Oculus presented a bevy of games at their pre-GDC Gameday event, some launching on the 28th of March alongside the Rift and some destined for Touch, the company’s natural input controller heading to consumers in Q3 of this year. We went hands-on with VR Sports Challenge from Sanzaru Games, a game that promises to make you feel like you’re the star of the weekend highlight reel.
Sanzaru was only showing two of its sports games at the Oculus event, football and basketball, with hockey and baseball promising to ship with the final build (the launch date and price are still pending). And that’s when for the first time ever I was actually good at sports.
Granted the sort of game VR Sports Challenge is shaping up to be is supposed to be only a small slice of the actual target sport, as Sanzaru president and CEO Glen Egan says it “takes all of the boring parts out and leaves you with just the action.”
I started out on the football field in the huddle. It was up to me, the team’s QB, to call the play. Looking down I saw a holographic wrist-mounted playbook on my left hand displaying several preset plays complete with a small preview map of each play. Not being a football player of any sort, I cycled through the plays aimlessly and chose an arbitrarily silly play name.
Teleporting to the line of scrimmage, I was hiked the ball in slow motion. Ball in hand, time sped back up to normal and red circles appeared around my potential receivers to clue me. Slowly turning green to indicate that they were open, I lobbed the ball high over the offensive line to the farthest guy I could see, you know, because I know how to play football. Instantly I became the receiver trying to catch the ball I just threw. Tipping the ball with a single hand, I activated another slowmo mode. The lights dim around me and focus is put on the ball. Catching it with both hands now I realize that the farthest guy I threw the football to was near the end zone. Now it’s me in the end zone, catching the ball to a crowd of cheering fans.
A lot of the interactions in VR Sports Challenge have a sort of variable time dilation that help highlight the golden moments of the game. The basketball challenge offers its own slowmo slam dunk challenge that has you flying through the air, tossing the basketball off the backboard to get the most style points. Besides the slam dunk part of the game, there was also a 3-pointers challenge that has the court lighting on fire when you make consecutive baskets and cooling down when you biff it.
After playing, I found out that my brand new impressive skills were a little fudged to say the least. Basketballs went in a little easier than they really would have, and footballs flew further, straighter and were easier to catch than real ones. But getting close enough really is ok, because while the difficulty can’t ever approach reality-levels of play, the arcade-style sports game promises to be the casual sort of game you show off at parties—like the famously shareable Wii Sports. That said, I did fail several times, and to the audible glee of onlookers. I overshot receivers and screwed up dunk challenge after dunk challenge, always in pursuit of making the longest pass or the coolest dunk, fully aware that people were watching me mirrored on the monitor.
As a standing game that uses Touch, all of the interactions were aligned so you’d always be facing the IR sensors so no nasty presence-breaking occlusion could happen to your hands, a must for a game that heavily relies on catching the ball at just the right moment.
VR Sports Challenge, like all titles we tried using Oculus Touch, has no definite release date yet. The build we saw didn’t incorporate their fan/point system or any achievements that could give the different challenges a new twist, so more iterations of the game are still in the near future.