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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.