Having grown up with FromSoftware’s mech arcade series Armored Core and the more simulator-style multiplayer Chromehounds, I have a special place in my heart for the lurching mech goliaths. And now Vox Machinae is here, promising to bring an immersive twist on the classic genre that aims to not only stuff the servers with VR players, but also players on traditional monitors as well.

Vox Machinae Review Details:

Official Site

Publisher: Space Bullet Dynamics Corporation
Available On: Steam (Vive, Rift), Oculus Store (Rift)
Reviewed On: Oculus Rift
EA Release Date: September 26th, 2018

Note (September 26th, 2018): This game is in Early Access which means the developers have deemed it incomplete and likely to see changes over time. This review is an assessment of the game only at its current Early Access state and will not receive a numerical score.

Gameplay

As a multiplayer-focused game at this point, the only way to effectively play solo is to go against bots, which automatically fill out with some not so-terribly-competent AI. That said, the developers have seemingly geared up for launch with an expansive number of dedicated servers that offer up to 16-player battles; three basic multiplayer styles are on offer at the moment, including free for all, team deathmatch, and two waypoint capture modes.

A host of mech styles are available, ranging from pure tanks that are predictably slow but have great armor, to light walkers with drill attachments and even ramming rods for devastating surprise attacks. Weapons are modifiable, even during mid-game so you can change up your tactic depending on the need at the moment. Yes, you can snipe too with an optically magnified in-game monitor, although I personally found the sniping railgun to be a bit under-powered to be a truly useful weapon. Choosing a weapon for your mech will allow you to bind it to a specific button on your controller, so it’s really up to you how your load-out will work and respond.

Image courtesy Space Bullet

Much of the game is about striking a good balance. You can go in guns a’blazing, strapped with the most powerful missiles, but heat will successively build up to the point that your mech will physically stop, close down the blast doors, and wait for the heat meter to go down, leaving you defenseless as other mechs come around to pop off yours arms and legs. Once those are gone, you might as well just eject right there and reformulate a better weapons setup for you next spawn, so figuring out what’s right for you will predictably take some time.

As for controls, if you use Oculus Touch or HTC Vive’s controllers, mech movement is dependent on in-cockpit controls, meaning you’ll have the ability to physically manipulate levers and buttons that control forward movement, left and right movement, and directional booster jump. You can alternatively use an Xbox One controller, which personally seems more intuitive, albeit less immersive than using your hands. Some other perks of using Touch/Vive wands include the ability to re-position informational screens such as your radar, honk a big rig-style horn, and physically use a CB radio to talk with team mates.

 

Playing in a multiplayer match stocked nearly a quarter-way with human players, it slowly became clear to me who was a bot an who wasn’t. Human players tended to skirt around large masses of mechs and stay back for farther shots, while bots tended to have no issue with marching into the fray three at a time. It’s still early days though, so it’s hard to say just what sort of tactics more adept players will follow, and if AI will adapt to higher skilled players.

Since it’s also open to non-VR players, I decided to give it a go in desktop mode, which can be launched via both the Oculus Store version and Steam by right clicking the title in your library and selecting ‘Desktop Mode’. Having played many matches in VR, I found that it was easier in the desktop mode to acquire a target picture using mouse or gamepad. This is balanced somewhat by the lowered peripheral awareness in desktop, as its much less intuitive to get a good sense of what’s around you since the cock pit is basically still the same, replete with a tiny radar screen that you physically have to look down at in either mode to determine if anyone’s nearby. Having the ability to look down at that one screen quickly while keeping an eye out for gunfire is an ultimate boon in VR.

In all, it’s a well-polished game that offers most of everything I want as an avid mech pilot, save the rad paint jobs and true ‘stick anything anywhere’ modularity that mech sims like Chromehounds offered, but Vox has clearly shied away from with its uni-textured mechs and specific weapon slots.

SEE ALSO
VR Mech Combat Game 'Vox Machinae' is Back with Motion Input, Closed Beta Coming Soon

Immersion

Maps vary depending on the planet size and type, offering lower gravity in some, higher gravity in others, lava, rocks, weird formations, etc. While well-crafted, I found the render distance on smaller foreground objects like rocks and plants to be somewhat short, which introduced some noise into my goal of keeping a keen eye out for bad guys.

Maps are large, and offer enough variability to suit most player types, with high ledges for snipers and weird rock features for those more sneaky fast types.

 

The cockpit itself is like a fun mix between micro space-miner and 18-wheeler cabin, what with its dingy bed in the back and charmingly anachronistic CB radio. It is by far one of the coolest bits about Vox Machinae, and Space Bullet have really nailed the feel, control, and look of it all.

SEE ALSO
Mech Combat Game 'Vox Machinae' Coming Soon to VR & PC, New Trailer Here

Comfort

Because Vox Machinae provides the user with a solid a cockpit (which at times can be quite bumpy), movement is mostly grounded in the user’s point of view, making it a reasonably comfortable experience.

That said, the cockpit does shake some and also uses smooth turning, which can be slightly uncomfortable for a fraction of susceptible users. To address this, Space Bullet have included an optional blinder mode that applies a vingette to your field of view when turning, and an optional nose rendered on your face to give you a more grounded feel even when the cockpit is chugging along.

Final Thoughts

Vox Machinae will no doubt attract the mech enthusiasts among us, and keep us playing the deathmatches for a while yet to come. I would love to see a single-player campaign though so future buyers will be more enticed into purchasing, therefor keeping the servers packed with a healthy flow of players. The developers have done a smart thing by allowing non-VR users to play the game too, which should hopefully keep the numbers up as well.

In all, Vox Machinae is a well-polished, classic mech arena that would do well with more customization, a few more maps, and some more interesting mission types to keep us coming back. It’s a really promising jump off point though for the Early Access title, and it’s clear the basic functionality is there – and boy is it solid.


This game is in Early Access which means the developers have deemed it incomplete and likely to see changes over time. This review is an assessment of the game only at its current Early Access state and will not receive a numerical score.

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  • Dan VR

    This looks great, Can’t wait to experience it.

  • impurekind

    This game looks cool but someone really needs to get a proper animator in there to animate the movement of these mechs. The person doing the animation on them right now clearly doesn’t understand basic animation concepts very well, like showing weight and recoil, slowing in and out, squash and stretch, and stuff like that.

    • Raphael

      It’s already one of the best looking VR games in VR. Leg walking is the last thing most players are focused on. There are so many FPS VR games with less than realistic body movement. These developers don’t have “Battlefield” budgets. The game is incredible and sitting in the mech cockpit the last thing I’m concerned about is leg walking realism.

      • impurekind

        Well, it stands out like a sore thumb to me and really gives away that fact that this game has been created by a few amateurs rather than a truly top tier game developer–even as cool as it looks. So, personally, I think they should get it sorted asap, and really make the game shine. It will be the difference between it looking “indie/amateur” and it looking truly polished and “professional” in terms of presentation imo–which can make all the difference in the world.

        • Raphael

          Sounds like anxiety to me. I have a friend in germany who fixates on one thing for months or years. The game is exceptional overall in terms of visuals, audio and gameplay. Not perfect of course but certainly the best mech game for VR.

          Take a look at the steam feedback and see what percentage are raising that issue or focusing solely on that?

          “created by a few amateurs” – so a great game is reduced to something created by a few amateurs because you’re obsessed with leg. I suggest leg porn.

          • impurekind

            Could be a bit of that. Who knows. Could also be literally as simple and obvious as it seems: There’s something that stands out as an area of the game that could do with a bit more attention and polish as far as I’m concerned, and I’m simply pointing it out because I can see how close this game is to being all round awesome and I’d like to realise that potentially fully.

            Well, it is a matter of fact created by a couple of amateurs; that much is documented, as I recall. And, imo, in this one area that slight inexperience of certain areas of game creation shows here.

            It’s not said with any kind of malice of ill intent; it’s just an observation of one area of the game that could do with a little more work and polish to really make it shine.

          • Raphael

            Are you aware of the effort that’s gone into Star Citizen’s character animation to make them walk realistically over varying surfaces? Unlimited budget.

            I very much doubt it’s a priority issue or will ever be. Especially as it’s a very small minority who seem to have focused on this to the exclusion of everything else.

            Steam feedback ratio: 131 to 4.

            I’m not saying leg animation couldn’t be better… I’m just saying it’s really not a priority for this game especially as most players are focused on the actual gameplay.

            Single player campaign is something people have asked for.

            Mech drivers don’t see their own leg movements in game and the cockpit moves in a realistic manner. Studying the legs of other mechs while in-game isn’t even on the list of things to do.

            I get that as someone who hasn’t played it and is merely fixated on this one issue can’t really see beyond it.

            Leg animation could be better? Yes. Is it a priority? Absolutely not and will never be.

          • Henree

            come on, the mechs are made out of paper, it’s just a button masher, no tactics and you respawn 20 times each round. it’s a mobile phone game in 3d and in 3d it looks like arse.

          • Raphael

            What’s the octopus mech game you’re referring to?

      • Peter Hansen

        “It’s already one of the best looking VR games in VR.”

        True. If not in VR it wouldn’t look as good.

        • Raphael

          If not in VR it would like abysmal. On the basis that everything looks flat and cartoony outside of VR.

          • Peter Hansen

            I was just pulling your leg.

          • Raphael

            Recently I was watching a vid of battlefield 5… I was really into BF3 back in 2011/2012. A part of me would like to play a battlefield again but the bigger part of me has a total ban on pancake games (except for some mobile games on my iPad).

        • Henree

          Looks great for a mobile phone game. Utilises 1% of my 1080ti like all the rest of the garbage mobile phone games on rift.

    • Andrew McEvoy

      Maybe the mechs are animated with no weight as they wanted to keep the cockpit stable? No cockpit movement means no motion sickness for the lilylivered among us.

      As an animator myself tho I have to agree with the sentiment that far too many games have rubbish animation in them which can really let the side down…Im looking at you Bethesda…

      • impurekind

        There’s probably a bit of that to it, and I did think of that too, but I think there’s a way to make it so the inside player’s view of the cockpit and stuff doesn’t bounce around all the time while also giving the mechs proper weight and bounce and stuff from the outside visually too:

        Maybe the cockpit could have a kind of suspension, so even if the legs are bouncing and stuff the inside remains relative stable as the suspension mechanism compensates. And, I don’t mean building some complicated rig, but more just adjusting the internal bounce (via making the cockpit seat move slightly independently or something like that) to counterbalance the external bounce of something like that.

        As a trained animator like myself, I’m sure you can see exactly what I’m talking about though. The mechs do look pretty floaty, and it does take away from how cool and heavy and just kickass they look while in motion ultimately.

        • Andrew McEvoy

          Yes they do look kind of floaty agreed.

          Thinking about what you describe about suspension on the cockpit or cabin, I suppose the main factor is how the game engine works with the cabin geometry itself. If there can be some trick to it so that the inside of the cabin is rendered locally and translates smoothly then you can add as much weight shift as you like on the outside of the cabin. I would imagine this would be difficult to get right and involve collision detection issues.
          Most likely the engine wouldn’t allow that anyway and it would come down to trying to figure out how to add weight shift that’s countered with subtle suspension on the legs so the cabin doesn’t take on any troublesome translations. Im not sure you could do that and not end up back where you started, with floaty looking cabins suspended inbetween legs that are weight shifting independently.

          Its an interesting problem!

          Reminds of the time when I was working on Tars and Case (robots out of Interstellar) and Nolan would keep taking away options to add weight shift and transfer by insisting that the row of arms they had when walking couldn’t translate in Y nor could the body itself pivot. I was tearing my hair out!

    • Ernie

      Fully agree on that. This floaty animation kills it for me.

  • Raphael

    It’s amazing! It totally destroys all other mech games.

    • Henree

      you haven’ t played many mech games have you? there is a better one for free in the oculus store lol

      • Raphael

        Why would I go to the octopus store lol?

        • A Dotcom

          It is so much better than Archangel: Hellfire.. been playing Vox constantly since it came out. Archangel is a ghost town, due to badly tuned play mechanics, and poorly thought out game design (which is a little sad, I wish it had been better, and wish the developers had put a bit more thought into it – I loved the single player missions!)

  • Glaubenskrieger

    Was really looking forward to this then I found out it was MP only. Have to pass. Maybe one day they’ll create a MW2 type campaign. I’ll be all over then.

    • Peter Hansen

      Yes, together with a tense story and stunning visuals!

  • Peter Hansen

    Smart decision not to give a numerical rating at this point. I like it!

  • vr luisrico

    it’s fantastic but not easy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4Xbn9e8C-o

  • KUKWES

    this is a good start but I would like to see a mech game expand on this and add more cock pit controls and things to play with. Maybe thats what Respawn is doing.