Over two and a half years after the launch of consumer-grade VR headsets, my favorite thing to do in VR is still to stand side-by-side, with a friend, while fighting enemies. Whether it be a tactical military shooter like Firewall Zero Hour, a pirate-themed adventure in Rec Room, or a tense arcade-style bullet hell shooter like Evasion, all VR is better with friends.
Evasion is a game that is built, from the ground up, with co-op multiplayer at the very heart of its identity. So much so, in fact, that it’s often overwhelming to the point of being frustrating if you try to play it alone. It’s very possible, but it’s going to give you a tough challenge.
The team at Archiact have done a great job of crafting a rich, detailed world. You can read more about the setup for the conflicts in Evasion here, with a blog post directly from the game’s Lead Writer. The premise is pretty simple: humans are colonizing space and mining for precious resources that are being contested by an aggressive alien race that was previously working with the humans. You shoot hundreds of bad guy aliens and fight your way through a series of missions to find out what’s going on. One way to look at Evasion, especially for the PSVR audience, is to think of it as a faster-paced version of Farpoint, but this time with co-op in the actual campaign.
In Evasion you’ve got four different classes to pick from. The Surgeon, which is a combat medic type, that can heal multiple allies at the same time and the “Contagion” ability on his blaster can bounce between enemies. Then there’s the Striker. She’s a more agile and quick-thinking class with armor-piercing rounds, a smaller shield that can deflect attacks, and a particle beam style weapon.
Next is the Warden, my favorite class. He’s kind of the polar opposite of the Striker in that he is heavily armored and described as a “one-man wrecking crew.” His main blaster is a bit more like a shotgun and he’s also got a grenade launcher and a large tower-style shield. His tether link can actually buff allies, increasing their damage resistance, and his big Surge Attack shoots out a bunch of cluster bombs. I’ve always gravitated towards the most tank-link characters in games. Finally, there’s the Engineer. She can shoot off orb-shaped charges the do big damage and overload enemy systems with a charged attack. Her tether grabs enemies out of the air and she can also buff allies with increased damage.
I really enjoyed the class variety, but I was hoping for a bit more nuance inside the game’s structure. There isn’t really a good progression system in place to make it feel like you’re constantly growing in power, so you’re more or less left with whatever you start with. It would have been nice to have a bit more influence over weapons and abilities as you play through the game.
I’ve played a lot of Evasion over the last year since it was originally announced at various events on Rift, Vive, and PSVR — but most of my time for this review was spent on PSVR using the PS Aim controller. Despite the performance downgrade and lack of roomscale movement, this was my favorite way to play the game because of the PS Aim controller. I’m convinced that most any shooter is enhanced with this device. I’d much rather hold a rifle in my arms than two separated motion controllers if it fits the game I’m playing. Technically it also supports DualShock 4 as well, but it was dramatically better with the PS Aim. DualShock controls are just like in Farpoint or Firewall Zero Hour, in that you physically move the controller around and aim it as if it were a gun. There is no PS Move support due to the lack of analog sticks.
The biggest difference between playing on PC VR headsets and PSVR is that if you’re on Rift or Vive, then your character is holding two guns. In your primary hand it’s your main weapon and in your secondary hand it’s a shield glued onto the front of your tether gun. The tether gun lets you do things like heal allies, buff allies, swing enemies around, and so on depending on your class. And when an enemy is near death, the tether gun can actually grab power-ups from enemies and blow them up. But if you use the PS Aim controller, you don’t have two separated hands. Instead you have a single rifle weapon that has the functionality of both guns mushed together with a shield in front. You lose a little flexibility since you can’t block and shoot in two different directions, but the sense of presence and increased accuracy afforded more than makes up for it.
Evasion is the type of game you can’t sit still with. You’ve got to always be moving around levels and your play space as much as you’re able. It really embraces the “bullet hell” designation whole-heatedly, similar to games like Blasters of the Universe.
One of the most impressive bits about Evasion from a technical standpoint is just how much work has gone into making Unreal run efficiently, even on PSVR. There are tons of bullet flying all over the place at any given time, dozens of enemies on the screen, terrain and points of cover getting blown up and destroyed, and lots of quick, erratic movement. It’s a lot to render at a steady FPS, but it never faltered for me. Also, they use Ikinema’s avatar system to fully animate your entire body. It all looks and feels really great. I especially liked how the bottom portion of the Striker’s tunic flows and moves around as you walk.
Gameplay feels excellent too. The production values, especially when compared to other VR shooters, are extremely high and there is a real visceral sense of power behind your weapons. The soundtrack (rocking heavy metal like DOOM VFR) and computer AI writing and voice acting also deserve specific shout outs as well. There’s a bit of clever humor here to keep you smiling while bullets rain down around you.
Unfortunately, Evasion does have a slight content problem with its five hour campaign. Luckily there is also a wave-based horde mode on top of the main batch of missions, but it’s not something you’ll likely spend a lot of time in. With only three levels to pick from it’s definitely a tacked-on afterthought to pad out the list of things to do, but it’s welcomed change of pace never the less.
The developers at Archiact also did a great job of making Evasion as accessible as possible. You can really dig in and tweak a bunch of the comfort settings in terms of movement and rotation, FOV, and more.
Whereas games like Seeking Dawn look great in trailers but don’t feel finished when you play them, Evasion has the reverse issue — visually the environments are mostly bland and isn’t the greatest looking game by any stretch, but it has the mechanical polish of a AAA-quality shooter in VR with the gameplay to back it up.
Evasion does a lot right. The chaos and intensity of combat is second-to-none in the VR shooter space from what I’ve seen, particularly when compared to other cooperative VR shooters. You’ll always be moving and dodging fire both physically and with in-game smooth locomotion at all times. There isn’t as much progression across the game in terms of class abilities and leveling up as I’d have liked, but the core gameplay, boss fights, and level design are so strong I didn’t mind as much. Playing solo is a bit rough, so with a friend by your side Evasion not only becomes one of VR’s best shooters, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find any other VR game that’s as purely fun on a moment-to-moment basis.