There is an unspoken term around these parts, a phrase that describes a type of game many VR players may long to never see again. The saturation of this genre has long since turned its taste sour and the heart sinks when you realize you might be playing one.
I speak, of course, of the wave shooter.
There was a time when you couldn’t swing an Oculus Touch controller or Vive Wand without hitting one of these but, mercifully, that era seems to have subsided. Steel yourselves for this news, then: the wave shooter is back. But this isn’t a return to VR’s creative dark ages. Mothergunship: Forge isn’t some tired rehash of a game that’s awkwardly squeezed onto headsets. In fact, it might just be the most fun I’ve had with a wave shooter.
You might be familiar with this series already; the original Mothergunship was a flatscreen shooter in which players cleared rooms of robotic enemies while customizing and building their guns in a very literal sense. Forge, meanwhile, retains the core progression of the original game but iterates on some of its other features in ways that work pretty brilliantly in VR.
Let’s start with the weapons. Customization in Mothergunship: Forge isn’t just about selecting stat-boosting attachments or alternative fire options from a menu. Instead the game gives you connectors that you can think of as the counting cubes you might’ve used in kindergarten. They attach to your wrist-mounted gauntlets, in turn giving you new connection points to attach other weapons and upgrades to.
So you might, for example, attach a standard blaster weapon to one side of a connector but, if you then find a shotgun attachment, you could stick that onto another side of the connector. Suddenly you’ve got a weapon that’s firing in two directions at once; point your wrist forwards and you’ll get your standard shot, but bend it down and you’ll instead be aiming your shotgun when enemies are at much closer range.
I’ve only played a short demo for Mothergunship: Forge (although I have replayed it repeatedly) and I’m pretty excited for the potential for this system. You dual-wield weapons, so it’ll be possible to create monster arsenals on both arms, leaving the days of over-assisted VR aiming and wearisomely rotating your wrist from your hip long behind you. Instead you’ll be actively thinking about the directions and positions you’re holding your hands in to maximize damage.
It’s incredibly dynamic and unlike anything else I’ve seen in VR shooters to date. I’ll be looking forward to pushing this system and seeing just how far it can go, especially on Quest where the thought of stacking multiple weapon types on top of each other must surely make the headset shudder. Certainly, the game’s trailer suggests you’ll be able to design some truly wacky weaponry.
It’s helpful, too, that the game appears to have the right mix of variety and structure to pull you through the wave shooter progression. It’s as much a rogue-lite as it is a wave shooter. Every time you enter a room in Mothergunship: Forge you’ll first clear out its enemies, collect a reward and then choose between two or three doors depending on what type of reward you want next. It might be a new gun part, weapon upgrade or currency for the in-run shop. When you die, crystals you’ve collected during your run will stack to afford you more permanent upgrades and help you progress further.
Then there’s the action itself, which offers bullet hell evasion similar to Blasters of the Universe. Most enemies fire giant bullets that slowly meander towards you, giving you time to work out how exactly to duck and weave out of the way. Ideally, you’ll be doing this with physical movement, but the game does offer a slow free locomotion option and dash mechanic within the confines of the platform you stand on if you want to pick other options. Other enemies, meanwhile, will get in close for melee attacks and, should you make it far enough, there are boss encounters waiting for you too.
Level design also aims to be varied and vertical, with some twists to keep you on your toes. It might be that rotating pillars hide turrets that spin around to attack every few seconds, for example, or a wider room might make it much harder to keep track of every enemy.
If you couldn’t tell, then, I’m pretty impressed with Mothergunship: Forge right now. But I know that this is only a taste of the game and, as entertaining as this slice may be, it doesn’t necessarily mean the entire game will hold up when you draw out these ideas and mechanics. Still, I’m optimistic that this will be a great VR wave shooter, and I haven’t thought that in a very long time.
Mothergunship: Forge comes to Quest 2 and SteamVR on June 16.