If you can have such a thing as a VR veteran at this point, Climax Studios fits the bill quite nicely. It was one of the first developers to release a full, premium videogame for the Gear VR back in 2015, and also one of only a handful of teams that’s released a VR sequel. Both Bandit Six and its successor, Bandit Six: Salvo, were fun, if simple, examples of what can be done with mobile VR in its early days. For its third game, though, Climax is attempting something a bit more ambitious.
That would be Gun Sight, a new third-person shooter that takes just a pinch of Contra and mixes it in with some VR goodness, once more on the Gear. It’s a gamepad-controlled action title that gives gamers more of a full experience than we’re perhaps used to seeing on the platform, arriving at a time in which we’re wondering just how Oculus and Samsung’s headset will compete with the soon to launch Google Daydream.
“This is already our third VR game,” Lead Designer Ian Hudson tells me as I sit down with the team behind the title. “But it was the first one we’d done as a third-person character.” The group is comfortable with the platform; they attribute their time developing the Bandit Six games to helping them get the most out of the Samsung phones, but they’re literally on a whole new playing field here.
In Gun Sight, you play as Colonel Jack ‘Knife’ Denvers, a space marine-esque action hero lifted straight from the 80’s (the team say if he was a movie star he’d be in the cast of The Expendables). He wears a big, hulking battle suit, spouting grizzly one-liners as he tears through a galaxy-wide robot invasion.
To do that, you’re going to have to help him shoot stuff. Stuff that comes in waves, stuff that shoots back, and stuff that’s sometimes 50 times the size of Jack himself. You’re given a dash ability that will quickly throw you in the desired direction and help you to avoid incoming fire, which is obvious to spot thanks to the game’s vibrant art style. It’s a case of getting from one side of the level to the other, maybe with a giant boss thrown in. You’re essentially taking your Samsung phone out of the Gear VR and replacing it with an NES cartridge (Note: Don’t actually do that).
Gun Sight is played from a sort of 2.5D perspective, an obvious throwback to Konami’s classic side-scroller, though literally adds depth by allowing you to also move towards and away from the screen. That brings it a little closer in line with more modern third-person shooters, though the project did start out as something a little more akin to a tribute.
“By the end of the game we added a more depth because that was more fun.” Hudson says. “We were like “Well, you get to this point and we’ll get the tanks to be rolling out of gaps between buildings and making it look really cool,” but then all you ever did was just look that way [to one side of the screen].”
Despite the differences, the heart and soul of Contra is alive and well in Gun Sight. Bullet dodging is a key factor in survival, for example, while your standard weapon, a trusty machine gun, has unlimited ammo and chips away at the enemy you’re aiming at with Gear VR’s head-tracking. For more firepower, you have three special weapons, including a multi-rocket launcher with lock-on capabilities named the Equinox Burst, a more powerful and longer-reaching attack called the Huntstman Missile, and the Iron Devourer, a vortex that sucks in enemy firepower and then explodes, killing any foe in range.
Those three specials are all you’ll get, but they’re tightly designed to complement each other and the flow of combat. At times you’ll find yourself surrounded by waves of enemies and you’ll have to use the right tool for each one. Otherwise you’ll risk leaving yourself open to fire while weapons recharge. Hudson describes it as a “rock, paper, scissors” system and it’s easy to see why.
This is especially true of the game’s wave-based survival mode, levels for which unlock as you progress through the campaign. “So when you’re in survival mode, it’s super easy if you keep the flow going,” Hudson explains. “The moment you shoot a long range weapon at a close enemy and then a long-range enemy comes when you’re on cooldown and it falls apart really quickly.” Each weapon can also be upgrdaded with pick ups found within the levels.
Gun Sight isn’t only for hardcore gamers only though. In fact, the developer has actually toned down the difficultly over time for a very good reason. “One thing, coming from console, we didn’t think really think about: [phones] obviously have battery life and they will overheat at some point,” Hudson explains. He gives an example of when the development team was recently playing indie skateboarder, OlliOlli. They continued to pass the pad between them to try and completely a particularly difficult level. “If that was on this, it would have run out by then,” Hudson says. “So you can’t make it difficult, that’s the problem.”
Those seeking a bigger challenge needn’t worry; the game’s Hardcore mode, lets you run back through the campaign with the difficulty it was originally developed at. So if you do want to punish yourself, and your phone, Gun Sight is still for you.
That doesn’t mean the normal campaign is a pushover, either. I managed to die during one of the game’s impressive boss encounters, in which giant robots dwarf Jack as they unleash a legion of minions along with their own barrage of attacks. These beastly machines are some of the game’s most impressive creations, towering over the player’s camera and proving to be suitably intimidating. The robotic worm-like boss I first threw down with made for a great scrap. Targeting its occasionally-exposed weak points and locking my eyes to its slowly-depleting health bar felt like welcoming comfort food and scratched an itch that VR hadn’t yet even touched.
There’ll be plenty of scratching too; Climax is estimating a 2 hour run time for the campaign’s 13 levels, but you’ll be able to tackle it all again in Hardcore mode and there’s plenty more robots to destroy in the game’s Survival and Extraction offerings. Hudson describes the latter as a “get to the chopper” mode in which you’ll quick have the reach the end of a level. That’s still far from your standard shooter campaign length, but it’s also more than you’ll get with many one-note VR experiences at the moment, especially on Gear.
What does feel like its missing is two-player co-op, a multiplayer option that’s underrepresented in VR as a whole right now. It’s a shame that Gun Sight‘s satisfying rock, paper, scissors gameplay hasn’t been expanded upon in this way, but the developer’s reasoning is sound. “That would be the next step,” Hudson says, explaining that the team did think about support. “If there was to be another that’s probably what we’d do.”
If Contra purists are disappointed by the lack of online play, though, the game’s epic soundtrack should help make up for it. It’s a thoroughly air-guitar worthy score that wouldn’t have been out of place in this year’s indie hit, BroForce. We’d definitely recommend grabbing a pair of headphones before jumping into a session.
Gun Sight isn’t going to go down as any sort of revolution for the VR industry, but it doesn’t have any interest in doing so. It simply promises rock solid action and a fun bit of nostalgia for those of us that can remember a classic 80’s game and the sequels it spawned. I mentioned comfort food earlier and that thought sticks.
Perhaps most importantly, though, Gun Sight looks to be a great reminder of just how strong a platform Gear VR is just ahead of the arrival of some serious competition. It also reinforces that Climax is a studio well worth keeping an eye on as VR grows in popularity. The studio is split into several smaller teams working on different projects, and they’ll regularly collaborate with each other to get the best results out of their VR titles. It’s like a miniaturized VR community all within one space, constantly bouncing ideas off of each other.
That’s an exciting thought, isn’t it?
Gun Sight should be available on Gear VR soon, though Climax isn’t confirming a final date and price just yet.