Preview: RIGS: Mechanised Combat League

There’s a real lightbulb moment when you first start up RIGS: Mechanised Combat League, Guerrilla Cambridge’s answer to the much sought after virtual reality (VR) first-person shooter (FPS). The simple act of walking is a dilemma for VR experiences but, technically speaking, here the player is able to move and yet remain stationary at the same time. It’s the large mech-like Rig that they command in intense online battles that does the trekking, while players remain nestled safely inside, free from any immersion-breaking barriers. It’s a simple but effective idea that’s bound to make other VR developers wonder why they didn’t think of it first, and it lays the foundation for one of the most promising titles for Project Morpheus yet.

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Depicting a new form of sports entertainment that takes place 50 years in the future, RIGS: Mechanised Combat League aims to be a fast-paced FPS, the kind that might have required a few nearby sick bags on lesser VR hardware. It starts its matches in the busy hangars that house the weaponised mechs that players will be climbing into. The machines themselves hint at the title’s strangely family friendly appeal, bathed in bright greens and bold blues rather than the dim metallic greys seen elsewhere. This isn’t war; it’s fun.

There’s a real atmosphere to these pre-match areas, as sparks fly from background machinery and engineers bury themselves in holographic screens on their arms. Once all players are ready, a brief sequence shows teams climbing into their respective war machines, ready for battle. It’s at this point that you can look down to see two control pads sitting in your virtual hands that aren’t too far off from the two handles of a DualShock 4, further increasing the bond between the real and virtual worlds. You can also use positional tracking to carefully inspect the intimidating cannons that are strapped to either side of the vehicle. It creates a very genuine and dwarfing sense of being housed inside a colossal piece of weaponry.

Eventually players will ascend into a vibrant arena, which is essentially a winding, multi-levelled maze of ramps and tunnels for them to weave through as they blow each other to pieces. It’s here that they’ll take part in Power Slam, a mode in which players attempt to fill an Overdrive meter by killing enemies and gathering orbs. Once Overdrive is activated, they have a limited time to climb to the top of the map and jump through a goal of sorts, thus scoring one point.  It’s a sort of capture-the-flag, with two teams sharing one base and anyone able to become the flag themselves.

As this unique mode suggests, there’s far more to RIGS: Mechanised Combat League than the headlining Project Morpheus support. Each class has just one weapon to use, but can intriguingly choose to activate one of three enhancements on the fly. The first is increased speed, a second provides more fire power, and the final option repairs the player after a shootout. When in Overdrive mode all three of these are activated, giving players a fighting chance in the literal uphill battle as the opposition descends upon them.

Three classes are on display in this build. The Tempest is a small rig that takes a hit on speed in exchange for increased armour and the ability to glide through the air, while The Hunter instead capitalises on pace, ducking into smaller tunnels and able to sprint to the finish when in Overdrive mode. The last class, The Mirage, is slightly slower than The Hunter and, as the largest of the three, doesn’t have access to some areas, but makes up for it all with a double jump component. The differences in speed and firepower are very noticeable here, and encourage experimentation.  The Tempest’s balancing act between the others makes it a solid choice, but hopefully more classes are being held for future reveals, mixing battles up even more so.

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Guerrilla Cambridge has also elected to use the head-tracking on Project Morpheus to help steer mechs. Players simply need to hold up on the analogue stick to move forward, and then look in the direction that they want to turn. For the first match, this can be an often confusing experience, as it’s easy to forget that your head is doing the turning and almost impossible to fight the urge to tilt the left stick in the direction you want to head. It also makes for a few frustrating missteps, falling from ramps just metres away from the goal.

While familiarity does begin to set in before the first match draws to a close, it’s impossible to deny that using the second, more traditional control scheme yields immediately better results, if defying the laws of physics somewhat. This scheme allocates control to the right stick as per any other FPS, but sacrifices some realism, as players often find themselves looking in a direction that their robot body isn’t actually facing. There are pros and cons to both schemes, but Guerrilla Cambridge will hopefully find a nice middle ground before launch.

All that said, RIGS: Mechanised Combat League remains a reassuringly comfortable experience throughout, and smartly provides a short half-time break just a few minutes into each match. This gives players a moments rest from the admittedly draining process of concentrating on a multiplayer VR FPS. A brief breather can also be gained when players are defeated. Keeping in tone with that oddly positive vibe, the player character isn’t evaporated as their craft crumbles around them. Instead, a pod ejects and hovers above the battlefield, and one can then select a new spawn point. The decision to stray away from an ultra-violent theatre of war is a refreshing one, though anything else might prove too demanding for VR in this early stage.

Two matches of RIGS: Mechanised Combat League are enough to leave you wanting more. It feels oddly reminiscent of the situation Guerrilla Cambridge found itself in with 2013’s Killzone: Mercenary in that it doesn’t just settle for bringing the FPS to a new platform, but instead strives to deliver an exciting experience in its own right. There’s still plenty more to learn about the title in the weeks and months ahead, but it’s a strong first impression.

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