Review: Augmented Empire
Coatsink continues to be a premium supplier of content for Samsung Gear VR.
With literally millions of users across the world, the Samsung Gear VR is by far the most popular head-mounted display (HMD) out there – not including cheap and cheerful Google Cardboard – and one of the platform’s most ardent supporters has been British indie developer Coatsink Software. You might not have heard of the company but if you own the headset it’s more than likely you’ll have come across one of it’s videogames, Esper, Esper 2 or A Night Sky. Adding to this roster is Augmented Empire, a strategy role-playing game (RPG) that continues Coatsink’s quality record on Gear VR.
Augmented Empire’s story revolves around an island called New Savannah, an isolated neo-noir metropolis whose society has been divided into three tiers by the ‘Citizen Grade System’, with citizens deemed of high value to society living an opulent lifestyle at the soaring heights of the city, while those seen as less savoury have to live their lives in the squalid depth’s. For the most part you play a girl called Willa, who had worked her way to these upper echelons of society, only to find it all come crashing down in an instant.
Featuring an overhead viewpoint and grid-based movement mechanic, Augmented Empire’s gameplay will feel very familiar to anyone who’s played XCOM or its sequel. The layout Coatsink has gone for is tabletop in design, meant to represent a holographic display. As such, apart from the main hub which is an office – you actually play a non-speaking robot in a detective agency – from where you select which level to play and the various upgrade options, the actual gameplay levels only take up one area in front of you, so there’s no need to look around as the rest of the space is redundant.
This means your always looking down at the same area – a bit of a shame for immersive VR – which can lead to some neck strain after longer play sessions. On the flip side it means you can comfortably play Augmented Empire whilst relaxing on the sofa (which is no bad thing).
And long play sessions you certainly will have, as the title is entirely engrossing. Whether using the touchpad or a Bluetooth controller (recommended), the mechanics of Augmented Empire are really easy and fluid to use. Characters have an allotted amount of action uses – two on average – which you can use to move, shoot or both depending on their particular traits. There’s also a wealth of other options to be unlocked, with grenades, healing, taunting, headshot and more. As you delve deeper into the videogame you’ll unlock a bunch of characters, turning it into a team management experience. So as you upgrade them, choosing the right person for the job becomes an important factor – although certain levels do have fixed selections to compliment the storyline.
And while Augmented Empire is great fun to play, Coatsink has ensured it’s not a hollow experience, with a rich story and voice acting. In its quintessentially British style, the studio brought in the voice talents of Kate Mulgrew (Orange is the New Black, Star Trek Voyager); Doug Cockle (The Witcher Series); Garrick Hagon (Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, Horizon: Zero Dawn) and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Paul), helping take the mood from dramatic to quirky humour.
The title takes a different direction to Coatsink’s other projects for Samsung Gear VR and that’s no bad thing. Augmented Empire is a refreshing change from all the first-person shooters (FPS) on Gear VR, offering gunplay, tactics, upgrade options, and a wonderful visual style. In fact it’s a shame the videogame is just for Gear VR, because at points you’ll really want to lean in and explore the world – which you can’t – so here’s hoping for a high-end headset version.