It’s becoming something of a trend; adapting retro arcade gameplay into the very modern world of virtual reality (VR). Austin-based Gyoza Games performed such duties with debut release Inbound while the likes of Mega Overload and Super Pixel Smash have made it their raison d’etre. Red Iron Labs is the latest studio to try their hand at it, with VectorWars now available for HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and the OSVR Hacker Dev Kit (HDK).
The gameplay premise is very simple: think a vector graphics styled Geometry Wars or, for those a little longer in the tooth, Robotron. The player takes control of a vehicle within an arena and must evade the enemies and their shots whilst returning fire to take out increasingly difficult waves. It’s a familiar premise of course, but one that works in VR due to the simplest of gameplay ingredients: fun.
When playing on Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or HDK (VectorWars is also playable in non VR mode) the player stands behind the action with the arena laid out in front of them. When playing with the HTC Vive (or Oculus Rift with Oculus Touch) the left controller commands the player’s ship while the right determines the angle of the mounted turret. It’s not long before the player is able to command some impressive manoeuvres to avoid incoming fire whilst simultaneously lining themselves up to take out an enemy unit.
Of course, VectorWars is a modern take on the formula and as such features unlockable upgrades purchased with in-game currency, leaderboards and a number of other bells-and-whistles. But it’s the core gameplay that will keep players returning as, while far from the best showcase of VR currently available, VectorWars is a true and fun example of its genre.
Problems so exist within the difficulty curve, however. While the player is able to tailor their experience to a degree, once skilled you may often find that the first 10-or-so waves provide no challenge. This is fairly typical of the genre, but remains a greater frustration when playing with the HTC Vive (or Oculus Rift with Oculus Touch) as the hardware typically calls for a standing position, and with no use of roomscale you’re simply guiding a vehicle around a seemingly lifeless arena for 10 minutes-or-so until you actually begin to face a challenge; arguably the entire point of such an action-centric experience.
The visual design of VectorWars has been artificially limited to meet that title, but even so there’s very little going on in the background. The endless space is marred by a few angular asteroids but little else. It’s difficult not to feel as though more could’ve been done to give the videogame a little more flair in the graphics department while still aping the retro style of 40-year-old arcade videogames.
Ultimately, VectorWars is an enjoyable VR experience but not one that will remain with you long after your initial enthusiasm has passed. However, this has been reflected in the price, as Red Iron Labs has ensured that VectorWars has a remarkably low barrier for entry (at the time of writing the videogame is available on Steam for just £2.79 GBP). This makes VectorWars hard to fault beyond the limitation inherent to the genre, and an easy recommendation for a pick-up-and-play title not requiring too much thought.