Last year CCP Atlanta showcased three experimental virtual reality (VR) demonstrations from the CCP Games VR Labs team during the EVE Fanfest in Iceland’s scenic capital, Reykjavik, but only one of the video games has been taken on to be developed further. Project Arena, which was then called Disc Arena, utilises the Oculus Touch to get blood pumping and sweat dripping in much less intricate gameplay than CCP’s other VR developments.
Project Arena has two modes, Brawl and Volley, which differ from each other in a few ways, but for both the demos the introduction is pretty much the same. Players start off in a lobby where they must place their hand into a blue orb to start the game, which was a fantastic small feature that helps give the player an immediate sense of full-body immersion. Once the tutorial is completed, which is simple enough for any level of gamer to get to grips with, there is once again a great small touch of fist-bumping your opponent to initiate gameplay.
Brawl, in essence, is the VR equivalent of dodgeball where the two players directly face off against each other, throwing discs in hopes of impaling their opponent to steal away each other’s lives to win. The player is equipped with a shield in one hand, which can be interchangeable by pressing the triggers on the Oculus Touch controls, protecting you against oncoming offensive discs which will result in the loss of one of your four life bars.
The twist to this demo is that the shield and discs are not two separate entities, which results in a battle of strategic moves of gain and loss. In order to fire the discs off at their opponent, the player must hold down the trigger of the hand which holds the shield and launch it in a Captain America-esque style. The player isn’t completely vulnerable during the time it takes for the shield disc to return as the other hand turns into a mini-shield with a much smaller surface area to protect you against incoming attacks. Gameplay then results in a flurry of flinging hand movements, ricocheting discs, and constant physical dodging movements, which proves to be an easy platform for many players to compete on an unskilled level for quick satisfaction.
Volley, although it captures the same idea of playing the opponent one-on-one in a Tron-like arena, requires a more refined type of strategic play. The first thing the player will notice is that they are not confined to solid box room like in Brawl, but instead are suspended up on a platform in – quite fittingly – an arena. If you couldn’t have guessed it, Volley mode is much like volley ball or tennis. In between the two players is a circular net which must be avoided by the disc they bat at each other with their virtual rackets, but once either the player hits the net or fails to return the disc, the other player receives a point. The racket, much like in Brawl, can be changed between hands by pressing the triggers.
The gameplay in Volley is not as immediately satisfying as the Brawl demo because from time to time the disc doesn’t necessarily accurately travel the path the player has hit it, but as this is a demo there is much development on calibration and accuracy to be tweaked. The view of the opponent is also blocked by the net, but from the luminous quality of the disc this isn’t much of an obstacle in terms of practicality.
Project Arena has enough in this current demo to deliver a satisfactory experience that incorporates a decent amount of VR features to make it seem like you’re playing more than Wii Tennis with a headset on, but for it to reach the same level of polish as CCP’s other VR titles there are a few steps to be taken. The previous concern was its marketable ability, but those worries are in the process of being washed away with fuller gameplay which can be crafted further for a complete experience.