From Canadian developer Space Bullet Dynamics comes a mech action shooter built from the ground up for the Oculus Rift VR headset. This is Vox Machinae, and it looks extremely promising.
A genre seemingly made for VR, the mech combat shooter is currently thinly represented in the VR gaming world. One of the earliest big budget titles to jump on board the Oculus Rift bandwagon, Hawken from Adhesive Games promised Rift support by the time the first Rift development kit (the DK1) was shipped. Two years on and Hawken‘s VR support is still lacklustre at best, with no support for Oculus’ latest development kit, the DK2.
Which means that, surprisingly, the slot for ‘killer VR robot mech’ game is still up for grabs. Vox Machinae from Space Bullet aims to take a shot at claiming it. But anyone expecting a virtual reality reimagining of the classic Steel Battalion though need to readjust their expectations, Vox Machinae by comparison places itself very deliberately in the ‘casual’ camp. And that’s no bad thing at all.
One of the most enticing aspects of Hawken was that it offered a ‘pick up and play’ style of gameplay wrapped in a VR capable package. Vox is developed along the same lines, with an eye on responsive handling and combat.
Being the cautious fellow I am, upon firing up Vox for the first time I headed straight for the comfort of the training section. Ironically, this is presented as a ‘VR’ style simulation which runs you through Vox‘s basic gameplay mechanics. It’s fairly evident from the offset that the guys at Space Bullet spent considerable effort working out how to make a multi-ton robot feel fun to control.
Vox is an example of game that just makes sense in VR. You control your robot’s body rotation and forward movement with the joypad’s left thumbstick a lateral ‘dash’ movement assigned to the d-pad. Ordinarily, targeting enemies would be given over to the right thumbstick, but with an Oculus Rift all you need to do is look and then let rip. It feels natural, but more than that, it feels satisfyingly accurate too. Your mech is also equipped with some generously powered thrusters, capable of launching your hulking mass skywards for a few fleeting moments.
Once out of ‘VR’ training, you’re thrust straight into a reconnaissance mission on a desert planet. The aesthetic here bears more than a little resemblance to the original MechWarrior series. But, unlike the lethargic clunkiness of those classics, you can zip along the planet’s surface at a fair old rate, with careful use of your thrusters.
In no time at all you’ll face your first robotic foe. You’re metal mount is equipped with both a beam weapon mounted on the mech’s left arm and missiles on the right. Both fire entirely independently via L+R triggers and can rain laser-explosive death on your opponent. Try not to be too trigger happy though, as constant use will cause weapon overheating—an event that brings about a slightly inconvenient temporary shutdown, during which time your enemy can pummel you at will. The combat can be surprisingly frenetic, especially when two or more enemies are hunting you down.
This is an early version of the game, and as such, things are awaiting polish. NPC mechs currently move somewhat incongruously across terrain, with animation that doesn’t seem to quite root them properly in the world. Further, blow one of their legs clean off, and they’ll stand there, marooned, seemingly breaking the laws of physics and gravity. Also, weapons currently lack the feel of real impact when connecting with an enemy or with scenery. These are vast, metal killing machines, they should feel like it.
All these things are fixable quibbles though, and it’s clear the team are on the right track with pacing and the feel of the robots themselves. Animation foibles aside, the game looks great and whats more it runs beautifully smoothly, meaning no judder whilst in the Oculus Rift DK2. Your cockpit wraps convincingly around you as the world outside glides past, low persistence of vision in full effect.
On the gameplay front, interestingly, as with Hawken, Vox‘s verticality may prove the ultimate differentiator from its dusty predecessors. The VR mission gives a glimpse at some great possibilities, where blasting up to a vantage point before raining incendiary hell on your opponent is brilliant fun. It’ll be interesting to see if the team manage to unlock these elements in the terrain of the gameworld proper.
All in all though, this is a title that shows real promise with VR support that’s near flawless right now. It’ll be interesting to see how it evolves.