Editor’s Note: This review was originally published on June 29th but has been republished due to the game releasing on Steam for download.
HTC’s mission with Vive Studios is supposedly to foster the creativity and vision needed to deliver high-quality VR experiences directly to their users. Fund them directly and publish a portfolio of quality content; that was the mission, similar to Oculus Studios. The first two Vive Studios titles — Arcade Saga and Virtual Sports (formerly known as VR Sports) — are simple and fun, but far from the level of quality people would expect. Then there’s Front Defense, which is being developed by the internal HTC team named Fantahorn Studio.
In Front Defense you take on the role of a soldier in the Allied forces during World War II (WWII) in a fight against the German armies. The concept is to deliver a trusted genre (the first-person shooter) with a popular setting (WWII) to VR in order to attract a more core gaming audience. The problem though is that it’s just another wave shooter that lacks the creativity and depth needed to be anything more than a passing curiosity.
Front Defense is split up into four main pieces of content: a shooting range tutorial and three (yes, only three) different levels. You crouch down behind cover, pop up to shoot enemies, reload your gun, throw grenades, and do other WWII shooter things without ever moving from your spot. You’ll spend the vast majority of this game hunkered down on your knees miming the presence of a gun in your hands.
After playing PSVR games like Farpoint using the Aim Controller, the absence of a physical object in my hands on the HTC Vive was remarkably noticeable. People have crafted peripherals like that out of PVC pipe and there are even a handful of them in development with massive price tags or Vive tracker requirements, but there’s something to be said for a single universal gun accessory that’s officially backed and supported by a platform manufacturer like Sony.
Even though it’s 2017 and VR headsets have been commercially available with hundreds of games for over a year now, the mere fact that Front Defense is a wave shooter doesn’t automatically make it a bad game. There are lots of very good wave shooters in VR. But Front Defense lacks any unique design elements or gameplay mechanics to really make it stand out from the pack.
For everything it does well, it falters in a handful of other ways. As an example, reloading weapons like your rifle feels great. You remove the magazine, reach down to get a new one, and slam it into the base of the gun — similar to how reloading works in PlayStation VR World’s The London Heist. But then to remove the pin from a grenade you have to hold it up to your mouth (to simulate pulling it out with your teeth I guess?) and wait a second or two until the sound effect of the pin removing plays, then throw it. Nice idea in theory, poorly executed in practice.
Then there are the issues with enemies. In every level you’ll just gun down endless waves until the end. They’re not intelligent and don’t operate like any video game soldiers I’ve seen in the past 10 years. Often times I’d see them just standing on balconies waiting to get shot or blindly running between cover spots with no regard for the bullets peppering their torsos.
That all sounds harsh, but it’s true. Steam in particular is overrun with new, simplistic wave shooters created by small teams that flood the market with content each and every week. Shoot a few enemies, reload a new wave or level, rinse and repeat. But even some of the most popular early VR wave shooters, such as The Brookhaven Experiment, at least hung their hat on a specific hook such as survival horror to set them apart. That doesn’t seem to be the case with Front Defense though.
The honest truth though is that some people are going to enjoy this despite it all. If you’re new to VR, love the WWII setting, or just really like shooting guns while wearing a headset, then this isn’t a bad game. But in the grand scheme of things with all things considered, Front Defense should have been better.
Front Defense feels like a game that was made without an audience in mind. The dedicated VR users that have enough space (it needs approximately three square meters of room) will have played plenty of VR shooters by now, many that are just better than this. The core gamers a WWII shooter is supposed to appeal to will get bored far too quickly with the lack of depth. And the small sliver of people left in the middle that are hungry enough to buy just another wave shooter will leave disappointed that this isn’t a more complete experience from Vive Studios.
Front Defense is available now for $19.99 on Viveport or included in the Viveport Subscription — it’s also available on Steam for $19.99. Read our Game Review Guidelines for more information on how we arrived at this score.