A GEARVR GAME REVIEW
The definition of “Salvo” is the “the simultaneous discharge of artillery or firearms including the firing of guns either to hit a target or to perform a salute.” What I find interesting about this is the “simultaneous” part. You start with a few machine guns and mortar launchers that you place down yourself as part of a strategic plan to mount your defense. How you place your assets and how you choose to personally take control of each element within the battle round determines your defense. But you mount that defense by the offense you perform during an attack wave as it crashes down on you. You must constantly switch from turret to turret simultaneously defending each position as efficiently as you can. It’s in the effort of trying to figure out which turrets to man and which ones to allow the game’s AI to man for you that the excitement floods in. That’s what makes this game so fun and addicting. It has its flaws, but it is a really fun game anyway..
For one thing, I don’t much like the art style of this game. It’s sort of got a cel-shaded look, but the effect is minimally applied in a style somewhere between real graphics and cartoony. And for a serious game about the solemn rudiments of war, I can’t resolve the conflict in my mind between the kiddy-cartoon graphics and the seriousness which should be found here. Thus, I feel the graphics do not serve this title well; moreover, they take the game down a notch for me personally.
In addition, Climax Studios (the developer) has chosen to use a 2D renderer here, meaning there is only one camera for both eyes during the battles. The room where you plan your attack is done in 3D but even those graphics are rather flat, not much attention was taken to flesh out the areas close to the viewer’s face, which look cheap and cheesy to me. The phone looks like a cardboard box.
In the battles, the anti-aircraft artillery is rendered insanely huge and there is no difference in scale if you close one eye (the tell-tale sign of a 2D game versus 3D.) In a 3D-rendered game, close one eye and the scale changes dramatically, because stereoscopy always combines in the brain to form a whole different creature that is visually satisfying, with true depth and distance. And in a game about shooting things off in the distance, 3D would certainly help to enhance your own innate aiming skills. I just don’t understand this 2D-developer mentality. Since this game is played out in 2D, the game features a ground-skimming targeting-solution circle in bright red that lets you know just about where your ammunition should land. Because you can’t judge the distance innately using 3D, as the game is rendered in 2D. Why do they do this & why don’t more people notice it?
THE IMPORTANCE OF STEREOSCOPY:
VR can’t really sell the illusion of depth when both eyes are seeing the same thing. This is called 2D. The only benefit you get here in playing the game in an HMD is the 360-surround graphics due to being able to turn your head and always see the world around you. But when that world is flat, for a purist, this does not work to make VR what it was meant to be. It actually upsets me and tends to take me right back out of the world more than if the frame-rate was a little poor (say 48 FPS instead of 60). I would rather have 48FPS in 3D than 60FPS in 2D. It’s just how I’m wired as a VR purist. I’m sorry, but this is really becoming a foible of mine, a real turn off in VR, to see games that don’t make use of both eyes. It feels like VR’s very foundations are being disrespected in order to sell an ordinary game by slapping the term “VR” onto it, when there is no real VR here. These games are mostly just rendered in 2D!
Therefore, until game studios start working hard to maintain 3D purity in VR (and in GearVR especially because it’s a mobile device that developers tend to cut corners on in order to release games with smoother frame rates), I will never give any game that uses 2D in its main portions higher than 7 out of 10 in my reviews. GearVR was made for VR, and VR is about stereoscopy, which is about giving us new layers of immersion we’ve never had before. Sell out immersion to enhance a game’s frame rate and I feel that is the same as selling out the entire concept upon which VR is built. This rant is not only about this particular Climax Studios’ game, but about many of the GearVR’s games and experiences which are only rendered in 2D, such as Anshar Wars 2, FindingVR, Esper Demo (Esper 1), Mortal Blitz, and GunJack (which is 2D in the actual game (in your Gunjack turret) not down in the ship, which is rendered in 3D; that part is cool!) HINT: If you want to see what really good stereoscopic 3D does for your mind, then go install the free Oculus Home “Rocket Toss” demo and bask freely in a deep sense of yummy goodness and Presence!
The good news after that rant is that the game play is quite good. It’s very addicting. I wanted to stop playing this game once I saw that it was only rendered in 2D, but I had to play it for this review, and I’m glad I gave it a chance. It became something quite insanely addicting. The idea behind it is that as you go along, you get money to buy enhancements for your artillery and turrets. There are some rather cool enhancements, such as reducing your cool-down timer on your machine guns so you can keep firing for longer. This is especially useful because you always seem to run out of bullets or you overheat just when the enemy is within 1 second of dying. (Planned that way? Haha) They end up staying alive to continue pelting you to death while you switch to another machine gun turret down the line and try to orient yourself to take down their last little bit of health. But after you drop the enemy, sometimes they even manage to dive bomb you in a last-ditch effort to destroy you.
You can buy a lot of various enhancements and place them on your turrets at the start of each campaign. But each turret position only has 2 slots and you soon run out of places to add new enhancements, so it becomes a matter of strategy. You have way more enhancements than slots to put them in. “Which enhancements should I use and where to place them for maximum effect?” That is the question which will drive you back again and again as you are compelled to figure out that very answer. If you aren’t a person who is put off by 2D cartoon-shaded graphics, the game play here is solid and offers a lot of replay value due to the vast number of different enhancements you can buy.
However, sadly, I do feel the visibility of the enhancements (when they are actually used) is hard to spot during the insanity of this game’s action sequences. I don’t really feel they are even there because they aren’t called out in any way. For that reason, I feel Climax Studios should update the game in the future to add some sound effects and or some visual indicators that very clearly tells us when our enhancements are being used.
For example, when your weapon would normally overheat, at that moment the “cool-down timer” enhancement is used, it could announce: “Turret 1 Cool-Down Enhancement now in effect!” so you will know exactly when they are being employed. This would allow you to learn how effective they actually are at helping you during the campaign. I actually have no clue whether the enhancements are doing anything at all, and this bothers me a little bit, but could be rectified in a patch.
During the battles, enemies swarm the beach you are defending, coming in by boat, chopper, and plane. These bomber planes actually drop turret-busters, so planes are the most deadly but they are the slowest too. There is a lot of time to hear them coming, yet oddly, despite the long warning, I often could not pull myself away from bombing tanks to take them out, and saw many of my turrets destroyed over and over again to my foolish persistence in tank busting. You, like I, must learn to prioritize in what order to attack in.
“A good offense is your best defense” becomes true once the battle is underway, and the game clearly judges your efforts along the way. If you don’t shoot just the right things in the right moment, your score suffers and you’ll never get those stars that help you progress to the next level. You must learn when to switch between machine guns and artillery, when to lob grenades and mortars, and most importantly, when to take over for the built-in AI that handles what you cannot.
The game is really fun despite lacking the immersion of the true 3D stereoscopic depth a title based on shooting things in the distance really needs. What fun is it to lob grenades when you must use a 2D ground-targeting solution instead of your own eyes? … This because the game’s not built to support the very thing VR was actually made for: actual depth. This, it seems, would be the price of trying to build VR games on a mobile device that cannot yet fully support 3D due to several factors, including heat dissipation, CPU speed, and not having enough RAM. As the phones increase, perhaps developers won’t be so quick to dump true 3D rendering for frame rate, because future CPU’s will be able to handle more of what VR needs to be good. As a VR enthusiast who loves true stereoscopic rendering, I look forward to the day when all 2D rendering is far behind us. Because now that VR is here, I am so over it.