While simulating familiar experiences in virtual reality is interesting in its own right, the technology is also capable of creating experiences that are otherwise impossible—for instance, plummeting to Earth in a futuristic EVA suit while fending off an alien parasite. Vanguard Valkyrie, the first title from Justin Moravetz’s VR-dedicated studio, Zero Transform, is making it clear that the arcade action of decades past will come blazing into the VR realm.
From the “Press Any Key to Continue” title screen to the energetic soundtrack, Vanguard Valkyrie feels like a love letter to the cherished arcade titles of the past without feeling one bit held back by their limitations.
It’s clear that Zero Transform have a deep appreciation not only for the spirit of arcade gameplay, but also for virtual reality. Moravetz, the mind behind the highly acclaimed but canceled Proton Pulse demo, has made large strides when it comes to the VR interface design and subsequent user experience. There’s no fumbling for keys that you can’t see; the entire experience is smartly controlled with head movements, and even use the Rift’s IMU as a ‘button’ where needed.
When launching the game, a brief calibration sequence has me floating above the Earth with the Moon out in front of me. To avoid the need for the keyboard, the game asks me to tap on the side of the Rift to calibrate. The spike in the IMU is read as an input event and my view is centered. Then, to ensure that head tracking is working—and familiarize with the weapon mechanics—I’m asked to lock-on to several enemies in a circle. Next comes a beautiful Vanguard Valkyrie title screen in stereoscopic 3D with an energetic score composed of orchestral and rock elements.
At the start of the game I’m inside the body of Qu, the main character. Her AI companion, BiT, joins the scene and gets the action started by switching the view to his ‘augmented reality’ camera output. BiT flies along behind Qu, giving a third-person view of the action.
From the moment Qu’s thrusters ignite, it’s clear that even at this stage of the game’s development that much work has gone into the visual effects. The trailing thrusters pop perfectly against the dark backdrop of space and play very well with the stereoscopic 3D of the Oculus Rift—I absolutely can’t wait to try this with the DK2’s better saturated screen. Moving my head causes Qu to fly around the scene, and my first task is to dodge a bunch of meteoroids threatening to destroy her heat shield.
Thanks to the stereoscopic 3D and some smart lighting on the meteoroids from Qu’s glowing-hot heat shield, it’s easy to tell how close I am and dodge with the intuitive head control. As I duck and weave, I can see some meteors crash down to Earth far below. One appears to strike a populated area and I can see the power grid go down. That can’t be good.
And that’s when the parasite arrived. BiT enabled Qu’s weapon system, allowing me to lock-on to enemies by looking at them, and shots started flying. Qu can lock-on to multiple targets at once and her enemies return fire in kind—they’re quite accurate! I had to do a significant amount of dodging to juke their aim, all while attempting to counterfire. At the top of the screen I can see the integrity of Qu’s heat shield which is a representation of health; it gets depleted by colliding with meteoroids or debris or when getting hit by enemy fire.
Beside the enemies trying to kill Qu, there’s plenty of debris from exploding meteoroids and crashed satellites. Qu made good use of her thrusters as I dodged up, down, and all around, passing through small keyholes in tumbling satellites.
As I’m ducking and dodging, firing, and getting fired at—all accompanied by head bobbing beats—I’m quite taken aback at the hectic and exciting stage in front of me. Moravetz has lavished Vanguard Valkyrie with an impressive number of effects, from eye-popping particle explosions to crashing debris fields. It speaks heavily to the bar that Zero Transform has set for itself when its willing to put this much elbow grease into a pre-release version of the game. I’m tremendously excited to see what other environments the game will throw at players, and especially to experience it all on the Oculus Rift DK2.
While playing Vanguard Valkyrie, there’s one thing that I absolutely didn’t notice—sim sickness. As with Proton Pulse, the head-controlled nature of this game seems to work very well in preventing any sort of nausea. Even while Qu is flying around the screen, with meteoroids, debris, and lasers flying past my head, I haven’t felt an ounce of sim sickness.
Vanguard Valkyrie is due to hit Kickstarter tomorrow, Wednesday the 23rd.