An experienced team comprised of developers with titles including the Call of Duty franchise, Frontline: Fuels of War, Section 8, World of Warcraft and StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, as well as numerous AAA motion-picture productions, Reload Studios are taking a surprisingly indie-inspired approach to the announcement of their debut project: World War Toons. Today’s reveal of the videogame is showcasing content that’s still in the very early stages of development – ‘pre-alpha’ is the buzzword – and yet it has a quality about it that very few studios could claim of a project only months from release.
A tease late last year lead us to believe that a realistic first-person shooter (FPS) would be on the way, but as the name suggests World War Toons is an altogether different proposition. It’s an FPS, yes, and there will be a version that you can play on a traditional 2D monitor. However, it’s the effort made to ensure that World War Toons is not only a fun virtual reality (VR) experience, but is built to make the most of what the new medium has to offer, that separates Reload Studios’ efforts from the pack.
As you might expect from a multiplayer FPS videogame, World War Toons offers competitive team-based deathmatch with a simple killcount determining the winner. A class system is present, as well as power-ups and special abilities. All of this, however, is yet to be balanced and finely-honed. Reload Studios can’t commit to an upward player limit as it simply doesn’t yet know. The team are open about this, and the fact that the experience is terribly unbalanced between classes and power-up effectiveness; a very indie-like position to be in at the point of initial reveal. However, none of this detracts from the fact that World War Toons is already achieving its lofty goal: being fun to play in VR.
Simply porting an FPS – or most videogame genres for that matter – to VR has proven time-and-again to be a disappointing exercise. Forgetting issues such as speed, design and scale for a moment, the dreaded simulator sickness is a very real problem. With more than fifteen minutes of gameplay enjoyed during VRFocus‘ first hands-on with World War Toons, simulator sickness was never even remotely encountered. This isn’t only due to the hardware, but the fact that Reload Studios have been very strict in avoiding this issue at all costs: performance, gameplay design and even the control scheme are built into the videogame for the better of the VR experience.
That control scheme is key: it is not a typical FPS system. In fact, on paper it’s going to appear very odd, but in practice it’s clear that Reload Studios have undergone much playtesting to get it right. The default scheme limits the left analog stick to simply strafing and nulls the right analog stick altogether. To advance, you press and hold a face button. Jump and reverse are also on face buttons, while shoot remains on a trigger. The player can pivot their head to look around the area ahead of them or sharply turn to change the direction of movement. This takes some time to get used to of course, however VRFocus found that it works incredibly well. Other control schemes will be included in the final build, Reload Studios have confirmed, but this standard setting works surprisingly well for VR FPS gaming.
In a small map that allowed for tense close-range combat, World War Toons was a thrill-based experience. Get in there, shoot, die, respawn. Life is cheap, and it’s all about being quickest on the trigger. Get the kill, grab a new weapon and change class on the fly. Hit a ramp and propel yourself into the air, grab the power-up and do a great deal of damage; World War Toons is more cartoon-Quake than Call of Duty, and it’s all the better for it. However, the big unique selling point comes from the drop-in tank system – or rather, the ‘jump in’ tank system.
Players can, at any point they wish, activate a tank transformation. A simple press of a face button throws your weapon upon the floor and from it spawns a tank. Limited by time, the player becomes faster, tougher and gains the ability to launch splash-damage rockets with great power. It’s silly and its fun – arguably the ethos of World War Toons – and it takes comical gameplay to a whole new level when multiple players hit the ramps and soar across the skies in tanks.
The look of World War Toons is billed as a big feature, and while VRFocus appreciates its gorgeous cartoon world it may well be a tough sell to the core demographic. Sitting somewhere between Andy Capp and Plants Vs. Zombies, World War Toons brings war to some gorgeously pastel shaded environments. Its comedic value is underpinned by an attention to detail which at this early stage is remarkable; level detail and animations that will be memorable long after the controller has been placed aside.
Even after just a single playtest, anticipation for World War Toons is high. There’s very little else like it currently positioned for VR, and the fact that Reload Studios is aiming to deliver cross-platform play between the non-VR and VR releases means that there’s unlikely to be any issues with finding matches when the eventual release is upon us. AAA VR is something that the VR community have been calling for over the past year, and now Reload Studios have revealed the answer to that call: World War Toons.