Shooting galleries are not uncommon on the Gear VR, with the likes of nDreams’ Gunner, CCP Games’ EVE Gunjack and Climax Studios’ Bandit Six series having already claimed a leading position in the genre. Sidekick Games’ Romans from Mars 360 may not have grabbed as many headlines, but with it’s wide array of enemies, weapon upgrades and elemental powers, it certainly earns the right to be acknowledged as one of the highlights of the consumer Gear VR’s launch line-up.
A cartoon stylised videogame, Romans from Mars 360 does not actually play in 360 degrees. Much like the aforementioned trio of virtual shooting galleries, Romans from Mars 360 has the player situated upon a stationary turret and tasked with the disposal of increasing waves of enemy units. To begin with the experience is much like a modern Space Invaders: enemies march ever-forwards and the best player tactic is to aim (via a reticule on the ground that moves with head-look) towards where they will be at the time the fired arrow impacts with the ground.
Enemies quickly increase in variety and become more intelligent. Explosive enemies can be used – if timed correctly – to create a sequential series of explosions across the full width of the battlefield. Armoured enemies take multiple hits before going down. Eventually, even the most basic troops will learn that it’s smarter to change course at random opposed to heading directly towards your position.
To counter these enemy waves the player has a mounted crossbow which fires at a slow pace initially, but can be upgraded once each level has been completed. The arrows fired can actually take out multiple foes in a single shot, the radius of which can be upgraded as can the rate of fire. Increasing the chance of earning a critical hit – which only really becomes useful once armoured enemies become part of the fray – is also available to upgrade in addition to your special ability.
Romans from Mars 360 is controlled entirely with the Gear VR hardware; aiming on the head-look as mentioned previously, and firing the bow by tapping the touchpad (an option to make this basic firerate automatic becomes available soon after beginning the videogame). A special ability, bringing lightning crashing down from the sky, is available via a downward swipe on the touchpad. There are also random power-ups which appear in the field, granting ice traps, additional lives or a time-limited shield.
The visual quality of Romans from Mars 360 isn’t going to win it any awards, but the stylised approach is certainly welcoming. The landscape changes as the player progresses and both the variety of enemies and quantities of them on-screen at any one time makes for a compellingly bright and active vista. Furthermore, despite the number of enemies on-screen Romans from Mars 360 never suffered from any framterate issues during VRFocus‘ time with the videogame; a commendable effort given where many other early titles on Gear VR have failed in this near-essential regard.
Though the gameplay may be all-too-familiar, Romans from Mars 360 features plenty of window dressing that makes it far more compelling. A full campaign allows you to replay a failed level while local leaderboards maintain statistics of the number of Martians killed, hidden treasures found and sheep rescued. As like many of the launch titles for the consumer edition of the Gear VR, Romans from Mars 360 isn’t about to set the world on fire. However, it is a thoroughly enjoyable first step into the world of virtual reality videogaming for those who choose to take it.