You’d be forgiven for thinking that, with a name and premise as wacky as Evil Robot Traffic Jam’s, you might not be in for the most immersive of virtual reality (VR) experiences here. This is a tower defense title in which players must stop rogue machines from contributing to congestion by blasting them to pieces before they reach their target. It might seem like a concept that’s entirely detached from the platform it’s appearing on, and it’s true that this would probably hold up just as well on standard displays, but pulling on your Gear VR and getting your first look at this colourful world will defy your expectations.
Developer Element Games VR debut has all the makings of an immersive experience, giving players an overhead view of the course that enemies will attempt to navigate with environments that truly come to life in 3D. In the first level alone you’ll see a miniature plane whizz around your head that playfully distracts you from the task at hand. As the title progresses, courses start to wrap around your view, and helpful drones buzz and hover at each side. Evil Robot Traffic Jam pulls off some very convincing VR scene setting, and it is to be commended for doing so.
Elsewhere, this is an enjoyable if formulaic and somewhat rigid entry into a popular genre. Each level begins by allowing players to purchase an initial set of towers with what currency they have, placing them in slots dotted across the map. New levels will introduce both new types of enemies and towers, slowly transforming an initially limited experience into something more robust by the end. It’s a simple progression system that’s been put to use in plenty of similar titles. You start out with laser and rocket turrets that are modestly effective before unlocking new structures with specific capabilities such as anti-air attacks or high risk/reward properties such as trading speed for power and range.
As you might expect, additional funds are acquired from the wreckage of defeated enemies, though they do accumulate at a sluggish pace. This works both with and against Evil Robot Traffic Jam, as it injects some welcome challenge into the busiest moments of each level, but it also means you often need to start off every challenge with a very specific set of towers, or you’ll be forced to watch your perfect score get cut down. Somewhat ironically, earning medals by losing as few of the 20 lives you start each level with is essential, as it will give you more money for the start of the next round.
For the most part, however it forces you to think strategically, spending money in the wisest possible way, and selling off other towers when pushed against a wall. Towers can also be upgraded, which starts off as a cheap alternative to building new ones until the price escalates and makes you balance the pros and cons of each decision before going through with them. The best tower defense titles will have you questioning your every move with your limited funds, and Evil Robot Traffic Jam is largely successful at replicating this effect even if it takes a while to get going.
There are other elements that work in your favour, too. A giant screen rests in the middle of each level, for example, displaying all of the required information but also giving you a few small advantages. Firstly, you can pause the action from here and survey the area, though buying and placing towers isn’t possible in this mode. You can also speed up the action to move slower sections along. Most important is a VR abilities bar, which gradually builds in each level. Activating it can either grant you three powerful shots at specific targets, or make it rain traffic in certain areas.
Most of these powers will also come in handy during the boss encounters that punctuate each level. These behemoths usually take a beating, causing some tense battles. They’re not quite as worrying as the victory screen, however, which shoots fireworks into the sky that cause a moment’s dip in framerate that’s quite uncomfortable, if quickly forgotten.
Without VR, Evil Robot Traffic Jam might have trouble standing out from the sea of mobile rivals. As one of the first entries into the genre on Gear VR, however, it stands as a solid time killer that’s enhanced by some impressive 3D effects.