Ubisoft’s upcoming VR shooter Space Junkies, announced at last year’s E3, is promising some fast-paced, first-person action fueled by jet packs and an impressive assortment of guns. Getting into a multiplayer demo, I got a chance to fly high, whip around corners at some pretty impressive speeds, and get my hands on a unique array of futuristic weapons that completely stole the show.
Update (03/28/18): We had a chance to dive back into ‘Space Junkies’ at GDC 2018. While not substantially different from our past two times with the multiplayer zero-g shooter – the first at E3 and the second at Oculus Connect in October 2017 – there are some quality-of-life updates worth mentioning from our third time with ‘Space Junkies’.
Improvements include a verifiable tutorial level that takes you through the basics of locomotion and gun firing. This was the first time we’ve seen the tutorial, which before was conducted informally by Ubisoft staff.
Ubisoft’s big improvement this time around was a unique hand gesture system, letting you intuitively make a thumbs up sign, an ‘ok’ sign, a ‘hang ten’ sign, a ‘shush’ sign, and a heart sign when you depress both hold buttons and touch your index fingers together.
There’s also more characters to choose from, including several armored humanoids and reptilian/insectoid aliens. The latter wasn’t so great at replicating the hand gestures since they only have three fingers, although the results are pretty comical. The game’s inverse kinematics system still works very much like Echo Arena’s, letting your body trail behind you as you float in space.
In the demo I played, oxygen wasn’t present, although it’s unclear if this was merely for the purpose of the demo or if they dropped the mechanic entirely. Only armor and health pick-ups were available in GDC demo.
The game has undergone closed alpha access, and is soon heading into closed beta, so these quality-of-life improvements are certainly both a welcome sight, and showing a clear path to its 2018 release for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. In all, the game is approaching a level of polish that very much puts it in the ‘nearly done’ category.
Our original impressions from E3 are below, which give you a better idea of the game’s locomotion, shooting style and general gameplay.
Original Article (06/16/17): Adding a layer of dimensionality to the VR shooter genre, the addition of jet packs lets you quickly zip around the space-based arenas with ease. Using Oculus Touch, it wasn’t very long until I got a handle on the two-stick movement scheme and I was riding around corners and making a quick dash for cover.
Critical to note for Space Junkies: calling it ‘zero-G’ is a bit of a misstep. The game doesn’t allow you complete freedom of movement in the 3D space, as there’s still a fixed up and down to the world, making it feel more like a traditional shooter in level design than a freewheeling spacewalk. In fact, the developers are couching it as a microgravity environment and not zero-G.
The developers over at Ubisoft Montpellier told us they’ve been working on the game for over 3 years (prior to commercial motion controllers like Touch and Vive), and have integrated a number of tricks to make the frenetic action feel more comfortable. The standard 45-degree snap turn, aka ‘VR comfort mode’, is the default locomotion style, but there’s also a smooth-turning option that let you whip around quicker for those with iron stomachs. Like in Ubisoft’s Eagle Flight (2016), Space Junkies makes use of a FOV limiter that automatically engages during fast movement and collisions. All of it seemed to work fairly well, and I walked away with only a slightly heady feeling afterwards.
Balance is key to Space Junkies; you can boost anytime you have the juice, which can be collected around the map, but engaging boost makes you instantly visible to the enemy as a ghostly outline projecting through the level’s walls, making hide-and-seek nigh impossible when it’s on.
You also have to contend with your oxygen level, which acts as a health meter that dwindles down to nothing when you take damage. Like boosts, you can of course pick up fresh weapons and oxygen tanks scattered around the map, but you’ll have to risk getting caught in vulnerable, open spots to do it.
Weapons are also considered a consumable item, becoming useless after the last round is spent. Since there’s no reloading mechanic, you’ll have to make a frenzied dash for the next gun, and hope its something powerful. Guns range from two-handed machine guns and explosive slingshots to single-handed pistols and shotguns which you can dual-wield, all of which had a satisfying explosion or charge-up effect that left me with the impression of holding a substantial piece of kit. We’ll have more on the weapons of Space Junkies in a video due out later today.
Everything considered, Space Junkies is shaping up to the level of polish and comfort that Ubisoft has become known for with its previous VR titles. I’m not sure if the game’s 1v1 and 2v2 multiplayer combat will satiate my need for digital space carnage, but stay tuned for the full review when Space Junkies launches in early 2018 on HTC Vive and Oculus Touch for all the details on Ubisoft’s first VR shooter.