Typically, when playing a first-person action game in VR, it means one of two things in regards to movement. The first common option is that you’ll control your character with a gamepad like you would with any other game – which often results in nausea or a feeling of disconnection between your character and your mind. Or, you’ll opt for a much slower-paced, set-piece type of game with next-to-no movement or action whatsoever – which is often just flat out boring. The folks at High Voltage Software, the developers of Damaged Core, crafted a hybrid solution between those two options to solve the locomotion problem for VR.
From the very start, I’m treated to a sprawling field below a mountain that features a beautiful sci-fi landscape. Fully-modeled high-resolution characters are standing beside me, seemingly aware of my existence, acknowledging my presence. Once the game starts, a female character that’s either wearing a ton of metallic armor, or is part cyborg, starts speaking to me. She walks around me, following my gaze, encouraging me to pivot and spin around while I’m standing in the demo booth. Many Rift games are best played seated, but I stood throughout this demo and couldn’t imagine playing this game any other way.
In Damaged Core, you take on the role of a virus that must hack into and take over other robotic units. In this way, you’re not so much a character in and of yourself, but rather you have the ability to control enemies and other electronics. The downside is that once you hack into something, the process overrides the ability for movement, so you’re not able to actually move your host body anymore. It sounds a lot more limiting than it is in practice.
After I learned the basics of movement and combat, the pace picks up very quickly. By targeting cameras and robots around various levels, I could jump into new units and take control. At first I was only navigating my way through some buildings while narration played in my ear piece, but once I hit my first open field, that’s when the game’s real freedom was on display. Waves of enemy robots flooded into an open area ranging from shotgun-wielding and rifle-toting units, all the way to giant missile-launcher carrying mechs. Combat is just as much about jumping between units and staying alive as it is understanding how to utilize each robot’s strengths and weaknesses.
Eventually, I found myself in a bit of a rhythm. I’d take over a bipedal humanoid robot, eliminate a half dozen or so enemies, jump back to a surveillance drone, then beam myself down into another robot. Jumping between host units is such a simple concept, but when you pair it with the speed and intensity of combat, it ends up feeling like the least restrictive shooter I’ve ever played in VR.
The next mission on the other hand was a bit more difficult. Not only did I have to destroy multiple spawn points that were spewing out new enemies every second, but there were new types of enemies to deal with as well, such as multiple large robots and even flying units. Some of these troops required that I destroy certain parts of their armor before I could take control, further complicating matters. Once I did, however, it was immensely satisfying, especially for the flying Valkyrie unit – its head-tracking based homing missiles never get old.
After my demo, I chatted with the designers and they reiterated that they wanted to deliver a robust, deep, and varied experience from start to finish. While the two demo missions I saw were both wave-based onslaughts, the entire game is not going to be like that. There will be some stealth-based missions, and varying types of objectives, which sounds like a great way to balance the seemingly simplistic designs.
While they wouldn’t divulge any details about multiplayer at the time, their coy responses have me hoping we’ll take to the battlefield with and/or against others at some point. We’ll have to wait a bit longer to play the finished version of Damaged Core than we do the over two-dozen launch titles.