Having a fast-paced shooter in VR isn’t unheard of. With games like Robo Recall, Pavlov VR, and even the less traditional games like Audica around, shooting is commonplace within VR. It is completely natural to start firing off weapons in VR because of how intuitively the first-person perspective fits and how much more intense it makes everything feel. So, when Ubisoft announced Space Junkies, while there may have been some excitement, it’s not like it was new ground being broken here.
Space Junkies is a light-hearted free-flying space shooter that pits you against up to three other players. The tutorial sets the kind of tone you can expect from the gameplay. It is exceptionally silly and doesn’t take itself seriously. You start by learning the controls as you would in any game, but you also get to try out some of the weapons on offer. The movement is done in a similar style to Blade and Sorcery, you move in the direction you are looking. Unlike Blade and Sorcery though, you can look straight up and fully explore the zero-gravity environments in which the battles take place.
The freedom of movement makes the battles in Space Junkies absolutely exhilarating. Plus, the way the game moves never induces the motion sickness you can sometimes get with some VR games because you know the movement is unnatural. It means you can be boosting straight down at the floor and always feel in control. You can move using the thumbsticks too, but it is rarely needed outside of strafing in three-dimensions.
The weapons are excellent and have some great variety too. You get to choose a couple that you go into battle with like a sword and shield. This allows you to always have your own playstyle, but these are mostly gadgets like a sonar or a medi-kit rather than weapons. Most of the weapons can be picked up in the arenas themselves; whoever cleans up space is incredibly lax when it comes to immensely powerful weaponry it would seem.
There are standard things like pistols and sub-machine guns, though even these have a fun twist on them. Of all the weapons, though, three standout as being more interesting than the rest. Not because the rest are bad, just because these ones are incredibly good fun. The Slingshot is exactly what it sounds like, except instead of rocks or water balloons, you fire off powerful grenades. The Plasma Rifle is a long-range sniper rifle you have to charge up before each shot. It makes landing a hit so satisfying. Then you have a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher that fires rockets you can control. It’s reminiscent of the Cerebral Bore from Turok.
You even have different classes of character to play as. These give you a different mix of speed and resilience to allow you to play how you want to play. Take a strong class like the Juggernaut and then use a shield and you can be a tank. If you prefer speed, then playing as the Buzzkill and using the sonar allows you to hunt down enemies and then race away if needed.
The time to kill in this game is fairly small if someone has a good aim. It makes combat more satisfying when you are the first to react, but also means you can die out of nowhere because the enemy was below you. It never feels frustrating, though, because the respawn is exceptionally fast and you always get a new weapon to begin with. It’s just a lot of fun and very reminiscent of Unreal Tournament so many years ago.
Now, time to address the space elephant in the room. What is it like when compared to Echo Combat? Well, where Echo is a tactical shooter, one that requires good positioning and forethought, Space Junkies is chaos and fire. Space Junkies is very much an arcade shooter, one designed to be easy to get to grips with. There is no grabbing onto walls and using cover, it is pure, uninterrupted mania and it is, quite frankly, a lot more fun for it. The mindset is different two, the matches are faster, the games have less riding on them, so the atmosphere is a little mor jovial. Sure, there is a comparison here, but there really shouldn’t be.
Space Junkies is quite simply a different breed of game, and the setting alone isn’t enough to make the two similar. It is pure fun and unconcerned with things like tactics or thinking ahead. The only thing you need to keep in mind is what level you’re in, and where the weapons, armor, and health spawn. It effectively replicates the halcyon days of multiplayer shooters in VR. This is an incredible feat and one that is well worth paying attention to.
There are some small drawbacks. There could be more modes for example. While the deathmatch and king mode options are good, it all comes down to shooting each other a lot. It would be amazing to see some more classic modes introduced, things like zone control, or a sword only mode for example. What is there is an incredible time, but a little more would make it unmissable.
Space Junkies does what games have done for decades: it brings a smile to your face. It’s the kind of game you can either play for one match, or accidentally lose hours to. The matches are fast-paced and frenetic, the weapons are fun and varied, and the customization brings a deeper level to it all. Frankly, it’s fun in a way that is sometimes missing from more serious affairs. It’s already an exceptional experience and if it evolves and gains new content it will become unmissable. Now, if you’ll excuse us, there is a slingshot with our name on it.
Note: This version of the review is specifically for the PC VR version of the game. There are a few differences on PSVR not accounted for here.