The dawn of consumer-grade VR headset technology happened over a full year ago. Developers had their hands on dev kits for years prior to that and the game industry has been churning out quality content for decades. Naturally, the convergence of all that game developer talent and powerful VR technology has led to a lot of amazing experiences but in some cases it still feels like we’re struggling to really gain our balance.
Familiar isn’t necessarily bad though as some of the best games ever made are more iterative than innovative after all. Gunheart, the cooperative multiplayer shooter debut from new VR game studio Drifter Entertainment doesn’t seem to be breaking any new ground, but is looking to add enough polish onto an already proven concept to keep gamers coming back to their Rifts and Vives for months on end.
I got the chance to try out an early build of the game and play a bit of multiplayer with members from the team. The lobby area that loaded up felt appropriately ripped right out of the cantina scenes from the Star Wars films and made me feel immediately at home.
There was a circular bar in the middle with different attractions spread around, such as a corner that let me join games, as well as a small gallery of enemy models to inspect. Getting up close made me uncomfortable because of how detailed and grotesque they were. Drifter has even built social tools such as voxel painting in the air and the ability to make balloons shoot from a handheld device to add a bit of levity to the game’s otherwise grim tone.
When we booted into the match I had two items in my hand. One was your standard sci-fi pistol while the other was a revive tool. Reaching behind my back with the left hand allowed me to switch weapons, swapping the revive tool for a handheld crossbow, but this was no ordinary crossbow. After firing this weapon I was able to curve the arrow through the air and control its trajectory which is perfect for hitting enemies behind cover.
As it stands the only form of locomotion in the game is a point and click teleportation system. I can either beam myself to a spot immediately or use the analog stick to aim the direction I’d face, just like the default controls in games like Robo Recall and Arizona Sunshine. I’d have liked the option of full locomotion, but that doesn’t seem to be on the agenda at this time.
Ray Davis, co-founder of Drifter, told me they are embracing teleportation as a “superpower” for characters in the game so it’s ingrained as a key part of the experience at this time. It works great as intended, but after playing games like Farpoint, which feature similar cooperative multiplayer elements, I felt restricted not being able to maneuver around the battlefield without pointing to teleport somewhere.
Luckily the combat itself feels fantastic. Each of the weapons I tried have satisfying feedback and feel unique. As a special weapon I can even hold both guns out in front of me and let them meld together to create a massive bow in my hands. Pulling back the string and firing an arrow this way felt incredibly powerful.
I only got to play a single mission in my demo, it was short, and it mostly unfolded like a glorified wave shooter. I’d move from one area to the next, killing groups of enemies until they were all dead, then moving to the next area. The level had a lot of layers and verticality, which helped alleviate the sense of repetition. Overall though it did feel shallow.
Davis alluded to other game modes that will be included when the game releases, which should add more variety, but the early demo I tried failed to really grab my attention with regards to anything other than the polish and tenacity of its core gameplay mechanics. There were only two enemy types on display: infantry units that could flutter through the air as aliens with wings and tiny bugs that buzzed around in the air. I never really felt in danger.
The team working on Gunheart has an impressive collective resume and is clearly building towards a game that has the potential to be an amazing and collaborative cooperative multiplayer VR shooter. With experience building games like Gears of War and Robo Recall the tendency for polish is there so it just remains to be seen if the experience itself will hold up over the long haul.
For more details about Drifter Entertainment and Gunheart you can watch the announcement trailer at the start of this post and check out the company’s official website right here.