Virtual reality is a platform that hasn’t exactly fulfilled its promise. There’s a few reasons for this, both technical and physical—something I won’t get into detail on right now. But suffice it to say, virtual reality games are just finally finding their footing. Games like Half-Life: Alyx seem to take traditional genres into the VR realm using a few clever tricks to great success. BattleGroup VR follows closely in that tradition: taking spaceship real-time strategy and cleverly moving it into the VR space.
If you asked me how I would make a fully 3D strategy game work in virtual reality, I would probably come up with a lot of the stuff BattleGroup VR does well: using motion controls to move ships around a battlemap. But I don’t think I would have come up with the idea of putting the player smack-dab into the action by putting them onto the bridge of the ship that commands the action. You can witness battles that you’re orchestrating play out in extremely dramatic ways—and as your own bridge explodes around you in a Star Trek fashion.
When I ran through BattleGroup VR’s tutorial for the first time, I was breathless when I was taken out of the tutorial room and put onto the bridge of the command ship for the first time–standing on the bridge watching my ship pump out rounds while pursuing the enemy combatant was unreal. It’s probably going to be one of my forever-remembered virtual reality experiences. BattleGroup VR is extremely immersive—even your bridge crew banters and comments as story events unfold.
While technically a real-time strategy game, playing through the campaign means you’ll have to work a while before you’ll have an entire fleet to command. Though managing your fleet between missions takes time, and gives the enemy a chance to regain lost territory, so even rearming and hull repair takes on a risk reward aspect.
The fleet you assemble is, of course, full of a diverse range of different classes of ships. From the large Battleships, to smaller torpedo ships, there is a whole range of weaponry, electronic warfare, and other tricks to use against your enemies in battle. You also can choose different captains, each with stats that you can assign, and sometimes with unique abilities.
BattleGroup VR’s action takes place around you, sure, but you do most of the controlling via a small battle grid. I played on the Index, and my experience with this map was great. You can resize the map, and select objects using the grips and trigger respectively, and it’s so intuitive I think I was doing it before the tutorial finished explaining it. Some of the learning curve associated with learning a 3D camera is removed, too—you are the camera. Selecting ships and giving them move orders is as easy as clicking the ship, and clicking the part of space you want them to be in.
There is a lot of strategy to BattleGroup VR, and there’s lots of time to employ it. These ships are tough—even the smallest ships can take a surprising beating. Each ship comes equipped with a shield that isn’t’ just a bubble, but has front, left, right, and back areas that each have their own power. I wish the time to kill enemy ships was a little shorter, but as it is now, it feels like you’re really two huge vessels duking it out.
If you want a little more direct control of the action, you can grab the yoke of your command ship, and issue direct commands—like you’re directly piloting it. This helps with positioning, and turning your stronger shields towards incoming fire. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like there’s a way to tell your AI ships to turn in a similar manner—an oversight I hope is corrected, or perhaps an option I’m missing.
I do have to warn you about motion sickness, though. When I first took control of the command ship, I didn’t know if I could handle it. Fortunately, I was able to focus my attention on the UI and the queasy feeling subsided, but your miles may vary.
BattleGroup VR is currently in early access, and it has a long road ahead in terms of development. Despite this, it feels completed—even if the road map has the final 1.0 version releasing in the middle of 2021. Right now, according to the Steam store page, BattleGroup VR has all of the features that the developers want to implement, with Early Access being used as a way to add additional features, more maps, and additional game modes—and potentially multiplayer “if the demand is great enough.”
BattleGroup VR is fulfilling the current potential of VR, and I absolutely love it. It’s extremely polished for an Early Access game—though it doesn’t feel as polished as a full release game. Still, even in its current state, I absolutely recommend it. Being the fleet commander, on the bridge of your own command ship, while a full-pitched space battle is happening around you is absolutely amazing to behold.
BattleGroup VR is available now in Early Access on Steam for Oculus Quest Link, Oculus Rift S / CV1, Valve Index, HTC Vive and Vive Pro.
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