It’s time to take flight in Shooty Skies Overdrive, a new VR wave shooter for Oculus Quest and PC VR from the team behind the successful mobile game Crossy Road. Taking elements and inspiration from traditional and VR games alike, does this new bullet hell title fly higher than the competition? Here’s our review.
Shooty Skies Overdrive is the first VR game from Crossy Road co-creator Matt Hill and Mighty Games, following a string of successful games on Android and iOS platforms like Crossy Road and the original non-VR Shooty Skies.
The title is predominantly a wave shooter, meaning that levels consist of enemies spawning in groups that get progressively bigger and harder to deal with. You’ll be shooting non-stop to clear enemies while also dodging projectiles sent flying towards you. There’s no lives here – one hit and you’re dead. That being said, there are a couple of checkpoints in each level, but if you end your session or return to the main menu, you will lose your checkpoint progress.
Locked and Loaded
In terms of mechanics, it works a lot like Xortex from Valve’s mini-game collection, The Lab. Your dominant hand becomes a small plane, occupied by a cute pilot, that can you move around in 6DoF to dodge bullets, shoot enemies, or charge up homing missiles. Your non-dominant hand can pick up power-ups, which help you out when you’re getting overwhelmed. The power-ups are a mixture of genuinely helpful (the bullet vacuum) to less helpful but very amusing (a trumpet that can shoot projectiles at enemies when played). There’s a load of different, wacky options, including a yo-yo, an extendable shark head, a shield, a chainsaw, and many more.
No matter what power-ups you have or how much pressure you’re feeling to finish an enemy off, the most important thing to keep on your mind at all times is just avoiding bullets. You need to maneuver your plane to avoid bullets at all times — if you can do that without getting distracted, you’ll be able to clear levels. In some ways, everything in the game besides moving your plane is just a distraction waiting to shift your focus, resulting in you unknowingly being hit and having to restart the level.
The campaign is only five levels long, available to play through in three difficulties – Chill, Normal, and Overdrive. You start with only the first level available, and unlock the rest progressively. Each level has a different theme, all of which are memorable and incredibly well executed. There’s a playful visual style running through each theme, and the voxel models lend a graphical consistency to the game even though all the levels feature drastically different themes.
Visuals aside, each level has similar enemy types and plays out in a similar fashion. There’s three checkpoints in each (one of which falls at the start of the level’s boss), save for the last level, which is structured differently. While some new enemy and bullet types do appear, there’s not a lot of variation to significantly shake things up across the campaign.
Replayability and Unlockables
As you play through the campaign, you’ll unlock different pilots and ships. While these don’t offer any changes to the gunplay, each pilot affects the available selection and spawn rates of power-ups. For example, one pilot might only offer four power-ups instead of five, but with a higher chance of spawning one item in particular. Some pilots are only available on select levels, which means that the items end up being tailored to the levels’ aesthetics in some cases. Using the chainsaw power-up in the hell-themed level felt very appropriate.
Difficulty, Length, Depth
The core gameplay is solid and the visuals are on point. The only area where Shooty Skies Overdrive arguably falters is at the intersection of difficulty, length, and depth.
In terms of difficulty, I was able to finish the entire campaign on normal in about an hour. At the end, I felt I had mastered the basic gameplay for the difficulty very quickly. The enemy types don’t change much, and the levels offer no layout changes and few gameplay variations — it’s a system you get accustomed too quickly.
Overdrive difficultly is a different story — the enemies move faster, there are more bullets and more things spawn in your peripheral vision. While the Overdrive levels offer challenge, they don’t feel impossibly hard and the game is designed in a way that all game-overs feel like your own fault, and not the fault of an unfair or cheap mechanic. That being said, Overdrive mode may be harder, but once you’ve beaten it, there’s nowhere else to go — and while I’m still working through levels on that difficulty myself, it doesn’t feel unachievable.
So while there’s a challenge to be found for those who want it, it’s limited in scope and replayability. With only a five level campaign, Overdrive difficulty feels like a challenge, but definitely an achievable one.
There’s nothing individually wrong with difficulty, length or depth of the game alone. But when considered in relation to each other, it starts to seem like Shooty Skies Overdrive’s campaign slightly misses the mark. The gameplay itself is fun, but the campaign is short and without significant variation to capitalize on the excellent core mechanics on offer. Even on Overdrive difficulty, the game doesn’t seem like one you could keep coming back to over time.
There are additional pilots to unlock through in-game challenges (which encourage you to reach a certain milestone or play a certain way to achieve a goal), but most of them can be unlocked easily just by playing the game. Even then, they don’t seem like the right kind of incentive to keep players coming back for more. What’s really missing is different game modes or modifiers, akin to similar VR arcade-style games like Beat Saber or Pistol Whip. Matt Hall did tell me that an arcade/high-score mode is coming in a 1.1 update, so that could address some of those issues, but as it stands it feels like the campaign could have been a bit longer, more varied, or supplemented with additional modes at launch.
Performance and Comfort
The game was envisioned with the Quest in mind from the beginning of development, which makes a lot of sense given the studio’s mobile-focused background. The game runs incredibly well on Oculus Quest. It’s quite an achievement given the amount of bullet hell chaos that can occupy your surroundings in a single moment.
In terms of comfort, there’s no artificial movement — it’s a roomscale experience where you’ll be dodging and adjusting your position to avoid bullets. Combined with the excellent performance, most users should find Shooty Skies Overdrive fairly low on the potential nausea scale.
Shooty Skies Overdrive Review – Final Verdict
In terms of aesthetics, performance and gameplay mechanics, the team at Mighty Games have absolutely nailed Shooty Skies Overdrive and developed a strong foundation. But the campaign (which is currently the only way to play the game) feels limited in scope no matter which difficulty you play on, and perhaps misses opportunities to take those strong games foundations to a new level.
As with any game, you mileage here might vary depending on your genre preferences. If you love wave shooter, bullet hell chaos, then Shooty Skies Overdrive takes those concepts and applies them to roomscale VR in an exciting way. However, the campaign fails to elevate those concepts to something more substantial, and some players might finish wanting more. There’s a lot of potential for improvement as time goes on — updates with additional game modes and new content could really help. But for now, Shooty Skies Overdrive offers a serviceable and amusing campaign that gets the job done with what it has to work with.
Shooty Skies Overdrive is available from today on the Oculus Rift on Home and Oculus Quest headsets. It will also be available next month for other PC VR headsets via Steam. This review was conducted using the Oculus Quest version of the game. For more on how we arrived at this verdict, see the UploadVR Review Scale below and check out our review guidelines.