Review: Space Pirate Trainer
If you already own it it's worth going back to, if not it's worth taking a look.
Of all the wave shooters available for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, the one most synonymous with the genre and beloved by many virtual reality (VR) fans is I-Illusions’ Space Pirate Trainer. Having been an original launch title for HTC Vive in April 2016, then coming to Oculus Touch in December 2016, Space Pirate Trainer has been played by VR fans the world over whilst in its beta form – and been used countless times in exhibition demos. That early access time has now finally ended, fully released with lots of new additions to keep players coming back for more. The question is, if you don’t already own it, should you?
There’s been an overabundance of wave shooters released for both headsets, with many being fairly generic throwaway experiences, while others have sought to push the envelope offering a range of improvements, novel gameplay mechanics and highly polished entertainment. Non-early access videogames that instantly come to mind like Robo Recall, Blasters of the Universe, Duck Season, Rez Infinite and Spartaga for example all have their own unique charm and selling points.
In the case of Space Pirate Trainer the title has built up a pedigree and fan following for one simple reason, playability. Its design and gameplay mechanics aren’t overly difficult or complicated to learn – which is why it’s great as an introductory experience for new VR players – yet for seasoned pros Space Pirate Trainer offers that old school arcade action of ever bigger and more elaborate attacks that try to whittle those lives away as you try to beat your highscore.
Highscore chasing always seemed to be a lacklustre way of adding a replay factor to VR experiences as it’s a mechanic that’s very well worn, but there’s something about Space Pirate Trainer over other wave shooters that makes you say ‘just one more go’. It’s difficult to pin it down to any single aspect, the weapons are a nice mixture of rapid fire, shotgun, laser, grenade launcher and several others, each one suited to certain scenarios such as when enemies bunch together or fly off into the distance.
While the hostiles are a mixture of flying robotic drones, nothing overly special, they just whizz about shooting lasers at you. With the 1.0 release I-Illusions has upped the mixture of enemies adding larger drones each of which has certain abilities like the Hex Droid that can only be shot at when it’s shooting at you. These new additions do add the mini boss feel to some of the waves, certainly helping to increase the pressure.
To add a deeper strategy element – and to help when swarms of drones become too much – there are a range of powerups available which appear randomly from vanquished foes. Ranging from a protective barrier and destructible shields to lock-on missiles, Super Lasers and a friendly drone, these appear as cubes in the sky which just need to be shot to activate. So it can be a wise move not to instantly use one mid-wave and save the best ones for the start of another.
Several gameplay modes have been employed to try and mix up the action, such as Old School, harking back to the original release or Hardcore mode where the time slowdown no longer activates due to incoming fire getting too close or hitting you. They do to a degree but the differences are minimal.
Is this enough to recommend Space Pirate Trainer over some of the other excellent options available? Quite frankly yes. Whatever I-Illusions has done certainly works to create an addictively fun experience as much today as when it was released just over a year ago. The 1.0 release doesn’t push the genre forward it just reminds everyone why they like it in the first place.