The best VR experiences are always the ones that really make you take a step back, pick your jaw up off the floor, and think about what you just experienced. Whether it’s emotional and moving moments in Dear Angelica, the sheer sense of pure immersion in Lone Echo, or an epic feeling of grandiose presence during set piece moments in The Gallery, VR is pure magic when done well and hyper-polished to a glimmering sheen.
But that doesn’t mean it can’t be janky, rough, and nearly broken while still retaining the core of what it means to be fun along the way too. War Dust falls into this chaotic and unrefined second category of VR experiences. War Dust is a massive-scale VR shooter that pits two teams of 32 players against one another. Similar to Conquest game modes in Battlefield, you’re tasked with taking and holding control points spread across a massive map with access to jets, helicopters, tanks, and more. It’s utterly incredible that it works as well as it does.
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For every expertly modeled and balanced bullet you shoot in Epic Games’ Robo Recall, there’s a tank glitching through a mountain or an avatar falling through the map in War Dust. And I love it.
Growing up as a teenager during the early days of 3D gaming on the N64 and PS1, I’m used to games being janky. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that it can foster a more charming, approachable aesthetic at times. War Dust is an early access VR shooter in development by Raptor Labs, the same team behind Stand Out: VR Battle Royal, Deus Vult, The Art of Fight, and IrreVRsible. Three out of their five VR games, including War Dust, are waffling around in the pits of Early Access game development with no end in sight.
War Dust has a ton of issues, but it’s so earnestly ambitious and throws caution to the wind to deliver its vision, it’s hard not to love it. There just isn’t any other VR game out there that lets me fly a jet over a war zone, shoot missiles at real players, eject out and parachute down to a control point, shoot a rocket launcher at a tank, gun down some enemies, manually reload my gun with my hands, and then duck down behind a rock for cover while I wait for backup to arrive. All while I’m surrounded by dozens of other real players.
Well, sort of. All of that is possible and it has happened to me, but you’re not always surrounded by real players. Similar to Stand Out: VR Battle Royale and Pavlov VR, War Dust will fill matches with bots if there aren’t enough players. Honestly, this doesn’t bother me. I’d rather have a full match than an empty one and frankly, there just aren’t enough people with VR headsets to sustain a game like this on actual human body count alone.
Visually it looks about like a late PS2 or early PS3 era game. Textures are often muddy with lots of jagged edges, maps are empty outside of the densely designed areas, and visual effects like lighting and shadows leave more than just a bit to be desired. But nevertheless, it’s addicted, fun, and absolutely exhilarating to play.
War Dust works so well because it’s what VR gamers are hungry for. Onward scratches that Arma-meets-Ghost Recon itch, Pavlov satiates the Counter-Strike crowd, Firewall Zero Hour is there for fans of Rainbow Six, and Stand Out is a serviceable stand-in for a VR PUBG, but there isn’t an option for fans of large-scale FPS games like Battlefield. Well, until now.
According to the Steam page they plan for the game to be in Early Access for about 12 months, meaning it should, theoretically, hit full version 1.0 by October or November in 2019. Since it first released in Early Access on October 19th, 2018, it’s already received big updates introducing multiple new maps, new weapons, and more.
War Dust is currently available on Steam in Early Access with support for Rift, Vive, and Windows VR headsets at the price point of $24.99. As long as you don’t have a hard time with VR sickness, can deal with some janky bugs, and are looking for that large-scale VR shooter fix, I definitely recommend War Dust.