One of the things that seems to be disappointing people about virtual reality in these early stages is that, rather than full-on games using the headsets, we’re getting a ton of what developers and publishers are calling “experiences.” These bite-sized bits of software often range in length from a few minutes (like the Final Fantasy XV VR Experience) to a few hours (like Batman: Arkham VR).
Of course, just like any other gaming platform, VR is eventually going to need a killer app in order to be successful — but I can’t say the “experience” approach bothers me in the slightest. As both a consumer product and a new artistic medium in the interactive entertainment world, VR is the newest kid on the block, which for the industry means easing its way into things as we all discover how the technology can be used, how it affects people and whether or not it’s a viable source of mainstream entertainment at all.
I’m just setting expectations here, because Activision have now thrown their hats into the ring with Cll of Duty: Jackal Assault VR, and it is indeed another mini-game-like “experience” rather than a full-fledged title. That said, their decision to make it free for everyone who buys the PS4 version of Infinite Warfare is a smart one — it’s an effective little demonstration of the kind of fun that VR can provide, and it’ll be yet another way that people with PlayStation VR headsets can share the experience with others to potentially bring them onboard. No, this isn’t anything groundbreaking or revolutionary, but it is one of those viscerally-satisfying little games that wouldn’t feel at all out of place in an arcade.
What’s the goal in Jackal Assault VR? In a phrase, it’s to fly around a 3D space and shoot stuff. Things kick off with a launch of your ship, giving you a moment to look around the cockpit and your character’s “body” below you. This effect never ceases to be interesting to me; being able to physically look around your environment with a turn of the head sounds like an incredibly simple thing, and indeed it is, but it’s also satisfying in a way that really has to be experienced to be believed.
As I prepared to take off in my ship, I noticed I was sitting in a rumble-enabled chair, which did an adequate job of increasing the effect of my immersion at first — even if the shaking was a bit too weak overall. For example, the actual moment when I launched was admittedly sort of disappointing; the feeble rumbling just didn’t match the high-speed action I was seeing. I’m not sure the creation and purchase of shaking, rotating, tilting chair-like accessories for this type of game could ever really be a practical move for either manufacturers or consumers, but the little feedback I did get made me realize the potential VR has when it combines physical movement with the visual illusions it creates in the headset.
Once I was out in space, I quickly accustomed myself to the controls, which used a DualShock 4 in pretty much exactly the way you’d expect. Admittedly, using joysticks and buttons, then watching your onscreen hands make different motions isn’t nearly as immersive as VR titles that use PlayStation Move controllers (or Farpoint, as another example, which uses the upcoming PSVR Aim controller to simulate a gun). Still, this is one of those experiences that just plays better when you’ve got your hands firmly on familiar controls, so it’s not that big of a deal in the end (in fact, I shudder in horror to think of a version of this game where you tilt the Move controllers like levers to operate your ship).
The game accustoms you to the controls by having you shoot a few random targets scattered around the small map. You can fire directly in front of you with the press of a button, or move your head around to control a lock-on reticle that can be used to send up to three homing missiles around at once. For reasons I can’t fully explain, moving your head around to aim this thing is really fun; perhaps it’s because it’s such a natural, intuitive motion, and also perhaps because this sort of thing is still a novelty at this stage.
The actual gameplay once things “go awry” in the game’s situation (i.e. some baddies come in for you to shoot at) is pretty fun, if facile. I’m almost positive it wasn’t possible to die in the version I played, or at the very least, you might have to try in order to lose — because let me tell you, my flying left a lot to be desired, and I felt like I should be taking more damage than I seemed to be. Still, it really was fun to fly around the area, looking around and taking out enemy ships; when the game ended after a few minutes and my score popped up onscreen, the first thing I wanted to do was try again.
The one complaint I will make is that the radio chatter in the preview version — ostensibly added to make the experience more immersive — was extremely irritating and, at least in my case, almost impossible to discern. Having the garbled shouting (of generic sci-fi nonsense, as far as I can tell) pumped in my ears constantly just annoyed me rather than pulling me into the game’s little universe. A little of this goes a long way, so hopefully the final version will dial things back to a more reasonable decibel.
I’m sure Call of Duty: Jackal Assault VR’s simple pleasures will seem extremely trite years from now, but I can’t deny that I had a lot of fun playing it at Call of Duty XP 2016. Developers and publishers like Activision are just dipping their toes in the water of virtual reality’s potential, and VR “experiences” like this are both an exciting way to feel that potential and share the simple, visceral effects of the new medium with others.
Be sure to stay tuned to We Got This Covered for more coverage of Call of Duty XP 2016, including previews of Modern Warfare Remastered and the Zombies in Spaceland mode. And if you haven’t done so already, take a look at our multiplayer preview as well!