Galaga 3.0: ‘EVE: Gunjack’ is one of the best Gear VR launch titles

by Ian Hamilton • November 19th, 2015
'EVE: Gunjack' is an exceptionally well-made turret shooter and among the very top tier of mobile VR games. Available now on Gear VR for $10. ★★★★★

Update: Eve: Gunjack doesn’t work with the Note 4 “Innovator Edition” Gear VR. It is compatible with the Note 5, S6, S6 Edge, and the S6 Edge Plus. According to CCP Games, “we’re working with Qualcomm to try to get the game to run on their chipset (which is what’s in the Note 4).” 

The glow of neon lights all around me, I approach an arcade cabinet to test my theory. I need to refresh my memory of one the most successful arcade games of all time, 1981’s Galaga.

I feed the game a credit and the cabinet comes to life. Dots on the flat screen represent stars flickering in the distance. My ship is a collection of red and white dots at the bottom. Waves of enemies in various formations come after my ship from the top of the screen, with different colors and shapes to indicate their abilities. I smash the fire button and use the stick to move back and forth, trying to blow my enemies from the stars. I don’t last long.

I’m not very good at Galaga but at least my theory is validated: Galaga is pretty much the same idea as EVE: Gunjack, but what a difference three decades makes.

galaga

I press the back button on the Gear VR headset a few times, returning to my virtual living room. I launch Gunjack and select my mission from the menu. I’m inside a massive mining vessel and a turret emerges from the belly of the ship. Next thing I know I’m in the turret on a rail that’s moving outside. The mining vessel is now at my back and on the other side of my turret’s viewports the cold blackness of space is dotted by stars all around. A man’s voice comes over the comm system.

“Do you know what time it is? It’s death o’ clock, assholes!”

And with that enemies begin warping in from every direction. They come in various formations, with different colors and shapes to indicate their abilities. My turret’s dual guns, one on each side of me, are connected to my head movements. I smash the fire button. Time to blow my enemies from the stars.

laser

A screenshot from my Gear VR of a laser power-up weapon in Gunjack.

While many PC and PlayStation 4 owners are anticipating the release of space-fighter EVE: Valkyrie, Iceland-based CCP Games cooked up another VR title ahead of its $30 million round of investment. Gunjack is made by CCP’s Shanghai studio and the carefully crafted shooter is built perfectly for mobile VR. It is available now alongside the consumer Gear VR and, after spending a few hours inside the game, I found it to be one of the best available.

space

The game was built in the Unreal Engine and I’ve yet to play another mobile VR game with as much visual detail as Gunjack. The enemies are challenging too, including some “assholes” that can turn practically invisible, requiring me to freeze my head just for a second and try to pick out their subtle shimmering against the background of stars. Either a controller or the touchpad on the side of the Gear VR can be used to fire weapons and reload. You don’t need to be in a swivel chair or standing to play so it can be enjoyed while sitting up in bed.  Temporary power-ups arm the turret with new weapons that add variety to the missions, including powerful lasers and sky-clearing bombs. There are about 20 missions in all and the progression system requires replaying some of them to achieve higher scores and unlock the later levels, so it has a fair bit of replay value.

windows

The windows of the turret usually offer a wide view of space but at certain points enemies can black out portions of the view, making it more difficult to find targets.

While the lush screenshots shown throughout this post are directly from the game, it loses a bit of that luster when strapped against your face. Valkyrie next year — which will give players complete control of a nimble spacecraft — might make Gunjack seem limited in comparison. Regardless, CCP is shaping up to be a leading VR developer across all platforms and the quality I saw in Gunjack has me excited for whatever they build next with that $30 million.

All that said, if you’re reluctant to spend $10 on a Galaga-like turret game you can’t go wrong downloading Smash Hit, which is free. Smash Hit is fantastic in VR and, after finishing both games, I would be more willing to pick up Smash Hit again and attack its endless mode for a few minutes.

This post was also updated from its original version to add a comparison to Smash Hit. 

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