The problem with Call of Duty‘s Jackal Assault VR mission is that it doesn’t really have anything to do with Call of Duty. True, it carries the name and puts you in the cockpit of the spacecraft from this year’s entry into gaming’s biggest franchise, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, but it’s about as far as you can get from what we actually associate with the series.
There’s no thrilling on-foot set pieces in this free download, no razor-sharp gunplay, no sprinting away from grenades at the last second, or throwing yourself to the floor and praying that you’ll survive the incoming barrage of bullets. What you get is a very brief (4 – 5 minute) demo in which you fly around in your cockpit, fighting enemies whilst invincible, and then watch a massive capital ship blow up. It feels like the early demos for CCP’s EVE: Valkyrie, not the VR love letter to franchise fans it should be.
I’m not saying this is a bad experience; the sense of place you receive from sitting in the cockpit is arresting, and painting targets with head-tracked controls and then blowing them up with your missiles is innocent fun. It’s bound to delight VR newcomers, though I suspect not as much as the upcoming Star Wars Battlefront VR experience, which will put you in the cockpit of an X-Wing.
Those newcomers were likely at the center of the decision to take out any form of death. Enemies won’t hit you as you fly around, and crashing into larger objects just awkwardly repositions the camera. Many of the tiny details like gun turrets can simply be flown through. The lack of any sort of tension is felt throughout. You can fail the mission towards the end, but it literally has no effect on the experience.
Obviously the challenge here is that the full Call of Duty experience would make you feel sick in VR. The characters move too fast and scripted scenes that take the camera out of your hands are a recipe for nausea. But, in the series’ vast history, there are still plenty of scenes and moments that would have been far better suited to a short experience than this. Imagine replaying Modern Warfare‘s dramatic sniper mission, in which you attempt to eliminate an arms dealer, with you actually leaning into the scope of the rifle.
Perhaps that’s what we would have gotten if this year’s Call of Duty wasn’t heading to space this year. I can understand the decision to essentially use the experience as an advert but, as a result, we have something that will be forgotten about by this time next week. Jackal Assault is a harmless few minutes of VR fun, but for a franchise of this magnitude it’s a missed opportunity.