World War first-person shooters (FPS) have always been massively popular in the videogame community, putting players inside one of the darkest periods of recent history. That becomes even more pronounced using virtual reality (VR) with one of HTC’s internal development teams, Fantahorn Studio, focusing on the period for its first title, Front Defense, exclusively on Viveport. Putting you directly in the heat of the action, the experience feels like a safe bet for a platform filled with these sort of titles.
So lets get one thing out the way first, Front Defense may be set in WW2 and feature authentic weapons of the period but at its core it’s a wave shooter. That needed to be said as quite a few of you may just stop reading at this point, because frankly you’ll be thinking ‘if I’ve played one wave shooter I’ve played them all’, and for the most part you’d be right.
Front Defense pits you as the Allied forces against the German army, supplying you with a set roster of weapons that don’t really change through the videogame. At your disposal is an automatic rifle, a rocket launcher, grenades and a mounted machine gun. On the third stage you also given a .50 cal machine gun to take down aircraft, but that’s your lot.
There’s a heavy focus on realism with the rifle and bazooka both needing to be reloaded in the appropriate fashion. This realism also extends to the level design and look, with each stage set in a fictional European village that look like you’re really back in the 1940’s. Explosions are constant, with holes being ripped into buildings and the sounds of aircraft and sirens fill the air for dramatic effect.
HTC is heavily promoting Front Defense as a roomscale experience fully utilising the technology to make you move about the area as much as possible. You find yourself behind a sand barrier throughout the levels, going from one side to the other picking up ammo or the appropriate gun depending on the enemy. There’s just one little cravat, you’ll need an area at least three metres squared. That’s a significant amount of area needed to play the title, and will surely hamper players decisions on purchasing the title. If you don’t have that minimum area then quickly grabbing at any of the inventory – most of it is on the edges – then becomes a battle with whatever furniture or walls are in the way, significantly impeding the experience.
Then there’s longevity, Force Defense has just three stages. It’s the usual last as long as you can whilst killing as many enemies as possible for a nice big score which can then be shown on some global leaderboards. As previously mentioned you’re defending a post behind a sand barrier so there’s no teleportation or other movement mechanics to worry about – you’ll be doing a lot of kneeling to survive – and that doesn’t alter through each area. So you’ll have to carefully pick your moments to stand up and release an onslaught of bullets to reach the higher scores, just don’t stand up for too long or you’ll get shredded.
The other issue with it being a wave shooter is that enemies don’t tend to be overly dynamic. They’re all aiming for your one location so predicting where they’re going isn’t too difficult. Thankfully if they run across open ground and find cover it’ll be used, but at points you’ll see them shooting from balconies or elevated windows, just stood there waiting to be shot. Things do get a little more tense if you let yourself become surround by troops and a tank arrives, but by that point it just becomes a barrage of gunfire in your direction with little hope of success.
While Fantahorn Studio seems to have gone for a VR by the numbers approach there are nice flourishes of gameplay design. Grabbing a grenade for example, you need to bring it to your face to pull the pin – as if pulling it by your teeth – or when you get to call in an airstrike you have to select the area and time the drop for maximum effect.
Front Defense is an experience that leaves you wanting. It’s one of those titles in which you can see bags of potential in the individual elements but ultimately it just doesn’t fit together as a perfect whole. You’ll play it a few times, complete it, but then never be drawn back to face another wave of Axis forces.