Preview: Gunner for Gear VR

The first wave of virtual reality (VR) products are likely to be a muddled bunch. The industry has spent so long aiming for high-end PCs and the eventual consumer version of the Oculus Rift that the untimely pre-emptive arrival of a mobile head-mounted display (HMD) has taken many by surprise. UK studio nDreams, however, have been aware of this Samsung branded upstart for some time and will be bringing two titles to the device, beginning with Gunner.

The most immediate difference between Gunner and many other titles currently in development for Gear VR is the appropriation of it’s design. This isn’t a console release scaled back and it isn’t an ambitious mobile title hoping to punch above it’s weight: Gunner has been built from the ground-up for Gear VR and it shows.

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A bite-sized affair intended for consumption in small doses, Gunner will offer an easy-to-swallow first taste of VR. It’s mechanics will be instantly familiar to anyone with a working knowledge of videogames and the simple look-to-shoot gameplay is enjoyable enough to entice you to return after your first 10 minute sample platter.

The largely superfluous story tells the tale of a rebel uprising in the 22nd century. As an Elite Gunner it’s your job to hold back the invading forces. At the tip of the iceberg this is a very simple task: simply look at the enemy unit to shoot at it. However, Gunner does hide a not insignificant amount of depth in it’s light-hearted arcade style challenge. For example, your gun will only fire when your sights are over an enemy unit, however it’s possible to take down ships by targeting a little ahead of their position thus giving you the opportunity to move onto another unit a split-second quicker than would otherwise be the case.

Gunner limits the demand placed upon the player by making the playfield 180 degrees as opposed to a full 360. The action will take place in the comfortable field of view ahead of you rather than demanding that the player turn completely around. A red indicator shows the quadrant from which enemies spawn within this area, however they can move fast so while you’re concentrating on one side of the field they can move out if that quadrant.

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Other opportunities come in the form of power-ups. Double Damage, Missiles and Shields are available for killing random enemies, though as you never know which kill will help Gunner can often be a stressful experience when health is low or numbers overwhelm. Of course, conversely it’s a great relief when the right power-up comes at the right time.

The final build of Gunner will feature five missions in total, plus a tutorial. Each mission offers five waves of varying difficulty and progress is denoted by the unlocking of new Personnel Files. Tying in with the story, these unlockables have no impact upon the action but offer depth for those who want it. A ‘Survival’ mode was also listed on menu in the preview build VRFocus was given access to, but wasn’t available to play.

Gunner differs from many other Gear VR titles due to the perception of the device and the audience that will purchase it. VR, as it will soon be, is very new. Despite the fact that a small amount of people already have access to Oculus Rift development kits the vast majority of the population haven’t yet taken their first steps into this new wave. Gunner‘s easily digestible arcade gameplay and limited demand on the player’s movement – of course, in line with Oculus VR’s determination to deliver a ‘seated experience’ in the first instance of this new wave of VR – make it a welcoming first step. Gunner won’t rewrite the rulebook on shoot-’em-ups, but it could help lay the groundwork for adapting them to this brand new medium.

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