I’ve played a lot of WWII shooters in my lifetime. They’re not as popular now as they used to be, replaced mostly by zombies and an obsession with the post-apocalypse, but I must have killed millions of digital Nazis over the years. But what I haven’t done much of yet, surprisingly, is visit that era from inside a VR headset — a topic the Front Defense series aims to rectify.
Most of the VR shooters we’ve seen so far focus on either zombies or try to take a futuristic sci-fi spin on things, but that’s not the case with Front Defense: Heroes. Instead, it’s a throwback of sorts to the days of Axis vs. Allies and MP40s. After spending some time with Front Defense: Heroes we don’t think it will have much trouble finding a market for itself despite some glaring flaws.
Check out a bunch of gameplay footage here:
What Front Defense: Heroes lacks in terms of original content it makes up for in its mechanics. Aiming down the sights of a rifle or the scope of a sniper feels great, as does ejecting and reloading a magazine in the heat of battle. Once you’ve got the rhythm down and you can effortlessly snag a new clip from your belt without even needing to look down, you’ll know the sense of presence is strong.
And then that’s when the awkward movement system that no one asked for, known as V-Move, rears its ugly head. I understand that a lot of people do still experience motion sickness when trying to use smooth movement in VR, but for a game such as Front Defense: Heroes, anything other than full, smooth locomotion cripples the entire experience.
The V-Move system works by having you press a direction on the left trackpad and then you watch as your character moves in third-person. When you let go of the trackpad you resume control in the first-person view again. It’s just like the comfort setting in From Other Suns. The result is a quite literally stop-and-go experience that throttles the action and forces you to master an obtuse mechanic before you can actually enjoy the game.
To be clear: the developers have told me that a full, smooth locomotion system will be added, but as of the time of this writing that has not happened, multiple weeks after launch. It gets the job done for what it is in its current state, but it’s far from a real solution for a game like this. In Front Defense: Heroes I want to move and shoot at the same time such as I would in Call of Duty, Battlefield, or even Onward. With V-Move that’s impossible.
Looking beyond the strange movement system decision, the rest of the game has promise. It’s a bare bones multiplayer affair for the most part and feels like an early 2000s multiplayer shooter got VR support, but given the nature of the technology it doesn’t feel out of place.
I got to play both Team Deathmatch and an Attack vs. Defend game mode. The latter game mode tasked my team, the Defenders, with preventing the Attacking team from laying explosive down on tanks. If we prevented them from blowing up all three before the time ran out then we won. Fantahorn and Vive Studios have also mentioned there should be a Capture the Flag mode at launch too.
Games support up to 5v5 but we only ever were able to do 3v3 for the testing session. Between pistols, automatic rifles, single shot rifles, rocket launchers, snipers, grenades, and more there was plenty to do in each match. The game is very likely going to open up dramatically once we get the chance to try it with smooth locomotion.
Perhaps most impressively of all though is the way in which HTC is planning to distribute this title. Like the lackluster, stationary wave shooter before it, Front Defense, this new title, Front Defense: Heroes, is a Vive Studios game, which means it has support from HTC behind it.
The game launched at a discounted price of only $4.99 and will be given away for free to anyone that already owns Front Defense. Plus, you can buy both games in a bundle right now for $9.99 and Front Defense: Heroes will be added to the Viveport Subscription service. The powers that be really want everyone with a Vive to play this game.
Front Defense: Heroes is certainly much better than its poorly conceived wave shooter sibling, Front Defense, but it still feels a bit unfinished. It’s a shame it still doesn’t have smooth locomotion, but even in its current form it scratches a bit of an itch for VR shooter fans by delivering something a bit more casual and arcadey in design than its competitors.
You can find Front Defense: Heroes on both Viveport and Steam for HTC Vive with a special launch price of only $4.95. You can read our Game Review Guidelines for more information on how we arrive at our review scores.
[Editor’s Note] – This was originally a review in progress on December 8th, 2017, but has since been updated with additional context throughout the article and with a final score on December 22nd, 2017.