Gear VR, Samsung and Oculus VR’s mobile virtual reality (VR) head-mounted display (HMD), has been available as a true consumer edition for around three months now. True, the Innovator’s Edition that preceded it has given the kit’s content library a head start, but you still wouldn’t expect it to become overly saturated with a specific type of genre in such a short amount of time. When it comes to gallery shooters, though, you’d be wrong.
In the months leading up to and following on from the Gear VR’s launch, there’s been a seemingly endless supply of videogames in which you stand on the spot, look around, and tap the on-board touchpad or a button on a compatible gamepad to fire at a target. That’s hardly surprising; shooters remain a dominant genre in the overall videogame landscape, and the head-tracking technology featured in HMDs allows for precise, responsive aiming unlike anything that’s possible on a controller. It’s getting to a point, though, where another entry into the genre is arriving by the week, and it’s getting beyond tiresome.
There are a handful of reasons that this issue is so frustrating, perhaps the best being that the genre may well have already reached its peak. Gunjack, CCP Games’ Unreal Engine 4-powered space shooter, is easily the most visually impressive and overall responsive gallery shooter on Gear VR. It’s well-designed, varied, and exceptionally polished. There hasn’t been a gallery shooter released since that even begins to stand up to it, and there may well not be one for some time.
That’s not to say there isn’t room for innovation; Level 2 VR’s Deadhead may be a frustratingly sluggish experience, but at least it’s trying to offer something different to Gunjack, as does the overly-straightforward but respectable Shooting Showdown 2. Sadly, though, these titles are far too similar on a mechanical level to offer a truly indistinguishable experience.
Ultimately, this stems from the inescapable fact that, while accessible, gallery shooters are a shallow, unremarkable showcase of what VR can do. If anything, they only serve to highlight the cherished few more unique titles that have come to the platform in recent weeks and months. Such is the hunger for something new that unconventional experiences like Orion Trail, Dim Light and Neverout become all the more appealing. What a shame it is that more developers aren’t looking to innovate with this new technology now, when every release is essentially a financial risk, meaning you might as well take creative ones also.
It’s true that Gear VR is a fragmented platform limited by its hardware and control options, but some studios are already proving that this is no excuse to settle for yet another mediocre shooter with mechanics that could have been cut and pasted from last week’s release. The platform is capable of more, VR’s potential is far greater, and developers should be aiming higher.