Films like Pacific Rim prove that even when gigantic fighting robots don’t receive the best reviews, there’s still a market for hulking war machines scrapping it out. When it comes to virtual reality (VR), strapping yourself into a giant mechanised robot to fight others seems like a match made in heaven, and titles like Code51: Mecha Arena and Archangel: Hellfire have both brought their own unique take on the genre. The latest to try its hand is Space Bullet Dynamics Corporation’s Vox Machinae for HTC Vive and Oculus Rift (previewed), which could be the best one yet.
Currently in Early Access, Vox Machinae is a pure multiplayer combat title, where players face off against one another in three different modes, Deathmatch, Salvage and Stockpile. There are five maps to play on with five different robots and ten selectable weapons. While there’s no single-player as such, offline there’s a training mode to learn the basics and AI bots fill in the gaps if you don’t go online or when online matches are a little bit light on players. This works well enough although the AI isn’t the most tactical, tending to barrage straight in rather than staying back or flanking like human players tend to do.
Sitting inside the any of the five mechs looks awesome, there’s a beautiful level of gritty detail to the cabs – as if you’re inside an actual JCB or Caterpillar – with all manner of buttons and switches to look at. It may seem like over kill to begin with but each lever and screen has its purpose, some of which are more useful than others.
Designed to support both motion controllers and gamepad layouts, the latter is certainly a little easier and more instinctual to use, but far less immersive. Using Oculus Touch there’s a lever on the right hand side for turning with another on the left for forward and reverse momentum. These need to be constantly gripped to use and in the heat of battle the urge to use the controller sticks does happen, where you’ll suddenly realise nothing is happening.
The mechs also have aerial combat abilities allowing for greater strategic manoeuvres around the battlefield. Certainly helpful when trying to get around the rocky levels, this does mean you can put yourself in harms reach when flying too high, letting the whole battlefield see where you are.
As mentioned the mechs come in five varieties, nothing too unusual, from the heavily armoured which is very slow, to the lighter machines which are speedy but easily destroyed. All of them are fully weapon customisable, starting with standard loadouts which can then be switched if you die, constantly evolving your strategy throughout the fight.
Vox Machinae is by no means an easy videogame to get into, in fact the battles can be quite brutal as the mechanics aren’t geared towards a more arcade style of gameplay like that found in Code51: Mecha Arena for example. You could make use of its non-VR mode and play on a screen but that just takes away from the immersive spectacle of the whole thing. That being said, having the flat screen feature does open up the experience to more players, which should minimise the need for bots.
If you’ve been after a more hard core style mech experience for VR then Vox Machinae already seems to be ticking most of the boxes. It’s comfortable to play, with a reasonable selection of customisation options at this stage. The levels don’t quite live up to the impressive cockpit designs, but with the ability to have up to 16 players on one map there’s plenty of opportunities for some carnage. VRFocus will certainly be keeping an eye on Vox Machinae’s progress.