I have a bit of a confession. This is not a review of the game, but rather a first-look at it. I’m only two hours into it, and I feel like I understand what it’s about a half the time. I’m going to be playing for a few more hours and then I’ll write a more in depth review when I have more experience.
Last week, we got our hands on the early access version of the Oculus Rift and Gear VR-supported mech sim Vox Machinae. Now, you may be thinking this is the first time you’re hearing about the game, but you’d be wrong. It’s actually been out for a week or so now, and was recently reviewed on the website for our fellow gamers over at vr-geeks .
VR is taking over the world! Whether it’s the rise of popular virtual reality (VR) games like The Lab , or the VR headsets themselves, it’s clear that VR is here to stay. The price of head-mounted displays (HMDs) like the Oculus Rift ($599-$799) and the HTC Vive ($799) have come down a lot since they first launched, and the hype around VR continues to rise. As with any new technology, though, there are always kinks that need to be worked out.
I have a soft spot in my heart for the lurching mech goliaths, having grown up with FromSoftware’s mech arcade series Armored Core and the more simulator-style multiplayer Chromehounds. Vox Machinae is now available, promising to provide an immersive twist to the classic genre by aiming to fill servers with not only VR gamers, but also players using regular monitors.
Note (September 26th, 2018): This game is in Early Access, which means it has been deemed incomplete by the developers and is expected to evolve over time. This review is exclusively for the game’s current Early Access state and will not be given a numerical score.
As a multiplayer-focused game, the only way to play alone effectively is to play against bots, who are automatically filled out with some less-than-stellar AI. However, the creators appear to be gearing up for launch with a large number of dedicated servers that can accommodate up to 16 players; at the present, three basic multiplayer modes are available, including free for all, team deathmatch, and two waypoint capture variants.
There are a variety of mech types available, from pure tanks with excellent armor to light walkers with drill attachments and even ramming rods for devastating surprise strikes. Weapons can be changed at any time during the game, allowing you to adapt your strategy to the situation at hand. With an optically magnified in-game monitor, you can snipe as well, however I thought the sniping railgun to be a little underpowered to be a genuinely useful weapon. You can attach a weapon to a specific button on your controller when you choose a weapon for your mech, so how your load-out works and responds is entirely up to you.
A lot of the game is about finding the right balance. You can go in guns blazing and equipped with the most powerful missiles, but the heat will eventually build up to the point where your mech will physically stop, close the blast doors, and wait for the heat meter to go down, leaving you helpless as other mechs pop off your arms and legs. You might as well eject right then and reformulate a superior weaponry setup for your next spawn after those are gone, so figuring out what’s right for you will take some time.
In terms of controls, mech mobility is dependent on in-cockpit controls, which means you’ll be able to physically handle levers and buttons that control forward movement, left and right movement, and directional booster leap if you utilize the Oculus Touch or HTC Vive controllers. You may also use an Xbox One controller, which I find to be more intuitive than using your hands but less immersive. Other advantages of employing Touch/Vive wands include the ability to reposition informational screens like your radar, honk a big rig-style horn, and physically utilize a CB radio to communicate with team members.
While playing in a multiplayer game with over a quarter of the participants being human, it became evident to me who was a bot and who wasn’t. Human players tended to avoid big groups of mechs and stand back for longer shots, whereas bots had little problem advancing into battle three at a time. It’s still early days, so it’s difficult to predict what methods more experienced players will employ, or whether AI will react to them.
Because it’s accessible to non-VR players, I chose to try it in desktop mode, which can be accessed via the Oculus Store or Steam by right-clicking the game in your library and selecting ‘Desktop Mode.’ After numerous VR matches, I discovered that acquiring a target picture with a mouse or gamepad was easier in the desktop mode. This is partially offset by the reduced peripheral awareness in desktop, as it’s much more difficult to get a good sense of what’s going on around you because the cock pit is essentially the same in both modes, complete with a tiny radar screen that you physically have to look down at to see if anyone’s nearby. In VR, being able to swiftly glance down at just one screen while keeping an eye out for gunfire is a huge plus.
Overall, it’s a well-polished game that provides the majority of what I want as a mech pilot, with the exception of the rad paint jobs and true “stick anything anywhere” modularity that mech sims like Chromehounds provided, which Vox has clearly avoided with its uni-textured mechs and specific weapon slots.
Maps differ based on the size and type of planet, with lesser gravity in some and higher gravity in others, as well as lava, rocks, and strange forms. While the game was well-made, I found the render distance on minor foreground objects like pebbles and plants to be too short, which added noise to my goal of keeping a sharp look out for evil folks.
The maps are huge and varied enough to appeal to a wide range of player types, with high ledges for snipers and strange rock formations for the sneaky fast types.
With its filthy bunk in the back and wonderfully antique CB radio, the cockpit is like a fascinating mix of miniature space-miner and 18-wheeler cabin. It’s easily one of Vox Machinae’s coolest features, and Space Bullet has nailed the feel, control, and aesthetic of it all.
Because Vox Machinae provides a solid cockpit (which can be pretty bumpy at times), movement is primarily centered on the user’s point of view, making it a fairly comfortable experience.
However, the cockpit does shake a little and uses smooth turning, which can be a little uncomfortable for some people. To combat this, Space Bullet has introduced an optional blinder mode that adds a vingette to your field of view when turning, as well as an optional nose rendered on your face to give you a more grounded feeling even when the cockpit is chugging along.
Vox Machinae will undoubtedly appeal to the mech fans among us, and will keep us playing deathmatches for a long time. However, I would want to see a single-player campaign so that future consumers will be more encouraged to purchase, ensuring that the servers remain busy. The makers made a wise decision by allowing non-VR users to play the game as well, which should help to maintain the game’s popularity.
Overall, Vox Machinae is a well-polished, traditional mech arena that might use some additional customization, maps, and mission kinds to keep us coming back. However, it’s a very promising start for the Early Access title, and it’s evident that the essential functionality is present – and boy, is it solid.
When CCP Games’ EVE Online was in its heyday, space was relatively sparse and the universe was vast. Today, space is much more populated and the universe is much smaller, but CCP hasn’t changed the way its populated its universe. Instead, it has created a game in which you can control a mech, a virtual robot, and pilot your mech into battle across a variety of star systems. It’s a wonderful game with an excellent community, and now it’s available to you, with the Oculus Rift’s virtual reality headset on top.
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