Larcenauts’ rich gameplay and complex team dynamics overcome launch frustrations, as troublesome as they are. More in our Larcenauts review!
Don’t let VOD’s toothy grin and Stretch Armstrong attacks fool you; he’s a tough nut to crack. Those elasticated arms pack a mighty blow, but they’re not much use when there’s a corridor between you and your opponent. Better instead to take the long way round, flank your enemy and land behind them as they group together to protect a fuel point. Then it’s two tickets to the gun show.
Or maybe team up with a Chi, whose healing beam complements VOD’s already-thick armor quite nicely. Once you’re in range, activate the Cage of Thorns and trap your enemies in with you. Nowhere to run. Suddenly that grin seems a whole lot more menacing.
Options are at the heart of Larcenauts. It’s a hero shooter that takes after Overwatch and Valorant not just in style and tone but also its emphasis on strategy and teamwork. A diverse cast of characters, each with unique weapons and abilities, offers ample opportunity for dynamic, in-the-moment collaborations and the chance to exploit weaknesses in other team formations. In those moments, when a team comes together to capture an enemy point or secure safe passage for a drone, you can catch a glimpse of the fleshed-out shooter Larcenauts wants to be.
And it’s painstakingly close to getting all the way there, too.
There are a few factors that are holding Impulse Gear’s multiplayer debut back in this early window but, in truth, they rarely threaten to ruin what’s here and most seem destined to be fixed in the coming weeks and months. It is, admittedly, a bit of a shame the game couldn’t have been held back until these things had been addressed, because the narrative behind Larcenauts is now that it’s been released as an unfinished ‘Early Access’ game, and that’s not really the full story.
In truth, the game’s essentially feature complete and quite generous at that. Between the three modes — deathmatch, a zone control type called Refuel and a capture the flag type called Uplink — and four varied maps, the current randomized playlist remains fresh as you jump from one game to another, and the 10-ish minute matches never outstay their welcome. Yes, there could be ‘more’ of Larcenauts, but as it stands the game certainly doesn’t seem lacking.
And that’s mainly down to the game’s brilliantly unique set of characters, the progression path each follows and the way matches evolve over time.
Though Larcenauts can be quite complex, it’s starter classes are approachable. An all-rounder character like Calmia, for example, features nimble, accessible weapons like an SMG and shotgun, plus a dash that makes her great for sprinting to capture zones or seizing the ‘flag’ in Drone Hack. But without the extra support of a class like Thal, a guardian-type that can lay down suppressing fire and throw up shields or Evander, a sniper that provides expert cover fire under stealth, she’ll be left exposed.
Learning the intricacies of each character class — a combination of unique guns, loadouts, grenades, secondary fire types and the crucial ability types — takes a long time, esepcially as you approach those later characters. VOD might seem like barrels of fun, but I’ve only found him really useful in incredibly specific scenarios, where tight confines and distracted opponents make for easy targets. Anything else and he’s just a giant, very happy bit of cannon fodder – slow, massive and not very useful when transporting a drone to an Uplink point. Fortunately you can change heroes between deaths so, if you don’t have much use for one class at a given time, they don’t really need to be involved.
Even in your first few matches, though you can start to see how plans might start to layer into high-end gameplay. Need to make up ground in Team Deathmatch? Why not send your heavy hitters out to the front lines, backed up by Chi the medic who, in turn, can be protected by Thal’s shields. Chi also boasts the smug ability to freeze on the spot and become invincible for a period of time. It’s perfect for diving in, causing a distraction and then activating on the last slither of a healthbar, when teammates make short work of an enemy’s back.
Wade deep enough into the catalgoue of possibilities and you’ll discover a rock-paper-scissors type loop with some extra trump cards thrown in. Thal’s defensive might at first seem unfair, but ARC-L6’s zippy slide gets you round the shields in a flash. Bosun — perhaps the game’s most complex class — is lethal when it comes to supporting friends with turrets, but catch her on her own and you’re very likely to come out on top. The ever-shifting dynamics of these encounters, combined with the way the game pushes firefights from cramped confines where one class excels to wide-open spaces where others thrive makes every match of Larcenauts feel different, each with their own highs and lows.
Progression, meanwhile, is pretty pacey and allows for minute tweaking for professional play. In the early game it’s all about unlocking new characters – three through a ‘Notoriety’ track and then the rest to discover either in a loot box or from the game’s store (neither of which, for the record, require in-app purchases). But each character can be levelled up for small stats boosts, including customizable ‘Power Slates’ to specifically tailor to your playstyle. You’ll also get different loadout types that can even change a character’s weapons. Right now you have to head back to the game’s lobby to actually unlock everything which is a minor annoyance.
A lot of ingredients, then, but Larcenauts balances them all with an assured hand. What it doesn’t especially feel like is a uniquely ‘VR’ game. Larcenauts doesn’t have the physicality of Onward, for example; lots of its interactions are assigned to button presses (more on that in a bit). A flatscreen version of the game seems like it’d be entirely possible but, having said that, it still manages to be immersive and engaging thanks to its systems and how tight its design is, from the diverse maps that have a way of keeping you locked in combat to the satisfaction of holding down the trigger on Thal’s meaty LMG.
Meanwhile, the ‘unfinished’ parts of Larcenauts are actually more to do with some questionable design choices and a handful of bugs. Impulse Gear, for example, seems strangely fond of taking control of a player’s hands as a means of imposing restrictions. So when you run with the default option, you see two hands dangling either side, stopping you from firing. When you reload, it’s a canned animation and not something you have any say in.
You can see why the idea might work on paper, to have a more precise and game-driven approach on how fast players run out of ammo and restock it. Give them more control and some players might find ways to game this system while others fumble with VR’s current inaccuracies. But, in practice, it just feels terrible to see your hands waving around on their own, and it’s telling that the developer has already implemented an ‘Immersive Sprint’ option that’s much more preferable to use. A similar solution for aiming is also on the way but, to be frank, they should have been in there from the start.
Bugs are a little more forgivable, if just as infuriating. Calima’s dash just doesn’t work as smoothly as it should, with the screen often jump-cutting back and forth to where the game thinks you should end up. Grapple points, meanwhile, put up a fight if you happen to snag a piece of geometry mid-flight, requiring you to try again.
The game also doesn’t do itself many favors in how little it explains (evident from the fact most online chatter overheard even a week in is one player talking others through the basics). Some of this is down to the meagre tutorial. Some of it’s down to the UI. In the hub area, for example, it took me multiple sessions before I realized that highlighting a specific character ability with my virtual pointer would actually explain what that ability is and what it does… if I turned my head to the right and looked under the character model. It’s completely out of view otherwise. Plus you don’t even get these explanations in the in-match character selection screen.
Larcenauts Review – Final Impressions
Larcenauts runs like a well-oiled machine, with complex and varied character classes that complement each other well for high-level play, tight map design that pushes you into new situations and strategies, and a progression system that keeps the unlocks flowing. It’s a game to commit to and learn its inner-workings with smart plays to counter enemy strategies. In that sense, it’s deeply rewarding, and it isn’t hard to envision an exciting competitive scene emerging from this ruleset.
But Impulse Gear also fills some that machine’s round holes with square pegs, like awkward canned animations and unfortunate bugs for some classes and abilities. These are definite thorns in the game’s side, but there’s a texture and depth to its fast-paced matches that ultimately outshines those shortcomings. Larcenauts may not be as accessible as Population: One or as heavily VR-focused as Onward, but that richness makes it easily one of the platform’s most enjoyable multiplayer shooters yet. Oh, and that soundtrack? *Chef’s kiss*
For more on how we arrived at this score, read our review guidelines. What did you make of our Larcenauts review? Let us know in the comments below!