‘Solaris Offworld Combat’ Impressions – Virtual Laser Tag with Competitive Ambitions


Launching today, Solaris Offworld Combat is a team-based VR arena shooter from First Contact Entertainment, the studio behind the lauded Firewall: Zero Hour (2018). This time around, the studio wants to deliver a fast-paced experience that anyone can pick up and play. My preview of the game reveals strong technical merit, but a potential clash between casual and competitive ambitions.

Thematically, Solaris Offworld Combat presents itself to players as a sort of future sport where competitors jump into virtual arenas and duke it out for the top place on the leaderboards. And that’s exactly what the game hopes to accomplish: foster a level of hardcore competition which keeps players and teams coming back for more.

And while developer First Contact Entertainment attracted a hardcore player base to its prior title, Firewall: Zero Hour, in many ways Solaris is doing the opposite of what resonated with that community.

Firewall Zero Hour | Image courtesy First Contact Entertainment

Firewall: Zero Hour is a team-based PSVR mil-sim shooter with a slow, tactical pace. And that comes with the sort of mechanics you’d expect: loadouts, attachments, perks, reloads, ADS aiming, recoil control, etc. The sort of mechanics which give room for a deeper level of gameplay and strategy that goes beyond the act of putting your reticle on another player and pulling the trigger.

Solaris, on the other hand, is designed first and foremost for ease of play and a run-and-gun pace. The studio says its goal is to get anyone and everyone quickly into the action and deliver a “point and shoot” experience. And that’s apparently meant removing pretty much all of Firewall’s deeper gameplay elements; Solaris has no reloading, loadouts, attachments, or recoil control, and weapons project their reticle into the world so that there’s no need to aim down sights.

Rather than the slower, more tactical pace of Firewall—which gives an advantage to players who get themselves into the right position ahead of timeSolaris seems to expect players to be constantly moving, mostly using the thumbstick to strafe and juke rather than expecting much bodily movement from players like physically crouching or peeking around corners.

This breed of quick run-and-gun gameplay is par for the course in non-VR arena shooters, and on the surface Solaris has done a commendable job of translating the main tropes into VR. Player movement is quite fast compared to most VR games, even allowing players to slide for a few feet to try to stay behind cover while moving quickly. Everyone starts with the same basic pistol with unlimited ammo and can pick up weapons by walking over pads on the ground. Weapons have limited ammo and disappear once empty. Respawns are fast and time to kill is low. Shooting is of the point-and-shoot variety with no bullet travel or drop. It’s all undeniably functional.

After playing a few matches, it felt like I was playing a very cool version of VR laser tag. But it’s not clear to me yet whether the game has the level of depth needed to foster the competitive allure that First Contact hopes will keep the game buzzing with a stable player base. After all, laser tag is fun, but it’s not something most people are going to do on a weekly basis.

That’s not to say that Solaris doesn’t have—or won’t eventually be updated with—what it takes to bring out that high-level play, but there’s a lot left to prove. The most successful multiplayer VR shooter games so far have all been of the mil-sim variety, and have leaned into nuanced weapon interactions and a slower pace which are a natural fit for VR.

First Contact has taken the goal of ease-of-use so far that it has opted to make Solaris entirely free of two-handed interactions. In fact I was surprised to find that my off-hand in the game isn’t even tracked. Even as I move my hand around, my virtual hand wouldn’t respond to the motion at all, leaving me with the very awkward sensation that one of my arms was an extra appendage that I had no control over.

Image courtesy First Contact Entertainment

The studio said this was done for performance reasons and wanting to avoid the complexity of two-handed interactions. That’s well and good, but it’s a bit odd then that all of the weapons are—by their 3D models at least—designed to be held with two hands. It’s even more odd when my fake arm automatically grabs the gun’s grip all on its own.

Anyone that’s read my perspective on VR knows that I’m all-for ease-of-use in VR; overly complex interactions can often be more frustrating than they are fun. Half-Life: Alyx simplified its weapons by making them single-handed only, but it at least made use of the player’s off hand for reloading and other interactions like throwing grenades or opening doors. But it’s possible to get too simple as well.

If anyone can figure out how to make it work, First Contact Entertainment is a good bet. The studio cut their teeth on Firewall: Zero Hour, a game which after two years appears to still be going strong on PSVR. The studio says it’s continuing to deliver content updates to the game and has seen individual players top 1,000 hours in the game. The title is still lauded as one of the best shooters and best multiplayer games on the system.

That experience shines through clearly in the Solaris presentation; built on Unreal Engine 4, even on Quest the game is impressively sharp and runs very smoothly, with matches underpinned with dedicated servers.

And it’s the Quest audience—a younger demographic that your average enthusiast PC VR user—that Solaris is likely targeted toward. The game’s ease of entry and rapid-fire pace might be just the right combination for that group.

– – — – –

Solaris launches today on Oculus Rift and Oculus Quest with support for cross-buy and cross-play (it will launch on Steam and PSVR at some later date). First Contact is calling the launch a “pre-season,” and expects to listen carefully to player feedback. There’s one caveat with the pre-season which is odd for a team-based shooter—the pre-season will not allow players to form teams with their friends. All matches will be comprised of random teams, with the ability to invite friends being added at a later date.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • TechPassion

    Looks boring. Aren’t there any clever developers to make adventure game? Shooters are dead almost. There is Pavlov, Onward and Contractors and these barely make it as there is low count of players. Make adventure game, not this.

    • Dariusz Dziewa

      If you don’t like it… Don’t buy it. For me this game is amazing.

      • TechPassion

        If you don’t like my comment keep your opinion to yourself.

        • aasdfa

          jesus you sound toxic. how about you shut up instead.

          • TechPassion

            and you sound how? Shut p if you have nothing valuable to write. I expressed my opinion on this game.

    • gothicvillas

      I agree. This looks like most generic vr game to date

  • Bitey San

    For me it looks like they are rushing to the market before big boys come out,
    MoH and Population 1.
    How can they justify releasing a competitive focused game without any party system is beyond me. I had high hopes for this title, because I thought Quest need a fast paced game, but it looks like they sacrificed too much for me to even be interested in it.
    Clearly it’s a game made for all the ADHD kids.

    • PerpetuallySkeptical

      At least this one has dedicated servers. This game will sell like crazy on the playstation store.

      • Bitey San

        I hope it will do well, We need more great games. This one is just not what I thought it would be, I really wanted to jump in straight away, but when I heard about some of the design choices I changed my mind.

        I think it would get repetitive pretty quickly unless they add a ton of stuff, It’s not like they don’t have competition, HyperDash is still in development and have like twice the features already.

  • wheeler

    I’ll never understand this “two handed weapons are too complex in VR” thing. Holding any firearm other than a pistol or close range shotgun with 1 hand in VR feels extremely awkward and uncomfortable. It just feels horribly imprecise and unstable, and you need to bring your wrist up to your face and rotate it down to an uncomfortable angle. And even when I’m carefully aiming a pistol I’m going to use two hands.

    • Bitey San

      There is no need to ADS in this one, it projects the reticle on the hud…

      • Baldrickk

        which is awful… Halo weapons mod in Contractors does the same thing and it is legitimately a horrible experience.

    • As a developer, let me tell you that very well made two handed interactions are very complex to implement. One hand is much easier

    • CalcCalcCalc

      Another VR dev here.
      Using two hands to steady a one handed weapon is not the same as using a two handed weapon.
      Grab a one handed weapon with one or two hands or a two handed weapon with one hand and it’ll rotate around your hand(s) and will always track your hand(s).
      Put another hand on a two handed weapon, and you are now only able to reliably track the point inbetween your two controllers, or you can “weight” the control of either hand, which requires tuning and testing and there is no perfect solution. That is why it is an issue.

  • Alextended

    This game looks okay, a bit too simplistic (the pitfalls of designing for Quest first I guess) and covnentional (compared to Echo Combat for example) and not even very polished (characters animate and move very weird like they’re sliding around, FPS games solved that issue aeons ago but somehow VR devs can’t follow the same principles). It could be fun for a while but I don’t see it getting a large following.

    But please post some more VR news such as (and tons more, bigger, smaller, fancier, uglier, more interesting, less interesting, all around cool VR stuff, just examples):

    • fdfd

      you are cancer

  • Looking forward to trying this one out!

  • SeveronJ

    I want 2 hand interactions… this is gonna be weird. I’m still in to try it though.

  • JB1968

    This game look shitty most probably because it was designed to run on Quest. Sadly this seems to be trend as devs have to make money on mobile vr market.

    The boring gameplay also a good candidate for dead lobbies as Alvo and Population 1 is coming soon.

    Better to play Laser games in Rec room for free than this…

    • Rosko

      Yes unless they release a decent looking version with shadows & decent textures I will not be buying any of these shitty looking quest games. I’ve nothing against the devs its up to them what to do but im not supporting this sort of vr development.

      • shadow9d9

        Yeah, ugly games like stardew valley and undertale are not worth playing. Style over substance all the time!

  • gothicvillas

    I watched some gameplays and no thanks. Really, these are Firewall devs? Wow

  • I thought this could be a more positive review given the hype on the game

  • Kenneth Richlin

    VR esports is almost nonexistent, the one big league sponsored by Oculus has gone silent during Covid, and I don’t think many people watch the VR Masters League yet. Though there are 7 leagues out there, only a handful of games are played competitively right now. Is this game good enough to attract a player base to it? We can hope so.

  • Dmacell

    sending vr graphics back 10 years is all i see the quest doing…