VR is a tethered experience, but Ubisoft’s space shooter finds a work around.
Perhaps at some point in the future, omnidirectional treadmills will become a fixture in every household, enabling proper 360 degree on-foot movement in virtual reality first-person shooters. Until that time, and with the exception perhaps of DOOM VR’s dash and warp mechanic, most developers are making do with the unhappy marriage of head tracking for look controls with traditional thumbstick for movement, which is a system that at best breaks immersion and at worst leads to nausea.
Space Junkies avoids such issues with the simple solution of strapping every player into a jetpack. It doesn’t matter that the movement of your feet isn’t tracked by the game, because your feet never touch the ground in its anti-gravity arenas. It doesn’t feel odd to be playing a virtual reality first-person shooter sitting down, because movement is handled by looking where you want to go and clicking the left thumbstick on the controller (in the case of my Gamescom demo, an Oculus Touch) in order to boost your jets and propel yourself in that direction.
Zero gravity. Zero tolerance.
With nothing in the way to pull me out of the experience, I was able to fully immerse myself in Space Junkies’ orbital battlegrounds, and I thoroughly enjoyed every gunslinging minute of it.
[You can twirl] the shotgun around your trigger finger to reload it a la Arnie’s signature reload move in Terminator 2
Space Junkies’ arsenal is fairly stock standard fare, with pistols, shotguns, railguns and miniguns making up the arsenal in the demo I played, but they all feel so wonderfully tactile when used in VR – whether you’re using your left hand to grab the side grip of the railgun to steady it, or twirling the shotgun around your trigger finger to reload it a la Arnie’s signature reload move in Terminator 2.
You can dual wield any combination of weapons, and you can also holster either of them at any time by simply moving the controller to your hip and releasing your grip. There’s also a shield that can be picked up, but whereas a shield in any other first-person shooter typically only protects you in the direction you’re facing, the shield in Space Junkies protects you from whichever direction you’re holding it, meaning you can raise it above your head to block attacks from above, or even move it behind you if you’re being fired upon from the rear.
The same goes for the actual shooting too, and since it’s one continuous jetpack joyride, Space Junkies makes the most of the verticality of its arenas. Floating pieces of debris overhead become cover as the axis of a firefight shifts from horizontal to vertical; it’s a dynamic shooter experience unlike any other, made even more so with a number of environmental death traps to manoeuvre your opponent into.
Space Junkies was demoed on Oculus Rift at Gamescom, but it is also coming to HTC Vive.
There’s no campaign mode and matches are restricted to either 1v1 or 2v2, with a member from developer Ubisoft Montpellier indicating that they were pitching Space Junkies as a more tightly focussed Rocket League-style experience rather than the next Call of Duty. Considering you can attack or be attacked from literally every which way, it feels to me to be the logical choice to restrict the player count – upping the player number would likely be too chaotic to be fun.
And speaking of fun, perhaps Space Junkies’ best trick up its sleeve is that it lets you wield a lightsaber whenever you want. (Well, a lightsaber in everything but name.) At any moment you can reach behind your head with either hand, hold down the grip button on the controller, and pull your hand back out over your head as though you were unsheathing a sword by the power of Greyskull. The
lightsaber laser sword is good for both close quarters and ranged attacks, since swinging it sends out an arc of destructive energy, and ultimately it just feels brilliant – especially since you can throw it up in the air with one hand and catch it with the other for maximum swashbuckling swagger. If there’s a cooler move in the world of VR, I haven’t found it yet.
Tristan Ogilvie is a Video Producer at IGN AU. He doesn’t tweet much, but when he does he tweets at @tristanogilvie