Explosions. Lots and lots of explosions. They force you to duck and dodge as they roar out across the battlefield, tanks suddenly leaping into the air as RPGs violently collide into them, helicopters losing control and smashing into nearby buildings, glass raining down on you from above. Enemies pour out onto the scene, swarming around you as you dare peek out from behind the mound of rubble serving as makeshift cover. You fumble between weapons, desperately trying to hold the line as bullets inch past your face, slotting into the wall next to you. It’s chaos.
What’s described above is a typical scene from most modern first-person shooters of the last 7 or 8 years. Big budget action titles like Call of Duty and Battlefield will go to extreme lengths to get your heart pumping, be it in terms of astounding production values or tightly refined gameplay mechanics. It’s true that fatigue has seeped its way into the genre in the past few years; EA’s Medal of Honour series managed just 2 attempts at a modern day reboot before fading back into the shadows, but maybe virtual reality (VR) can serve as a sufficient shot in the arm.
Of course, Oculus Rift or Project Morpheus support for Activision’s Call of Duty or EA’s Battlefield series would be, above all else, a sign that VR has ‘made it’. These franchises are as mainstream as it gets, selling tens of millions of copies year-in, year-out. We’ve heard in recent weeks and months that big budget publishers will need to see significant sales of VR headsets before they jump on board though, somewhat ironically the headsets need the lure of such titles to even begin selling the desired numbers. These specific franchises may not be in the same position by the time the technology gets there, but there will still undoubtedly be an adrenaline-fueled first-person shooter (FPS) that will be used to measure VR’s success.
As for the experiences themselves, the appeal of VR is obvious. These titles strive to bring players closer and closer to the action and provide an unparalleled level of immersion. What better way to achieve this than by strapping a headset over your eyes and stepping into a fully 3D world where your head moves as if you really were the character you’re controlling? No doubt both would need extensive optimisation before VR could be implemented; we get sick just thinking about one of Call of Duty’s many past set piece spectaculars in VR, but it could be done without changing the fundamentals of the core experience.
The opportunity to immerse yourself in visceral combat with realistic weapons is one of the first thoughts that many people have about VR videogames. We could successfully replicate the thrilling feeling of paintball matches in our own homes while avoiding the terrors of real warfare (though the cons of replicating and glorifying such an experience are another matter entirely). Every action would become that bit more convincing, that bit more exciting. Rushing to cover and slamming your back into the wall as you come under fire, sneaking past enemies just inches from where they stand, looming over you, clambering on top of a tank and breaching its interior – these are all things that, in a first-person view with VR, could start to feel real.
Multiplayer could also be taken up a step. The increased perspective that VR affords players in terms of both quickly turning their heads and increased field of view, could make for a much more intense multiplayer experience. Players would truly have to keep their wits about them as they scouted areas for enemies, making sure not to expose themselves but leaning out of cover too much and always looking behind them for approaching foes.
As with most VR projects, input is something we’d need to solve along the way. Virtual treadmills seemingly offer the perfect immersive experience, as footage of the likes of Team Fortress 2 running with the Oculus Rift has proved in the past; but not everyone is going to want to have these huge machines in their living rooms to hook up to for a nightly multiplayer match. We’ve seen plenty of interesting alternatives, though we also recently talked about the risk of fragmentation. Perhaps the answer lies in something like ANTVR’s all-in-one controller, if it proves itself?
This is a genre that seeks the very best in immersion, be it graphical fidelity, sound design or more. VR headsets represent a huge leap in that sense of immersion. Surely it’s only a matter of time before the two end up together.
‘Make it a (virtual) Reality’ is VRFocus’ weekly feature that takes the videogames we already know and love and looks at how virtual reality (VR) could enhance them. From retro classics to modern blockbusters, we examine the pros and cons of bringing a franchise to VR headsets.