Today, Oculus VR, the virtual reality company owned by Facebook, announced that when you finally buy an Oculus Rift headset next year, it will come with a copy of the eye-popping spacefighter simulator “EVE: Valkyrie.”
Which, it turns out, is really good news, because “EVE: Valkyrie” is a lot of fun — and the best sales pitch for virtual reality I’ve seen yet.
See, I’ve had the chance, over the last few months, to get plenty of hands-on time with the Oculus Rift and competing HTC Vive VR headset. But as cool as those demos were, and as fun as some of the games and experiences were, I never really gave much thought to the possibility of actually ever buying virtual reality.
But “EVE: Valkyrie,” which I tried in a demo organised by developer CCP Games last week, is the first virtual reality game I’ve ever played where I came out of the demo thinking “OK, yeah, I could play this every night for a while.”
The Right Stuff
Facebook has been using “EVE: Valkyrie” to show off the capabilities of the Oculus Rift headset for some time now, and it’s no wonder why — it’s visually stunning.
The important part is that the game uses virtual reality to teleport you into the cockpit of a starfighter, “Star Wars”-style. From there, your major goal is to shoot the living heck out of other spaceships, using a combination of missiles, guns, and other exotic weaponry.
Thanks to virtual reality, you get a good look inside of your ship, no matter which way you turn. Every inch is rendered in loving detail, just furthering the space pilot fantasy.
In the demo, I controlled the action with a standard Microsoft Xbox 360 controller, plugged in to a Windows PC, while I wore the Oculus Rift headset.
The coolest part of the controls, though, is how some weapons actually aim wherever you’re looking — a very cool “only in virtual reality” sort of thing.
So if you want to get a missile lock on an enemy, you actually literally have to lean back in your chair to keep him within view, while she darts around to get a better shot at you.
It makes you feel like Chuck Yeager, Luke Skywalker, and Tom Cruise combined when you manage to pull off a perfect loop-de-loop around a chunk of asteroid, keeping your opponent right at the edge of your vision, so you can fire off a pair of perfect missiles and splatter their ship against the scenery.
Too close for missiles, switching to guns
Beyond the action, there’s a little more going on: In the still-in-progress version of “Valkyrie” I tried, CCP was showing off how you can use the salvage you pick up from defeated enemies to upgrade your starfighter, taking it in a bunch of different directions.
For instance, at the outset of the game, you can choose between a zippy little ship with machine guns and missiles, a slower, more heavily-armoured beast with machine gun cannons, and a support ship that’s hard to play well but sports some nifty beam weapons and mines that heal friends but hurt enemies.
With upgrades, you can boost certain attributes on these ships and make them more to your liking, resulting in a little bit of long-term strategy.
The levels themselves range from open space with a few hiding spots in the form of floating asteroids, to derelict space stations with plenty of nooks and crannies from which to stage an ambush.
There’s a backstory there, too, tied in to the universe of the popular online game “EVE Online,” but you don’t need to know anything about that (I certainly didn’t). It’s just a really fun, addictive space shooter that also casts you as the hero of your own space opera.
I couldn’t think of a better showcase for virtual reality, or a better freebie with the Oculus Rift headset — a fun, action-packed game that’s easy on the eyes and simple to pick up. It may not quite be “Tetris” or “Angry Birds,” but it will be an excellent first VR game for a lot of folks.