Virtual reality games are at their best when they transport you to strange new worlds. But I never expected one to remind me just how hard it was to learn how to type in middle school.
The VRLA Summer Expo was the perfect place for such a budding project. For two days, the show’s floor space was home to a wide variety of games, all of them trying to tackle VR at different, but promising angles. Here are five of the most memorable titles from that weekend.
Awake is a third-person fantasy adventure game with a world that wouldn’t look out of place in a Dreamworks or Pixar film. In my Oculus Rift demo, I used a Xbox One controller to guide a mouse-like creature up a steep mountain. The character was a wizard, and it was leading a handful of other critters through a winding snow-covered path. I encountered simple puzzles along the way, all of which involved finding glowing circular platforms. After stepping on them, large rocks from the background floated through the air to plug up any dangerous gaps, allowing my little group to continue their journey.
A motherly voice narrated the events of the demo, giving a few more details about what the whimsical characters were doing. At the top of the mountain was an old castle. The wizard waved its wand, and the other creatures entered through the main door. Suddenly, the castle came to life, magically assembling its broken pieces into a huge bipedal warrior. The demo ended just as the castle was about to fight an equally huge opponent that emerged from the shadows.
According to developer Section Studios, Awake’s episodic story will center around these Titans, and how the characters (known as Pipsies) are trying to revive them to fight against a mysterious evil force. But Section wasn’t ready to reveal how the Titan combat will work. Producer Kami Talebi told me the demo was “80 percent” of what a chapter in Awake would look like, and that they have a “grand vision” for the full game.
The company is still looking for a publishing partner before it can continue working on Awake. I hope it finds someone. The demo was a great teaser, and I’d love to see more.
Cosmic Trip is part of a genre I didn’t know was possible: a first-person real-time strategy game. Out now on Steam Early Access for HTC Vive, Cosmic Trip has a charming sci-fi style that’s both futuristic and outdated at the same time. You can throw energy frisbees to defend yourself against disembodied aliens, or pull a pillar from the ground to open a portal that’ll take you to your next base. But you also have to insert blocky modules and what look like large floppy disks into computers to make sure you’re properly harvesting your resources.
All of it felt and sounded really good, especially the fat buttons on the computer console that creates new machines. I loved whacking them with my virtual wands. Cosmic Trip also has a cute, if somewhat useless, companion called Friend Bot. It’s supposed to warn you of danger, but it just kept waving its fingerless arm at me while aliens destroyed my base.
A developer from Funktronic Labs told me that they were surprised how much some customers fell in love with their robot buddy (at VRLA, they had a Friend Bot plushie hanging off the corner of their booth). So the team started adding in features that make it even more expressive.
The last time I took a typing class was in the sixth or seventh grade. And while I don’t miss those days, Labcoat Studios’s typing simulator was a harsh reminder of how difficult it was to memorize the keyboard without looking down at my fingers. If that wasn’t hard enough, I had to relive that experience while also playing against another person in a multiplayer mode reminiscent of Pong.
Lazer Type is similar to Sega’s Typing of the Dead series: You have to quickly type out words that are coming toward you. But instead of shooting zombies, successful completions will send a ball hurtling to your opponent’s side of a wireframe court. The multiplayer mode is a constant back and forth match of catching incoming balls (by also typing words) and throwing others. It was delightfully hectic. Even with a virtual keyboard in the game, I had a hard time just typing out three-and four-letter words.
Lazer Type is a refined version of VR Typing Trainer, a prototype Labcoat created during the Orange County VR Game Jam in 2014. It’s an educational game at its core, but the developers thought it’d be fun to add a multiplayer mode, too. If you want to be a competitive VR typer, you better brush up on your home row skills before Lazer Type’s release on Oculus Rift later this year.
Gyoza Games’s Inbound (out now on Steam for HTC Vive) is a spiritual successor to the Atari classic Missile Command. The premise is essentially the same. You have to prevent incoming missiles from destroying your city. For Inbound, that means protecting your space colonies by firing lasers and grenades, planting mines, and collecting power-ups. In addition to the missiles and other airborne threats, you also have to worry about mech troops taking potshots at your colony on the ground.
Keeping your eyes on both the air and the ground is the key to winning. I played on the easiest map, and at first, I was pretty confident in my shooting skills. When the action ramped up — missiles covering most of my view, mechs flanking me from the sides — I had to use Inbound’s time dilation power to slow things down a bit. I barley managed to win. But Inbound seemed like the kind of arcade game I’d go back to just so I can improve my score.
Island 359 (coming this summer to HTC Vive on Steam Early Access) looks deceptively simple. A helicopter drops you off on a dinosaur-infested island, and you have to find weapons and other supplies to survive. Pretty straightforward, right? But Island 359’s wave-based survival mode is a little more complicated than that. You can freely move around by selecting a point in front of you and sprinting at superhuman speeds to get to it. After killing a certain amount of dinosaurs, a loot crate will drop from the sky. Inside, you’ll find new weapons, gun attachments, health packs, and other items.
The difficulty increases with every crate you open — but in a subtle way. You’ll start seeing more and more dinosaurs in the wild. The most terrifying part of my demo was hearing the beasts themselves. Compys — diminutive carnivores that are around the size of a cat — have child-like yelps that are hard to forget. They can easily overwhelm you if you’re not careful. I never felt safe.
Island 359 will have more than just the survival gameplay, however. Independent developer CloudGate Studio eventually plans to release an ambitious story mode with an RPG-style open world.
Giancarlo is a freelance writer with work appearing in prominent media publications such as GamesBeat/VentureBeat, Playboy, and Pocket Gamer. You can follow him on Twitter: @.
Featured Image: VRLA Facebook