Do you have a PlayStation 4? If so, you can probably already tell that it’s sort of a really old system when you look at its specs. And while Sony has used the console to push out some really intriguing games like Uncharted 4, they haven’t really done much with its virtual reality capabilities, as you can see in this new VR game from the studio behind the first two Oddworld titles.
The hero shooter genre has been around since the early days of the PlayStation, and it’s a popular genre with a dedicated fanbase. As of late, the genre has seen a major resurgence on Xbox, with the release of Insomniac Games’ Sunset Overdrive and Playdead’s Inside. However, one of the genre’s most beloved entries, the long-running series L.A. Noire, is finally coming to VR. That’s right, after over a decade, the critically acclaimed and stealthily addictive L.A. Noire will finally make its way to virtual reality. And that’s the story of how in December 2016 I stumbled upon a store called FunFair in Las Vegas that had a demo of L.A. No
Impulse Gear is back with a new VR game, Larcenauts, four years after its critically praised Farpoint. It’s something a little different this time: a multiplayer-only hero shooter with heavy Overwatch overtones.
Available On: Oculus Quest & Rift (cross-buy),
Steam Cross-play: Yes
Developer: Impulse Gear Release
Date: June 17th, 2021
Reviewed On: Quest 2
If there’s one thing Larcenauts has going for it, it’s that it’s technically sound and feels like a full product. The game is crisp, plays smoothly, and has excellent and consistent visual direction, even in Quest 2. Granted, the visuals seem to be built completely around Quest’s constraints.
Despite the fact that the game only has four maps at launch, the game’s eight distinct characters (each with two loadouts and two ‘Power Slate’ slots for specialization) make it seem like there’s a lot to unlock and play with.
Matches are 6v6 and are divided into three gametypes that closely correspond to the concepts of territories, capture the flag, and deathmatch. Matches are usually short and sweet, lasting little more than 15 minutes on average. And there’s very little downtime once a match finishes before a new one starts immediately.
The gameplay is pretty much on the run-and-gun side of things, with some tactical options. That’s understandable, given that Larcenauts is a fast-paced game with all characters being able to run and some having additional mobility options like dashing and sliding. To gain considerable heights, players may jump over small barriers and grapple at specified spots. Thankfully, despite all of the action, the game manages to feel quite comfy (more on that in the Comfort section below).
Each character is equipped with two weapons, a tactical ability, a deployable item, and a one-of-a-kind grenade. You’ll probably feel like you’re being crushed by other players in the first few games until you acquire a feel for how to effectively utilize your character’s weapons and skills (not to mention learning what other characters are capable of). Characters can do a wide range of damage, so if you don’t play wisely, it’s possible to find yourself in a terrible spot and be melted by, say, the giant robot Thal, who can erect a one-way shield and easily kill you in a 1v1 match.
Each gun in the game may also be ‘overcharged,’ which is done by grasping the gun with your off-hand and pulling the trigger with your off-hand. Overcharging an SMG, for example, leads it to fire incendiary rounds, while overcharging a shotgun tightens the choke, resulting in more damage at a longer range. Overcharging a gun consumes a limited resource that is earned by killing opponents during the game (though this risks creating a feedback loop that leads to a power imbalance between teams).
On paper, there seems to be a lot of depth with all the characters, loadout variations, abilities, grenades, and weapon overcharging, but I haven’t felt the gameplay really synergize into anything more than quick skirmishes scattered across maps that feel more suited to a free-for-all arena shooter than a team-based hero shooter.
There’s a lot of fun to be had, but there are some balancing problems to resolve. For example, the beginning character has a loadout that enables her to dual-wield SMGs. The twin SMG loadout, when combined with her ability to deliver an AOE boost that enhances the rate of fire, may drop you before you have a chance to respond. Not to mention that, due to her mobility ability, she can quickly dart away from a battle if she gets into one. Two video of me being totally fried by the twin SMG loadout before I realized what was going on are below:
Character skills often seem to have an undue effect on the result of particular battles. For example, Evander, the ranged hero, has the ability to become invisible immediately, which may seem unfair to combat:
While Larcenauts has a great level of technical proficiency and seems to have a lot of complexity in its mechanics, it lacks immersion. The majority of the gameplay relies on the use of sticks for movement and buttons for abilities. Larcenauts’ most immersive aspects are pointing your weapons and tossing grenades with your hands, yet even those aren’t that immersive. There isn’t much of a feeling that the game is using VR’s unique features.
The handling of the weapon has been much simplified. While carrying a pistol with two hands helps to steady your aim (in fact, certain weapons would be worthless if you didn’t), only your primary hand is involved in moving the rifle. When you grasp the pistol with your off-hand, it has no effect on the gun’s location, making you feel as though you’ve lost control of your arm.
Reloading is similarly simple, with a console-style ‘press button to reload’ button that initiates a pre-animated reload process that simply… occurs. It’s strange to see the gun reload on its own, complete with dazzling flipping animations, yet you’re not in control of anything. Although not every VR game requires accurate reloading, chambering, and the like—after all, Larcenauts is meant to be a fast-paced game, and you don’t want to be fiddling with magazines—pressing a single button and seeing a reload animation doesn’t seem quite right.
It shocked me that Impulse Gear went this route since their last game, Farpoint, featured a brilliant reloading system that was both easy and engaging. When you ran out of ammunition in that game, you pressed a button, and the pistol would basically recharge over time. Mechanically, it’s the same as reloading in Larcenauts, with the exception that the weapons don’t flip out of your hands on their own.
In terms of immersion, the character Vod, the rock alien, is the lone exception. Because they don’t have firearms and instead rely on their flexible arms as weapons, you must start punches by making a punching motion, which is much more immersive than just pulling a trigger to send the arms flying.
In Larcenauts, don’t anticipate any actual projectile dodging, crouching under cover, intriguing gestures, or direct interactions with teammates. At the very least, I was hoping that the game’s grappling mechanic would involve reaching out to a grapple point, connecting, and then pulling yourself up the incline (as the game’s trailer implied), but instead you simply press forward on your thumbstick near the grapple point and everything happens automatically.
Surprisingly, these missing immersion components do not seem to have escaped the attention of Impulse Gear. The company has released a post-launch roadmap, indicating that two-handed aiming and manual reloading would be added to the game at some point in the future. It’s unknown why these features weren’t included in the game when it first launched.
There’s one thoughtful immersive touch that’s actually disabled by default, which is the ‘Immersive Sprint’ setting that activates sprint when you point your gun down. Because you can’t use your weapon while sprinting in Larcenauts anyway, this ends up feeling much more natural (and even easier to do) than clicking in the thumbstick to sprint.
Outside of matches, Larcenauts has some immersive-focused design in the game’s menu. Instead of having a physical menu screen in front of you, the ‘menu’ is a virtual environment where you may travel between multiple terminals to access different menu items (ie: progression, character loadout, challenges, etc). Ultimately, all they’ve done is divided the menu into various screens and dispersed them about a virtual environment, but I think that the spatial structure makes it simpler to process and recall all of the many menu operations.
When you join a party with friends, they all appear in the same shared area, which is much more engaging than just seeing their names in a party list.
While the game utilizes a simple laser-pointer-on-screen design for interacting with the menus, it actually requires you to pick up a pointer tool that sits next to each of the menu screens to provide a contextual purpose for having a laser pointer rather than it just blasting out of your hands. Mechanically, it’s a little distinction, but it’s a clever little design detail that I’d want to see more of (if games continue to insist on laser pointer menus, that is).
Larcenauts does not have teleportation and depends only on smooth movement. Even with all of the stick strafing, sprinting skills, grappling, and sometimes vaulting, I found the game to be quite pleasant.
I was easily able to play for an hour or more without feeling sick, which isn’t usually the case with games that have forceful fluid movement. So far, I haven’t encountered any abilities or actions in the game that have caused me any apparent pain.
It seems like Impulse Gear put a lot of effort into getting comfort correct, as shown by the variety of comfort and control choices offered to players:
Comfort Options for Larcenatus
|Turning that is not natural||✔|
|Increments that can be changed||✔|
|Artificially induced movement||✔|
|Strength may be adjusted||✔|
|Hand that can be swapped||✔|
|In the standing position||✔|
|Mode: seated||not stated explicitly|
|Crouching in a fake way||✔|
|Languages||English, French, German, Spanish, Japanese, and Korean are some of the languages spoken.|
|Languages||English, French, German, Spanish, Japanese, and Korean are some of the languages spoken.|
|Difficulty may be changed||✖|
|The use of two hands is needed.||✔|
|A true crouch is needed.||✖|
|Hearing is necessary.||✖|
|Height of the player may be adjusted||✔|
Today, I’ll be taking a look at Larcenauts: An Evil Compendium , a VR-only game developed entirely for the Oculus Rift. Larcenauts is a collection of four Lufia games, originally released for the Super NES in 1993, and designed by the same team that would go on to develop Chrono Trigger (a personal favorite of mine—check out my review). If you’re a fan of RPG’s and/or platformers, Larcenauts will be right up your alley.
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