Space combat videogames are not uncommon in virtual reality (VR). A first-person simulation in which the player is grounded within a cockpit makes for an arguably ‘easy’ design document, comparative to a walking-based experience at least, but here on Gear VR OZWE have decided to take a different approach. While still directly concerned with wide-reaching space ship battles, Anshar Wars utilises a third-person viewpoint.
With the player sat outside of their vessel Anshar Wars creates an opportunity that other space combat shooters have mostly ignored thus far: drift control. The player’s ship responds to every slightest movement of the player’s head, but with a very specific amount of delay. Akin to turning your jetski in Wave Race 64, the ship will turn the required arc in any direction a moment after your head changes direction, thusly the player has to accommodate for that split-second delay in all manoeuvres they wish to perform. As the vessel is very nimble this creates and enjoyable system for predicting encroaching asteroids and enemy ships, planning for last-minute avoidance and gaining tactical advantages.
The ship may be able to move in all directions, limited only by the player’s ability to contort their neck in 360 degrees, however the available weaponry is not so flexible. Controller with either a bluetooth gamepad or gesture input on the Gear VR’s touchpad, a front-firing machine gun is powerful enough to takedown enemies at long range, but requires an extended direct-view of the craft. A secondary weapon, the missile launcher, can destroy enemy ships in just one shot, but takes a moment to lock-on and is decidedly more limited in capacity, within only 5 shells available to store aboard your craft at any one time.
To rearm your missiles and machine gun, and also for restoring health, power-ups are dotted around the area in which your mothership is situated. The single-player component of Anshar Wars tasks you with defending this ship against increasing numbers of enemies. The enemy ships are by-and-large rather unintelligent, so it’s more likely to be player error that finds your high score run coming to an end as opposed to being tailed across the arena by an enemy you just can’t shake off. This is the full extent of the single-player mode: a high score battle that sees you attempting to make your way up the online leaderboards. It’s a shame that OZWE didn’t see fit to offer up additional objective based missions, but there is another component that purports extended longevity: multiplayer.
Multiplayer battles – though still assigned the ‘beta’ tag at present – see players going head-to-head in deathmatch mode. Up to 4 players can join a single match and while finding active rooms is not common at present, due to the rarity of the hardware at this early stage in the Gear VR’s consumer lifespan, matches between equally skilled players often prove to be tense and enjoyable affairs.
Anshar Wars is a visually commendable videogame, with chunky ship models and signposting that is informative without obscuring the gameplay. The occasional framerate drop is certainly an issue, as is the momentary loss of head-control when exiting to a menu, but these are minor flaws in an otherwise respectable presentation.
Though Anshar Wars could easily have been produced for a traditional videogame format – indeed, most of its gameplay principles are based on genre standards that have long been established – it makes use of VR to enhance the immersion of the experience while cluing the user in on a brand new method of control. It’s far from groundbreaking work, but in the same regard it’s a good starting line for adapting familiar videogame experiences to the new medium. Anshar Wars is enjoyable and certainly worth investing your time in, but it’s far from the compelling statement about VR’s potential that many will be expecting to see on their Gear VR.