Frostpoint VR: Proving Grounds is inXile Entertainment and Thirdverse’s upcoming team shooter, and although it was supposed to launch into open beta for everyone on Monday, kicking off a three-week period of free 10v10 team shooting action, it’s now officially live, albeit a little bit later than expected for everyone to play. Here’s some of my impressions after playing a good number of matches in both off-peak times and with a full cadre of live users.
Note: This is an open beta that will change progressively throughout its three-week period. Some things are missing, other things still need polish, the developers tell us. Once the retail version has launched, we’ll be able to drill more into specifics in our full review.
Starting off at your own personal base, you’re given access to a quick text-based tutorial and a firing range where you’ll be able to test out all of the game’s guns and accessories. After getting a handle on the basics and playing around with your preferred locomotion style, which includes snap-turn, smooth turning, and both hand and head-relative forward locomotion, you’re then left to brave the online hordes.
For now, the only match types are your bog standard capture point mode called ‘Conquest’, and ‘Team Deathmatch’, however inXile says more will be coming down the line. Conquest presents a standard A, B, and C site objectives to capture.
Maps are fairly large, and offer a good mix of interiors like hangars and underground bunkers to act as both cover and chokepoints. A constant fog limits the outdoor visibility so much though that your shooting distance is much smaller than the map itself, which makes sniping a little less appealing than it otherwise might be with perfect cross-map visibility.
As for the game’s shooting mechanics, Frostpoint doesn’t simulate guns to the level of, say, Hot Dogs, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, which offers every manner of physical doodad and selector switch on real-world rifles and pistols. While there a bunch of your standard military and police-issue rifles, submachine guns and pistols, it’s slightly more on the arcade end of the simulation spectrum—ammo is infinite and there’s also a number of alien plasma weapons to choose from.
Infinite ammo notwithstanding, it does however include manual reloading, which requires you to eject a used magazine, insert a new one by grabbing it from your hip, and racking the weapon to chamber a bullet. Because not all guns are the same, each gun has a highlighted section to indicate where you need to pull with your free hand to feed the weapon. You can also toggle auto and semi-auto for some guns, however this is done with a single button on your motion controller. Yes, you can go dualies on any weapon, but you’ll probably fumble them and toss one away as you go to reload.
I think Frostpoint strikes a good balance here in the name of keeping action quick with infinite ammo, but not so quick that you’re spraying bullets everywhere willy-nilly. A personal gripe (for now?) is the actual effect shooting has on your enemy. Aiming down the iron signs or magnified scope (depending on the gun) and pulling the trigger feels way more like lobbing a paintball than effectually splattering someone’s guts with a high-powered rifle. This isn’t something you’d notice on a flatscreen shooter, but in VR you need bigger, more expressive effects to make it crystal clear what’s happening to the unfortunate son on the other end of the barrel. Guns aren’t physics-based, so passing them from hand to hand, or from player to player, is a game of tossing them on the floor and hoping the right person picks it up.
As it is now, bots are hopelessly stupid as they casually malinger around objectives and aimlessly stroll towards danger. Playing on off-peak times means you’ll be greeted by a wave of nameless buggers, which are decidedly more cucumber than human. Granted, this isn’t an issue when everyone playing is a human being, but it’s not a welcome sight if you’ve just popped on for a quick game.
The main PvE baddies, called ‘Reclaimers’, are also somewhat stupid at the moment, offering more of a momentary distraction than an actual challenge worth more than a second of your time. They pop into places at random, and are basically just walking bullet sponges waiting for a half-mag worth of bullets to silence before you move on your merry way. I know the game’s PvE element is supposed to help amp up action, but I just don’t think Frostpoint has nailed it yet into making them a more substantial threat that, ideally, would give both teams pause during a firefight to take down before heading back into combat.
Visually, the game is still lacking optimization to make sure it doesn’t look like a potato on min-spec machines. At the time of this writing, frame rate drops are consistent in the largest maps, and that’s on my (very old, don’t laugh) GTX 1080, which is well above the game’s GTX 1060 min-spec.
That said, the game undeniably has good bones, and is in the right hands to make it better. I still wonder whether a good enough game will be… well… good enough to make sure people are coming back for more. As more players come into VR looking for the obvious equivalents of the games they love on flatscreen, games like Frostpoint will definitely have their time to shine. As a cautionary tale, the folks over at Ubisoft Montpellier though stopped pushing updates to Space Junkies (2019) only a few weeks after launch due to low user engagement, and the game worked pretty flawless on basically every level, raising the question whether there’s really a large enough pool of PC VR players to sustain a pure multiplayer shooter which importantly needs to garner a healthy playerbase, fast.
In the end, it remains to be seen whether the ‘Play to Own’ strategy will work in Frostpoint’s favor, as the game will no doubt need to overcome that very same stumbling block that so many other multiplayer-only VR titles face, namely maintaining a high enough concurrent userbase to keep people playing and not overly relying on Discord groups to help fill up servers.
There’s still plenty more to do to get the game in retail condition though, so in these next three weeks we may see all the missing pieces come together. There’s certainly no telling what the magical formula is for a VR hit team shooter either, so we’ll be reserving judgement for the final version when it launches on Steam and the Oculus Store for PC VR headsets sometime soon.