If you have no time for the full review, read the Anshar Wars 2 Quick Review here:
A GEAR VR NEWS GAME REVIEW
Anshar Wars 2 is an amazing game for sure, with a lot going for it. It has amazing graphics and fun game play, but it also has a few flaws which I feel other reviewers have not yet exposed in their happiness to have a decent space shooter that they can show to their friends. There may be some VR purists out there who may find this article helpful, while the majority of people may not enjoy its more critical aspects. Let me know what you think about my thoughts in the comments section at the end of the article.
Anshar Wars 2 is the first real game for VR created by developers at OZWE. They created the well-received “Anshar Wars” last year, which was really only a proof-of-concept demo. This time, in AW2, you are given radically different space-faring missions with actual objectives and a feeling of advancement propelled by some fairly compelling storytelling. You can use a controller to shoot, but the flight controls come from your head movements. You can control your speed this time, in slots of either slow, medium, or fast. It’s not exactly a gaze shooter, either; there are bombing runs that don’t track off your head, not exactly. There are many deep-space missions, some ground missions, and even some surprises on alien worlds in dangerous locations throughout this colorful universe. In my opinion, however, I think OZWE should have just called this “Anshar Wars” as this still feels like the first game in a series, not like any kind of sequel. AW1 was not really a game, although it was fun.
ANSHAR WARS 1:
We all liked the demo for what it was, an infinite single level where you control your space fighter by turning you head while blasting enemies endlessly and gathering the goodies (space debris left over from ships you destroy) around you. But the original controls were a bit too dramatic to say the least; you could get real whiplash by turning your ship too fast to avoid crashing into an asteroid or another ship, because there were no speed settings. There was really only two speeds: fast …. and dead. Turns out being dead is no good at all for your reputation or … your skin complexion.
ANSHAR WARS 2 MISSION VARIETY:
The first thing I liked here was that every level puts you at many different locations. First you’re in deep space defending a convoy, then you’re on an amazing Star-Warsian–Hoth-ish “snow world” with beautifully-painted mountain backdrops (as in “360 photos” behind polygon graphics). I felt that these backdrops were seamless in style against the geometry, a nice touch. The only other app that does this as good is vTime, a social chatting program for GearVR. I could almost not keep from crashing my ship because I really wanted to look around first. In fact, since turning one’s head is still how we fly in AW2, and because our first inclination is to look around, the player is sort of hamstrung by not wanting to die in order to appreciate the mood. This is a detriment that needs correcting.
So my first suggestion to OZWE is to turn off the head-mounted controls until each mission level has actually begun. Let us look around (not attached to the ship) for the first 10 seconds so we can enjoy the visuals and soak them in for a moment. I want to be able to turn around a full 360 at least once! When it’s time to play the game, an audio message could say this: “Now mapping HMD to Fighter Controls!” in a robotic voice. OZWE, tying up our controls from the very start ensures we really can’t look around to admire the graphics you’ve obviously spent a lot of time building.
FRAME RATE A PLUS:
The game’s frame rate is rock solid no matter what’s occurring, at least 60 FPS without fail in all situations, which is GearVR’s FPS limit. This makes the game feel professional and smooth. But that might also be the reason why many other reviewers seem to run on and on about the graphics without noticing one serious flaw here, in my opinion. This stems from how they obtained those high frame rates: by sacrificing stereoscopic 3D! The game’s not 3D in all instances, but just a clever hybrid.
For example, some pop-up menus that hover in your face are stereoscopic. There is clearly some true depth here. But the rest of the visuals are 2D*, that’s why I call this game a hybrid. It uses elements of 3D to convince you it’s all 3D, when it’s not. You are paying top dollar but are not getting top VR. And that’s upsetting to me, no matter how good the game is or how good its graphics are. I can play games better than this on PC where 2D is normal, why do I need to play a mobile space shooter unless it’s for the unique feeling of Presence? This game, like so many others, could have been so much better if rendered for VR, using both eyes. The overlays are 3D, some items are 3D, but the main action areas are all rendered in 2D. So everything looks really big looking without any real depth.
*I was contacted by OZWE themselves to explain that the game really is in 3D stereo. Details to follow at the end of this article….
I think perhaps the graphics are good enough to have fooled the majority of people seeing this game. But since I revel in true 3D stereoscopy to a degree which others would call a “purist level” I notice it and it takes me out a little bit. From a VR standpoint, we are playing games on a VR device that aren’t using the VR gimmick, and thus lose out on the wonderful feeling of Presence.
For example, I can’t stand those 360 videos in MilkVR and VRideo that aren’t in 3D. I also don’t like the Oculus Home world-space visuals because they are rendered in 2D only! I like how good JauntVR renders its world-space using deep 3D, as well as vTime. Both are good examples of 3D environments whose Presence brings the depth I crave. But AW2 has very little Presence beyond the audio interjections given to advance the plot that make you feel immersed in the action more. ..
LOW SENSE OF PRESENCE:
This game actually has a very low feeling of Presence due to this 2D hybridization of the graphics. The introductory hangar where you choose your level and hear the mission briefing is in 2D. The asteroid fields are all in 2D. The ships are in 2D, which makes them look gargantuan and stupid*. So there’s a low feeling of Presence here compared to other titles like Adventure Time: Magic Man, Dead Secret, and the amazing vTime chat app.
* The game actually is in 3D, according to OZWE‘s Stephane Intissar. The feeling of Presence will be improved in an upcoming patch in Q2 2016, due in part to this very article!
Even the now-ancient unfinished “VR Jam Demo” Android’s Dream has more Presence than Anshar Wars 2. Those games are all truly 3D. Magic Man actually suffers from a slow frame rate (around 30-48 FPS) because its risk-taking developers would not sacrifice 3D by switching down to 2D to pull off 60 FPS, which I appreciate! I enjoy 3D so much, I would rather it impact the frame rate if I can still have it. I suspect Magic Man runs at no more than 48 frames per second, but the 3D aspect is so compelling and the feeling of Presence in that game truly makes me feel good like a high after a few cups of coffee.
But in Anshar Wars 2, the
2D aspects really break immersion for me somewhat. While I love the graphical style of this game, while I appreciate the lovely artistry of those far-off 2D backdrops, OZWE’s approach (to sacrifice 3D depth for a solid frame rate) is not to my personal liking. When I play a VR game, I want to feel the gimmick. I say gimmick, but I don’t mean that word as lightly as the word itself suggests. VR, to me, is about cultivating Presence (its gimmick), but with 2D backdrops and geometry and only a few pop-up menus being 3D here, the gimmick is noticeably lacking! That takes this game down a notch. I am looking for immersion from VR titles, like how vTime makes you feel while hanging off a cliff in Yosemite. Your legs actually start tingling when you imagine the cords holding you up breaking. I got tingles up my spine from the Presence in vTime and Magic Man, but not here. I never got any “Presence tingles” from Anshar Wars 2, sad to say. The game is very immersive in most other ways, though.
Judging by the other stellar reviews this game’s received, I doubt many people will agree with me, but that’s how I feel. I will always play a “VR” game with strong 3D over a strong so-called “VR” game in 2D. Does anyone agree with this assessment? Are there no other die hard VR purists out that support my view? ..
In many other areas, the artists at OZWE worked hard to give Anshar Wars 2’s graphics a lot of character. The ship designs are very well done for what’s possible on mobile devices. Some feel quite huge and menacing, others heavy-looking and armed to the teeth. There is enough variety to keep your attention and appreciate the attention to detail. There won’t be a Star Citizen or an Eve Valkyrie on a mobile phone (at least for the foreseeable future), but this game comes a lot closer for GearVR than most titles out there so far.
The game’s music is epic. It feels very space-like when you’re in space, and ….. (world-like?) when you’re on a planet. I was carried through every battle feeling like a space Valkyrie swept along by some kind of high-tech operatic concerto. There’s no opera music here, I just mean the feeling of how those words convey the dramatic nature of this game’s amazing score. The songs are mostly techno music. They really carry the battles, make them feel more epic and engaging.
The voice acting is pretty good overall. I don’t like hearing the same exact dialogue when you restart a level, but thankfully they let you instantly skip over it, which is good game design.
The sound effects are good, but are not overdone. However, I feel the now-infamous gaze-shooter Gunjack still offers more in the way of audio delights for a space shooter than this title does. There are some really visceral gun sounds and mechanized sounds that give Gunjack more ambiance than this title...
The game play is much like space shooters that have come before, with one exception, a kind of unique speed-control system. If you do nothing, you cruise at medium speed. Press forward, you blast forward at high speed; press back and you come to a near stop but not entirely. This, I feel, is immersion breaking. I don’t think there is enough animation to convey how this is possible. When slowing down, how about adding a thrust effect under the ship that conveys the ship is being held aloft, and more supported against gravity? If it’s powered by high-tech gravity engines, then how about a repulsion sound effect that makes it sound like a magnetic force is now actively holding the ship up more?
How about as you slow down, the reverse thrusters shoot fire forward past your face for a moment so you can see the boost that’s stopping you? Right now, you press a button, your ship reacts instantly without showing any real forces at work to support the change in vector. It’s not only unsightly to one’s imagination, but a bit boring. Star Citizen’s level and attention to detail has made it so that other game’s lack of detail (in the same space genre) becomes all the more noticeable. And that game’s not even out yet, not fully. Yes, I understand this is only a mobile phone, but I don’t think showing some forces here will melt the phone’s CPU anytime soon.
Anshar Wars 2 is a very-well done space-shooter-action game that has easy controls, interesting missions and enemy ships, decent voice acting, and amazing visuals. The graphics are some of the best on GearVR to date,
but without the 3D visuals that VR was made for this title suffers from a lack of Presence that would have made it one of the top experience for the GearVR as the VR-enabled device that it is.
I really wish Oculus would evaluate its apps more frankly and produce some icons to slap on every game screen to show what to expect from each game, such as how MilkVR does it. In MilkVR, there are icons that show if movies are 3D or not, and icons for many other features. too. The icons give you the ability to look at movie and see right away if it’s your thing or not. The users of Oculus Home apps would benefit a lot from this approach.
I think this game is being pushed harder than most because of its epic smoothness and well-made visuals without letting anyone know it’s not really 3D. They need to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to make a game run while still giving us the 3D that VR was made for. If it’s not 3D, it would be a lot fairer to share this reality with us gamers than trying to trick us by leaving that info … conveniently out of the equation.
CORRECTION TO BE PRINTED!
My apologies to OZWE, but apparently the game is in fact rendered in 3D. The game designers confirmed they did not skimp on 3D. But the game is rendered from so high up above the ground, the 3D effect was partially lost. Only things in the foreground appear to be 3D, unfortunately. The helpful writers at VRGiant also worked with myself and OZWE to help suss out the situation, so I wanted to say a thank you to VRGiant for their efforts, too. Interestingly, at first VRGiant believed my article’s premise:
VRGIANT: “So, I checked and it appears that you are correct (about the game being in 2D). But rather than be put off by it, I’m actually more impressed. When I didn’t know it, I had no idea. Now that I do know, I have to look really closely for several minutes to determine if I really am seeing 2D because it feels so immersive to me. And ultimately, the game got the score it did from me because I haven’t had that much fun playing a game in ages. So, the lack of stereo hasn’t changed my mind.”
Then OZWE contacted us just after this declaration. Let’s let the game designers explain in their own words:
OZWE/STEPHANE: “This is Stephane from OZWE! I just wrote a message through your contact on your web site. So, YES, the game is rendered in full stereoscopy, and I am wondering how I could prove it to you better than just looking at the 3D artifacts (like thin sprites that appear on one eye only). I guess the easy way would be to make the ship smaller and closer to your eyes and the world thus smaller so that you could perceive the inter-pupillary disparity but that would be too extreme, right? Let me think of something. Now I believe you don’t feel the stereoscopy because of maybe some objects being too far, or maybe something about the hand drawn textures, or maybe you are being given wrong clues about the scale of the world. Anyway, be sure that OZWE would never sacrifice 3D for performances in any of our games, you can be 100% sure of this! That would not be fair, so the game is dual rendered at 60FPS as it should be.”
Then my response was while I don’t think they would have any reason to lie, I really can’t believe it, nor do I see it with my own eyes. The questions this raises are:
Why are the ships in the hangar so huge instead of nice and snug in 3D like the car in sideloaded-game Android’s Dream demo from VR Jam? Why are the backgrounds so far away, making the ships so huge, just like in every 360 photo that is not in 3D?
I would like to hear more from OZWE about how they are rendering this game before I can believe it. If it is 3D, it’s not working to convince me. Sorry to be a downer. But there are some amazing 3D titles that really impress me 3D-wise, but AW2 is not one of them. If you really do have 3D all set up, then some factor still seems missing. I wish you would play around with it a bit. Maybe find a skeptic like me to test the new rendering engine on when you crack the mystery. If they feel it is more 3D, you can release a patch called “Extreme 3D Mode” or something like that, for us die-hard stereoscopic purists. So far, I really can’t see the 3D in the backgrounds of this game. Maybe they are too far away. Or maybe your eye separation algorithm is off, or is too thinly used or something? If you decide you aren’t going to look into this, I will understand, and still print the apology and your comments in my article to help new readers follow the story of what’s unfolded here.
OZWE: Actually your suggestion gives me a great idea for something I am preparing for this game [Anshar Wars 2]. Oh man. A fantastic idea. Thank you!
Really? I am stoked I could have helped you in any way! Thanks so much for your time, OZWE! You are a game developer who really cares. That’s the main thing I am taking away from our discussion. But there was even a bit more in the days that followed ….
OZWE (3 days later): Initial tests [on the 3D update] seem promising but we need to test more. We just change the relative scale of the world and the stereoscopic effect is now more obvious. Our graphic team seems to like it. Now, I am not 100% sure it will make it into the next update but I will push for it. We will need to adjust a few things for that and re-test the full game. If it passes Q.A. I will let you know and I hope there won’t be any blocks. Performance is not an issue, it is more about comfort since we are flying at ultra high speed. Also, regarding stereoscopy, the internal consensus is for us to add a slider in the Settings menu where you can set your desired stereoscopy level.
Say …. whaaaat?! This is awesome news. I can’t wait to see what idea OZWE has just imagined and what that might mean for Anshar Wars 2!
OZWE: I believe you uncovered an important aspect of our game! Great work for doing it. The thing is … everyone is different regarding stereoscopy, so I see the 3D, but others like you don’t. I believe you and many others will like this patch. Please tell me which [stereoscopic] setting [level] you decide to use, as I may be able to gather some valuable statistics!
WOW! It seems we might all be in for a few more surprises with Anshar Wars 2….
U P D A T E !