Virtual reality games and I have a troubled relationship. Every time I play a VR title, there is confusion about why it’s not working, things get smashed, and one of us usually ends up feeling a bit sick. But I keep coming back. I have hope that the relationship can work. Space Junkies might be the VR game that repairs the relationship.
Space Junkies is an arcade shooter played on the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift. Players jet around one of the multiple space arenas and fire shots at opposing players. Currently, the game is 1v1 or 2v2. You feel like a character from Ready Player One competing in a battle at the battle school in Ender’s Game.
At PAX, I jumped into a 2v2 game using the Oculus Rift. The game looks and feels like the arcade shooter style games of yesteryear- e.g. Unreal Tournament, or Halo. There are shields and colour-coded weapons floating around the arena for you to reach out and collect, and you use your jetpack to move quickly around the environment. It almost feels like a platformer… in zero gravity.
There are a variety of cool weapons to use (bomb on a slingshot – my favourite), but you need to make an effort to use them properly. Classic video games have taught us that R1 is the trigger button for all weapons. Well, this is virtual REALITY. If you want to use a shotgun, you must hold it with one hand and pump it with the other. And then press R1. With the rocket launcher, you don’t even have your hand pointing forwards like a typical gun, you need to have your hand raised up over your shoulder like you would be holding an actual rocket launcher. Or a boombox from a 90s hip-hop movie.
The Oculus Rift touch controllers seem very responsive, and the game takes full advantage of that. It seems like you are able to manipulate all five of your fingers in-game to effectively communicate a range of hand signals. Picking up weapons and aiming did not perfectly mirror my IRL actions, but the Oculus Rift far exceeded my expectations in this department.
Space Junkies is the first competitive VR game I ever experienced that isn’t simply a VR version of a physical sport. And the first that seems to be pitching itself as an esport. It is published by Ubisoft but was only playable at the ESL booth. And it didn’t look out of place in the esports environment. I would love to see a Space Junkies equivalent of the Fortnite Pro-Am, using competitive Overwatch or Counter-Strike players and VR streamers.
I felt a little bit motion sick after 15 minutes of play, but this may be related to the fact that I had to use the hand sensors to move in-game due to real life space limitations.
Space Junkies is currently in open beta on Steam and is due to be released in 2019. So, for all those HTC Vive and Oculus Rift owners out there, you can load it up, look at the holographic interface that pops up on the left arm of your spacesuit, and say… “Come in, Star Command.”