Some superheroes are just annoying. Take Hal Jordan, for example, the most popular Green Lantern. Though he may have matured into a grizzled veteran over time, his early days as a member of the space police cast him as a cocky pretty boy that grated on his fellow members of the Justice League. I never thought I’d be that type of hero; I always pictured myself as a slightly happier take on Batman, or maybe Spider-Man just with less terrible jokes.
That is until I played PowersVR on the HTC Vive.
Though there’s very little content to it right now, this superhero simulation from Pseudocode Games showed me why some heroes turn into arrogant so-and-so’s: because it’s so much fun being them. By giving you eight diverse, polished abilities, Powers creates a joyous playground of grin-enduing experimentation. Whereas First Impact tried to do a little too much with its abilities, Pseudocode has stripped things back to an enticing core experience.
One-man development team Christian Ignatov has been working on the game for around five to six months now. Funnily enough, it started out with the developer wanting to make himself Iron Man, a character that topped our own list of superheroes that would make awesome VR games last week.
As he tinkered away with Tony Stark’s tools, though, he began to look at other powers he might be able to use: “at one point I just looked at what I had and decided it’s something others might enjoy too,” he tells me over Skype. “So I sat down and thought more seriously on how this could work as a game.”
That’s got him this far; a relatively small island that you can explore to locate eight different powers. They range from some standard VR mechanics like teleportation and shooting with (an amazing) prosthetic minigun, to abilities we’ve only dreamed of using in VR like laser eye beams and, of course, flight. There are some basic enemies dotted around the map but they’re kind of placeholder for now as they don’t pose much of a threat.
The real joy of this demo comes from getting used to your powers, a lot like any superhero would when they start out their career. Personally, I found myself addicted to charging round the city with super speed, burning my eye beams into robots. I became so immersed in the experience I actually leaned forward to imitate running, and may or may not have cracked some terrible jokes as I stopped to shower bullets on unsuspecting enemies. Even in this early form, PowersVR capture the innocent and pure joy of being a superhero. I felt like the Roadrunner; nothing could touch me.
“My number one priority was that the abilities feel fun and powerful,” Ignatov tells me, “and I think that’s been fulfilled for most of them.” I have to agree, although there isn’t enough here to sustain a full game just yet.
Fortunately, the developer has grand ambitions for PowersVR moving forward. His current roadmap insoles superhero genre essentials like challenges and new powers in the near future, building up to a full release with a stor-based campaign. Here you’ll play as specific characters during missions, getting to learn their skill sets. As the game progresses, heroes will need to team up and you’ll add more abilities to your arsenal as a result.
“This means that the challenges in that story section will be tailored specifically for whoever it is you’re controlling,” Ignatov explains. “Without spoiling much (and since everything is subject to change), imagine dodging traffic with the speedster Zap, pursuing a criminal, or solving puzzles using Phaser’s teleportation ability.”
This could be key to creating a varied, memorable campaign for the game, and the developer says he’ll be improving enemy AI too. He pictures a game made up of parts familiar to VR gamers, like wave shooters, mixed up with sections more akin to classic superhero games, where enemies patrol the streets. The aim is to get that campaign into people’s hands by the end of the year, though Igantov is conscious that he might not make that deadline.
For now, I’d recommend buying into PowersVR at its Early Access price to help fund development. Though it offers only a small amount of content right now, the near future will bring more; Ignatov tells me that fans have requested a telekinesis power, which he’ll likely implement in a future update.
“I’m also working on a movement power to be released alongside the telekinetic character, which should remind people of a certain friendly neighbourhood hero,” he teases. Let’s just hope Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t beat him to that last one.
“I also really have to thank the community,” the developer states. “It’s only been a few days since the game’s release in Early Access and already a lot of things I hadn’t noticed were pointed out to me. I feel like a good mixture of content and bugfix patches, both guided by community feedback will push the game in the right direction.”
From what I’ve played that direction is already hugely promising,