A GEARVR NEWS GAME REVIEW
I should have known just by the title: Vektron Revenge! Yes, sir … anything with “Tron” in the title will be good! But I was … a bit skeptical going in due to some low-cost games I tried today being more than a little cruddy and disappointing. I wasn’t ready to get my hopes up again so soon. And judging from the 2D ad-photos alone, I really wasn’t sure about this game. But don’t let the photos fool you! Because it must be said up front: Vektron Revenge really delivers!
The premise is that you’re playing an arcade game from the 1970’s and just like in Tron, you get sucked INSIDE the game world to play it virtually. And it feels just like cyberspace, too. The graphics are minimalist but are quite stimulating due to a higher number of effects and particles and explosions going off at any given moment. It’s so alive with life and energy and you only get more excited with every stage that you conquer. And most importantly, the stereoscopic effects are very good, with intense-depth cues. The feeling is very fulfilling, just what an arcade-style VR game should be!
Originally, this was a VR Jam Contest entry made by a single programmer, Ludovic Texier. The title has finally come home to roost in the Oculus Home Store, but with an improved frame rate and more compatibility. A game pad is not needed, and this is the first game mounted to my face that really works, and makes sense for how it plays, not causing any discomfort. Some gaze-style games are not that great face mounted as so, but this one really works.
The start of the game (taking you inside the standalone-arcade machine) even comes with a Tron-like zooming in sequence to ensure you make the connection. Once inside, you become this disembodied silver ball that zaps energy in a rotating NESW pattern and in that order. All sorts of shaped-patterns buzz around you, trying to mesmerize and distract you so they can zip in for the kill. The pattern of your firing constitutes your weakness, as you are always vulnerable on at least two sides of yourself at any given millisecond. Also, the ball lags behind your gaze a little bit, providing additional challenge in how you maintain control of it. For short jerks of your face, the ball seems to keep up pretty well. But if you wrench your gaze too fast, the dragging effect tapers off rapidly in response, and you’ll leave it far behind your gaze, right off the screen! This is a dangerous moment, as neon-evil things are always swimming around you, trying to chomp you. When they do, you explode in a digital soup of particles that rush toward your face, providing a deep sense of Presence. It feels like you are trapped in some kind of digital shark tank, with all of the cool colors, but you are what’s for dinner! Everyone wants a nibble. You have to frantically jerk your gaze about in order to stay one micron ahead at all times. It’s very exciting and wonderful.
One quick nagging question: I am curious why they didn’t call this title Vektron‘s Revenge? (Apostrophe “s”)? Without that sense of ownership, it makes the game’s title sound more like an adjective describing some type of revenge. Is this a type of revenge, or is the actual revenge owned by Vektron? I guess it doesn’t matter, but I’m still wondering.
Another cool aspect to this game is the power up you get when you see a blue nebula opening before you. They don’t often open right where you can see them, you have to look left or right quite often, which can also upset your play mechanic, leading to an untimely demise. But if you don’t look, you won’t be able to enjoy the spoils should you find this power-up portal waiting there for you! A quick run of your ball into the nebula and suddenly, you become a flaming mega-sphere of unyielding godlike power! You shoot ten times more energy per second, wiping out anything in your path! It feels so good because it makes you more safe for a short duration. The effect only lasts seconds, but it really excites you and amps up the adrenaline already coursing through you.
This is the first title for GearVR that actually feels like an arcade experience for the modern age. It has a retro-arcade vibe but the progressive visuals I crave in a VR experience. It has a cyberspace feel that is somehow ultra-chaotic while still being very Zen. The colors are great: neon shapes against black always makes me feel copacetic and mellow. The explosions when you die are huge and provide a slap in the face because the stereoscopic effects you feel as the tiny particles whiz across your nose or zip by your ears will thrill you. There are so many different kinds of cyber “creatures,” each with their own rules, their own patterns, and a unique living character that you gradually begin to feel the longer you play. The game literally comes alive the longer you play it. You no longer see the Matrix, the ones, the zeros, the constructs working behind the scenes … you see the sentient beings at work behind the code dancing around you. They begin to seem alive.
The music is masterful techno, with an evolving score that progresses and does not stagnate. I played the game for a few hours but never managed to hear more than 7 minutes of it before dying and having to start over from the beginning. The sound effects are good and very arcade feeling. It feels at times like they ripped open a hole and reached back into the 80’s to drag some of the ambiance from games of that era into the Present. I very much feel this is a modern game with many elements from the bygone-arcade era. They have done very well with the style for this title.
- GRID-DEPTH DISTORTION: The green grid that fades in and out over the backdrop is being rendered wrong. It appears behind and in front of the other graphics simultaneously. That means the developers placed it physically in front of the other object models, but then set it’s stereo-depth level in VR to somewhere further behind the object. So the grids all appear to be both in front of and behind the object, leading to depth confusion. That needs to be solved. It’s really annoying and breaks immersion at times when it could be a benefit, because grids feels good in cyberspace. Fix the depth confusion and your grids become a plus.
- TOO HARD: The game is too hard with only 3 lives. And we don’t get any boons for playing well. We can die quickly or go without dying for 5 minutes and clear 4 stages but you don’t earn any extra good will for playing well. When we run out of lives, we start over at the beginning. That’s too lame for such a cool experience. And it’s not fun to replay the easy beginning levels over and over again. Since this isn’t an endless runner, please don’t treat it like one. It has actual stages. Each stage is unique and has its own rules. It takes a lot of concentration and effort to get to any new stage, and then we don’t know the new rules (new trick to kill us with) and then we die. And then all the way back to the start, the slow 1st level again.
- 30-MINUTE CHALLENGE MODE: I’d like the game to be changed a little bit to offer a chance for progression. Give us a 30-minute count-down timer we can start at least twice per day to see how far we can get, with the rule being that we have to clear 4 stages in order to keep one after any “game over” inside the timer window. The 30-minute timer is always counting down but if we play well, we can get further and further. It means that instead of going back to stage 1 when you die, you go back to stage 2 and can continue from there. Now you clear the next 4 stages (now you have to get to stage 5 to keep stage 2 as your fall back line). At stage 6 if you die, you go back to stage 3. But you only get to do build momentum in this (4 forward keep 1) cycle for 30 minutes, and then you totally die and have to re-start from the beginning. Now we can try to make some progress every time we play this game.
BAD POP IN & POP OUT: The models you use always just pop in when being created and at the end of each stage, the same models just wink out of existence instantly. You already have the answer to making this cool in our own death animation. The exploding pixels when we die are about our energy stores getting blasted out in all directions. Why not use that same dynamic to hide the unsightly load in/load out of game assets? You change the color to the object’s color and use particles gathering together to FORM the 3D object, and when we finish the stage, let them blast apart in a huge maelstrom of sparks in their color to DE-REZ the object (the way the new Tron movie showed it). The current method the models blink in and out is too harsh, not smooth or cool like our own death sequence is. Devs, please update the game to make objects particle in and particle out. This will add more life, more craziness, and more stereoscopic depth fun as the particles blast by our faces on the way out.
The only reason to doubt whether or not to get this game is if you have the fortitude to tough out the extreme difficulty of this game when it doesn’t have any extra rewards for playing well. I have never liked any game where you had to start over at the beginning and see how far you can get. I am more for experiencing the entire game, and these kinds of games don’t ever allow for that, except in a few cases where someone is very talented with hand-eye coordination, memory, and other factors. We shouldn’t be making games that cater to the smallest audience possible. I’m not saying make it easy and ruin the challenge, I’m just saying for some of us, a little more incentive would be nice. Give us 30 minutes and let us irk our way forward with every group of successes we make. We can still see more of the game for playing well, but it won’t be a deal breaker in any sense of the word.
In my opinion, Vektron Revenge is worth every cent paid just for the stereoscopic-immersion level alone. The music is awesome, the particle effects are amazing. If you liked movies such as Matrix, Lawn-Mower Man, and Tron, or anything else similar in mood invoked by cyberspace, then Vektron Revenge will be right up your ally.