EVE: Gunjack, The mobile counterpart of the hugely anticipated VR multiplayer space shooter EVE:Valkyrie, is released tomorrow on Samsung Gear VR. We go hands-on with the consumer release and find out that CCP Games have succeeded in setting a new benchmark for visual fidelity in mobile virtual reality.
I doubt if you’d asked the big brass at CCP Games four years ago that they’d be contemplating the release of not one but two virtual reality exclusive titles in just a few years time, they’d have probably told you to stop smoking. After all, the company’s bread and butter is EVE: Online, a detailed space simulator MMO with methodical gameplay that’s far removed form the first person action of VR. Nevertheless, as we find ourselves coming to the close of 2015 and the imminent consumer release of no less than four consumer-ready virtual reality headsets, that’s precisely where the company find themselves.
“We believe that virtual reality will be a defining element of gaming’s future. It may take some time to get widespread adoption, but we’re going to be there on day one,” said Hilmar Veigar Pétursson, CEO of CCP. “We’re making smart investments in VR so we can learn important lessons early and blow people’s minds when they get their hands on their first VR headset.”
EVE:Valkyrie is a multiplayer space shooter set in the universe first charted in EVE: Online. Valkyrie is a title which has evolved alongside virtual reality as a technology platform and remains one of the most hotly anticipated virtual reality exclusive titles—due to arrive alongside those ‘desktop’ headsets next year.
EVE: Gunjack Review on Samsung Gear VR
Gunjack is ostensibly a turret shooter, a genre where you generally face down hordes of enemies manning a static gun emplacement of some description. But to write Gunjack off as ‘just a VR turret shooter’ would be manifestly unfair, it’s definitely setting the bar for the genre on mobile.
In Gunjack, you play the role of a gun turret operator, stationed on a mining vessel somewhere in the depths of space. It’s your job to keep the valuable ship safe by fending off waves of pirates, keen on plundering your precious cargo.
As the game gets started, the Unreal Engine 4 visuals are clearly top of their class. Once returning from a session in this world, it’s all the more surprising that it’s all running off of a mobile phone. And while visuals are impressive, performance may be even more so. In my time with the game I saw nothing but buttery smooth 60 FPS gameplay. I literally didn’t notice a single frame stutter while playing on the Galaxy S6, even after the phone began to warm.
After launching the game you’re presented with a simple look and click grid menu of levels. You unlock missions in order as you go based on how many stars you are able to achieve; each mission rating your performance between one and three.
Tap on the touchpad (or press a button on your favorite bluetooth equipped controller) and you’ll see your detailed turret rise from the floor, eventually with you inside of it as you as transported to the outside of the ship to prepare for combat.
It’s in these moments where you can appreciate what CCP have been able to do with Unreal Engine 4 on a mobile device. The cockpit is impressively detailed, clearly sharing some design notes with that of EVE: Valkyrie. Unfortunately the effort gone into this detail is not capitalized upon, as the moment you begin each level, the turret becomes locked to your head with no ability to look around it any longer.
Functionally speaking, this works out fine, it keeps the UI in the right place, and makes for responsive gameplay. But from an immersive standpoint, it takes you from feeling like you are inside a wickedly cool machine to having a helmet strapped to your head. In essence, the feeling of space around your body evaporates, and this diminishes some of the magic of immersion.
On the battlefield itself, things aren’t as pretty; it’s par for the course from much of what we’ve seen from other mobile VR titles, but it betrays the impressive visuals seen elsewhere in Gunjack.
Gameplay starts out very simply with squadrons of small, weak ships warping into your sector, all lined up for a sweep with your dual gatling weapons. Your default gun has good range and a very high rate of fire, making it simple ans satisfying to sweep a fleet out of existence by tracing the proper line with your reticle. Alone it isn’t very challenging, but as the difficulty slowly ramps up throughout the levels and more varied enemies enter the fray, you’ll be struggling to make those quick sweeps while managing other threats. Doing it right definitely leaves you with a satisfying sense of skill.
Various powerup cubes grace the battle, dropped by green ships. Some powerups, like homing missiles, are added in addition to your primary weapon and activated when needed. Others replace your primary weapon temporarily, like the laser or the artillery cannon. Unfortunately you can’t manually switch between your primary weapons, which could have added an element of gameplay wherein you have to use the right weapon for the right job. With the current setup you are stuck with no choice but to deplete your powerup weapon ammo even if it means wasting a precious artillery shell on a weak enemy. It’s seems likely that one reason for not going this route is that the game can be fully played with the Gear VR’s trackpad alone, but with limited inputs it would likely be cumbersome to swap weaponry on the fly given the trackpad’s other control necessities.
A similar case seems to befall the actual pickup of powerups. You gather them with your tractor beam by shooting at them. When playing with a controller, it feels odd that you shoot at a powerup to pull it to you, but it seems most likely that this was a compromise for players who are playing only with Gear VR’s trackpad.
Gunjack’s gameplay complexity is slow to build, but it does rise eventually, introducing more complex enemies like ships with stealth or repair drones. Some fire missiles at intervals which require careful timing of your reloads in order to be able to keep the barrage at bay while still taking down the ship.
I was disappointing to find that, aside from a simple opening exposition which firmly sets Gunjack in the EVE universe, the game is essentially devoid of story or meaningful dialogue, especially given how rich the EVE universe is. It seemed like the repetitive sequence of having the turret transported to the outer hull of the ship before each mission would have been fine time to look around the cockpit to clues about your character, or to hear some dialogue that could piece together some small but interesting narrative. Instead, the dialogue in these moments is brief and largely feels like filler.
When you are in an experience like Gunjack, immersed light years beyond what you’d find on any non-VR mobile game, a lack of story and purpose seems regretful. But when you zoom out and realize that this is a mobile game, there is room for understanding. At any rate, if we’re going to boil this down to a mobile VR turret shooter, EVE: Gunjack is the mark to beat.
Gunjack will be available tomorrow via the Oculus Store for the Samsung Gear VR headset, details of pricing and geographical availability are as yet unclear. One warning though, as with many new titles emerging for the platform, the game requires you own an S6 compatible Gear VR to play, sorry Note 4 owners.