So far, esports have yet to make their mark in VR. Can Brazen Blade change that?
That’s what MyDearest are hoping for with their Overwatch-meets-Super Smash Bros 3D ‘smack and shoot’ brawler that emphasizes high-flying, fast-paced traversal across a highly-compact, destructible map.
It’s a major shift in focus for a team that’s typically focused on solo, story-driven adventure, but one the team has high confidence in. The team also hasn’t abandoned its worldbuilding and storytelling routes with the jump into multiplayer action, building backstories for each of these characters and the anarcho-capitalist world and even bringing on Castlevania Netflix series creator Warren Ellis as a creative consultant. In this alternative future, people are brought together for highly-competitive international tournaments that are used to decide the president of the world.
Still, emphasis is most certainly on frantic and fun multiplayer action that is easy to learn but difficult to master.
We were invited to the MyDearest offices in Tokyo for a chance to try the game ahead of its planned closed Alpha test this month, introducing us at first to the game’s complex-yet-intuitive control scheme. Movement is key to victory in combat, with victory requiring skillful mastery of the verticality and variety of each stage layout in order to gain an advantage over your opponent. Players will primarily move around the environment by dashing, mapped to the left and right triggers for vertical and horizontal dashes respectively.
Pointing in a direction and using your dash will shoot your character forward in that direction, making it perfect for both offensive and defensive maneuvers. You can dash towards an enemy, punch them, then dash away and either shoot them further or find cover. Shooting requires grabbing your sub weapon from your waist with the grip button, and to make aiming easier you can also lock onto opponents with a click of the right thumbstick.
With some variation based on character abilities (more on that in a second), every character’s basic attack is a punch, inflicted forming a fist with the grip button and physically punching the space in front of you to attack whatever’s in your path.
This can be used against your enemy, but it can also be used to damage (and destroy) buildings and vehicles, as the entire environment is completely destructible. The map we played on was set in a since-deserted city now used for this competition, with plenty of cover, verticality and objects to destroy. Why not blow up an oil tanker to inflict extra damage, or destroy that high-rise building where the long-shooter is perched to attack from afar?
Each of the three characters available in this early alpha had their own specialties. The all-rounder Skybolt offers a balance between quick traversal (using her three dashes) and damage output. However, she lacks the strength and additional health offered by the tank Legacy, who makes up for a lack of speed by being much harder to take down and requiring greater resources to be defeated. Meanwhile the long shooter may not have the best defense options, but can attack from afar while opponents are too far out of range to fight back.
The game does amount to far more than flailing a punch and hoping for the best, though. Each character also has additional skills that can be activated by holding up your palm, such as Skybolt‘s health regeneration ability that works for both you and your team. The more damage you take and inflict will also inch you ever-closer to an ultimate attack, which can turn the tides of battle. These can be activated once charged by bringing your fists together in front of you, Hulk-style.
While this sounds like a lot to memorize in such a short space of time, the whole experience feels very intuitive the moment you jump into a match. A few seconds of experimentation is all you need to feel right at home with the mechanics, and before long you’ll be dashing around and knocking out your opponents as though you’ve been doing it forever. It feels fairly accessible to even VR newcomers or the genre as a whole, with potential to bring in new audiences in the process.
Although just three characters were available in this early Alpha build, six characters are planned for the game’s initial release next year, with new stages, weapons, characters and modes being experimented with and added to the game in regular seasons following release. Provided the title is a success, the hope is to build the game into VR’s first competitive esport. It’s a goal emphasized by the team’s decision to bring on popular Japanese shoutcaster Taiga Kishi to assist in guiding the game to become entertaining from a competitive standpoint.
Ultimately though, Brazen Blaze wants to be a game that’s fun no matter your skill level, with potential to master its controls and becomes the very best – maybe even president of the world. Given it’s still in alpha, there’s a noticeable stretch of balancing and development to come between now and release. However, the game’s potential to become an essential multiplayer VR experience is what stood out most in the 30-minute demo. Within such a short space of time, I went from someone struggling to move around the environment (and accidentally jumping off the map) to sniping opponents and getting the kills needed to shift the tide of battle.
Most of all, even losing didn’t feel so bad. In a move reminiscent of Mortal Kombat (but without quite so much gore), the final attack of each round comes with its own finishing move, providing additional joy in landing that match-winning blow. Even if you’re the person stuck on the other end of the attack, it’s nonetheless entertaining as each of the finishers feels involved and strangely rewarding – even if you’re the one being shot into space or crushed to death.
Brazen Blaze will release on Steam VR and Meta Quest, with a closed Alpha scheduled to take place early this month.