RollerForce attempts to blend gunplay with a rollercoaster. Following on from the atmospheric iOmoon, Headtrip Games’ latest wants to take you on a very different ride on the HTC Vive, with support “coming soon” for Oculus Rift with Touch.
Rollercoasters were among the first experiences to be brought to life in this new wave of VR and they are a great, if intense, way to sell people on the immersive potential of the platforms. Likewise when motion controllers arrived, a horde of wave-based shooters appeared to demonstrate how much more interesting VR was when you had that sort of direct control over and presence within the world inside the headset. RollerForce seeks to mash these two genres together.
The blurb for this game features the words “SHOOT TO SURVIVE” and that’s an apt summary of the extent of the gameplay on offer. Riding ten tracks, over two visually distinct locations, you have health that will be depleted by fire from mobile enemies that strafe the track and static enemies that act as turrets. To defend yourself you have a gun in each hand, with primary and secondary fire modes. Littered around the world are power-ups that will recover some health if you manage to shoot them. Lose too much health and it’s game over; survive for three laps and you “win.” That’s it – do not come into this game expecting something akin to Rez or Panzer Dragoon Orta. There are no high scores to chase, there are no alternative routes to explore, no attack patterns to memorise, no bosses to vanquish, there’s just you and a limited assortment of bad guys over a succession of increasingly convoluted track layouts. It’ll take you somewhere in the region of 90 minutes to ride them all.
So it’s a slender amount of content, with limited combat and little replay value… but what a ride! On the more extreme tracks you’ll feel your stomach lurch as you’re hauled around corners and into rapid descents, plunging through tunnels and rising high into the sky. There are slower tracks, with fewer twists and turns, that ease you into the experience. If you can make peace with the lack of challenge and scoring, you can relax into the moment and just blast away at enemies randomly – this was what I ended up doing, and while it renders the combat portion somewhat redundant it did at least allow me to get a kick out of the tracks, and to soak up some of the ambience.
Another reason to let the combat take a back seat in the experience is the weapons themselves. They are projectile rather than hitscan weapons, which robs the shooting of the instant feedback that some of the best games give when pulling the trigger. There’s also a random spread on the rounds so you can’t even reliably put two shots in the same place so it feels more like aiming turrets than shooting guns, and as a result the combat is singularly unsatisfying in the hands. When the screen is completely filled by the explosions of recently dispatched enemies, the “spray and pray” tactic was the only reliable way to kill the remaining bad guys who were still attacking. This all combines to give the impression that success is arbitrary: defeat feels unfair and survival feels hollow.
In its best moments, however, RollerForce will see you barreling along with the alien environs expanding out to the horizon revealing the almost impossible twists and turns of the track ahead of you. With each arm outstretched, gaining a bead on different targets, you’ll feel like the lead in a John Woo movie as you pummel the triggers in a desperate bid to make it to the next health power-up. But these moments are fleeting. Were there to be a sequel I’d love to see decent weapons with more varied enemies and coherent attack patterns. Right now it’s a thrilling ride despite the combat, not because of it.
To put this in perspective, it is worth mentioning that the scope of the gameplay and the amount of content is very much in line with the pocket money pricing. There aren’t very many experiences this polished at the five dollar price point and, if the positive Steam user reviews are any indication, other developers would do well to follow this example.
I could spend all afternoon just sitting in the menu at the start of the game. Watching the sparks traverse the track is mesmerising, and the music here is excellent as it is throughout the game.
From the abstract geometry of the first world to the oppressive asteroid and lava mix of the second, the sights of RollerForce will put a smile on your face – although after repeated play the lack of variety does grate. Even though the worlds are clearly fantastical, they have a tangible feel and a solid sense of place. The fact that you are floating above the track, rather than riding a vehicle of any sort, only rarely intrudes and reduces the immersion.
Annoyingly the projectiles from the alternate fire mode don’t appear to emit from the gun in your hand – instead spawning into the world somewhere in a radius around and behind your hand, more like missiles launching from an aircraft wing. This is strange, and you feel a real disconnect from the combat as a result. Thankfully, due to a recent patch, the primary fire mode doesn’t suffer from this issue. If you had the game from launch, and gave up due to that problem, it’s worth returning for another look.
Very occasionally, at the end of a lap, the game fades out to the Vive default environment briefly before snapping back to the game world, which is exactly as jarring as it sounds.
Make no mistake, RollerForce is an intense experience. I played while seated, and I don’t think I’d be brave enough to play standing up unless I lived in a bouncy castle.
The in-game advice to look forward as much as possible should be heeded by anyone susceptible to simulator sickness. Unfortunately the reality of the game is that you are going to have to look off-centre if you intend to survive. The action takes place all around you, and one of the better elements of the combat is taking aim at a health pickup that’s nestled in the nook of a horseshoe piece of track, picking it off as you go around, or spying an enemy wave coming at you from the side and letting loose with both barrels. These moment comes at the expense of some discomfort, and it meant that I had to limit my time in the game to twenty minute sessions at most. That’s twenty minutes longer than I’d usually be able to play a game like this, so whatever magic is running under the hood here it’s working for me.
Those lucky enough to be immune to simulator sickness will doubtless be able to extract more enjoyment from the game for longer periods.
We partnered with AVA Direct to create the Exemplar 2 Ultimate, our high-end VR hardware reference point against which we perform our tests and reviews. Exemplar 2 is designed to push virtual reality experiences above and beyond what’s possible with systems built to lesser recommended VR specifications.