the trigger and spraying away at the drones. But that’s pretty pedantic. The core feel is still solid.
The shield, equipped in your left hand, is a vital resource to staying alive in VR Invaders. Assuming you catch them coming, the shield can absorb oncoming lasers, deflecting them from sapping your health. I call the shield a resource because in my mind it is one. Not only is it your best tool to stay alive, but the shield can only take so many hits before breaking and needing to recharge.
After you get a feel for your weaponry, the levels offer temporary upgrades or power ups to spice up the game play. Your standard repeating blaster can quickly evolve into something new with varied power ups ranging in effect from shotgun bullets to dual wielding or even health pickups.
Squeezing the trigger on your left hand, which holds the shield, activates one of the game’s key mechanics: slowing down time. Beyond feeling like you’re truly diving into the Matrix, it actually works around a lot of the game’s other mechanics quite well. However, you’ve only got a few seconds of slowing time, feeling like Neo, before it runs out. The way you see how much more you can manipulate time is something I’ve never seen in a game before. The game’s core UI is elegantly blended into the gun and shield by representing your health and how much longer you can slow time as bars or tubes built naturally into the 3D models.
How VR Invaders Stands Out
The game runs at a breakneck pace with waves of enemy drones pouring out from every vent and shaft. All of these elements in tandem create a twist to the game play, which could have very easily fallen into being yet another simple wave based shooter. Playing the game, the title truly feels accurate. The main element setting it apart from any other simple shooting gallery game is the sense of pressure. With the horde of whirling and swooping drones coming from every angle, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the oncoming wave. A big part of what makes the game play interesting comes from monitoring the horde of attacking drones and knowing what is the highest threat at any given moment.
To help you cope with all of the movement, the game gives you directional orange flashes in your peripheral vision to indicate when an enemy has fired its laser at you. In an interesting twist, the lasers have a pretty slow speed as they come at you. Because of this, you’re alerted to their location when they’re far away and hard to shoot out of the air, you’ll have to stay aware of them to circle back in a few seconds when they’re in range to be blocked by your shield.
All of these mechanics blend to create a natural layer of targeting and prioritization in the game play, which is one of the most unique elements of VR Invaders. And it’s a system that can be really enjoyable to play. You’ll be scanning the battlefield, gauging which units are the biggest threat in terms of weaponry or armor and aiming in on them. Timing when to check your surroundings is tricky, but that can be aided with your ability to slow time. Slowing time for a few seconds to catch your breath and look at which drones want you dead is super handy, but easily burns through your resources leaving you unable to slow down time in a tight moment.
Nearly Polished to Sheen. Nearly.
On a technical front, the game is far more polished than most VR shooters. The graphics are quite gorgeous and project an impressive amount of sci-fi scale. The game’s interactions, tracking and game play are honed with zero bugs or hangups in my testing. VR Invaders is already available on Steam for the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift and the PlayStation Store for PlayStation VR. And while I wasn’t able to test it out with an HTC Vive personally, it worked wonderful with my Oculus Rift CV 1 with Touch.
The game is graphically quite impressive, while not hyper realistic, VR Invaders picks a style and sticks to it. Each of the game’s 12 levels are a unique imagining of an environment that feels part monolithic warehouse, part intricate motherboard circuitry. While not incredibly intricate, there are some elements of game play that tie nicely into each level, like learning the shafts the drones emerge from and some levels even have destructible elements that can effect your line of sight or attack patterns.
All of these visual and design themes tie in really well to the setting of the story, where you’re diving through the various stages searching for what trapped a user in VR. The game’s story is told in the form of audio tracks for each mission. It’s a slightly cliché VR narrative following you as a freelance hacker or “diver” who is brought on to discover how and why a VR user has been trapped inside the virtual world. While taking second stage to the game’s game play in terms of appeal, it’s pretty developed for a VR story and will feel familiar if you’ve read something to the tune of William Gibson’s Neuromancer. If you’re more interested in the hectic game play, no worries. The story can be toggled on and off from the main menu.
The biggest technical blunder is that the game does not support switching the hands for the controllers. It forces a lefty to use the laser gun in their non-dominant hand. While this shouldn’t even be an issue in the first place, it’s an even bigger bugger for Touch users. Unlike the ambidextrous Vive controllers where a lefty can just swap the controllers in their hands, the Touch are ergonomically designed and cannot be comfortably inverted.
Is VR Invaders Worthy of Checking Out?
The market of VR shooting games is a saturated one, but VR Invader holds some key unique qualities that help it stand out. Aside from the issue with lefties, the game is incredibly technically polished and has the mechanic with time control as well as the frenzy of having waves of speeding drones. The price of $18 as of writing is a little steep and doesn’t help it in comparisons with the less expensive current VR arcade shooter giant: Space Pirate Trainer. But if you don’t already own Space Pirate Trainer or have played it for all its worth, VR Invaders presents a nice package of hectic game play, technical polish and an interesting story that’s definitely worth checking out.