It has been a while since I last stepped into the giant, hulking mechs of Vox Machinae. The last time was in 2018 to play the newly launched early access version on Steam and it was a hoot. Grabbing levers and stomping around barren alien worlds shooting the shit out of an enemy team also in colossal robots doesn’t get much better, or immersive. Hearing that Vox Machinae was not only leaving early access but was arriving with a single-player campaign and support for Meta Quest 2 made the start of March even more exciting, almost.
Space Bullet Dynamics Corporation (just Space Bullet from now on) has always been open with the fact that Vox Machinae has been developed around multiplayer battles first and foremost. A campaign is a very different beast when you have to consider little things like plotlines and character arcs rather than purely ground shaking gameplay.
Whether you’re new to Vox Machinae – if you’re playing on Quest 2 like I am – or more of a veteran who has spent countless hours perfecting their GDR setup (or “Grinder” as it’s known in-game), you’ll want to check out the campaign first. For newbies it’s good for getting acquainted with the mechanics – of which there are a few – whilst the gruff old guard can see what Space Bullet has been diligently working on.
It’s the hands-on gameplay mechanics that really make Vox Machinae shine, sat inside the cabin with all sorts of buttons and screens to look at. Whilst most aren’t interactive their addition only enhances the busy interior as you manage three main systems plus a couple of ancillary screens. No matter which GDR you choose forward and reverse motion is controlled via a stick on your left, a stick on your right operates turning whilst a knob also on the left controls the jump jets; the only way you can quickly manoeuvre around. Whilst all the weapons are aimed with your gaze, allowing for shooting and walking in different directions.
There’s something satisfying about putting the mech into its highest speed setting (1-4 is displayed on the stick), lumbering forward past craggy rock after craggy rock. Generally speaking, the environments aren’t much to look at, there are no verdant forests here, just different coloured versions of Mars mostly. Those environmental visuals are especially dull and muddy on Quest 2, hence why the cabin is so nice to sit in.
The real trick to learn is that jump jet as it is so useful getting to higher ground or quickly nipping across a chasm. It’s limited in function though, using fuel rapidly which then recharges slowly. But combining them all together during a firefight makes for excellent VR, planning attacks because you can’t nip in and out of cover. That does depend on which GDR you choose though. There are six in total with the usual light, medium and heavy classifications. The Hopper (light) was just a bit too flimsy whilst Dredge (heavy) was an absolute beast with all its armaments – and a bullet magnet.
So the mechs are great but what about the all-new single-player campaign? Space Bullet has crafted a reasonable narrative where you play a miner suddenly thrown into security duty for the mining corporation you work for, having to protect various outposts from malicious operatives. So far so good when you’re planetside carrying out your duties. The rest of the time you’re on a ship with fellow team members fleshing out their stories, trying to add some much-needed depth and character to the proceedings. It’s here where things begin to grate and fall apart.
The NPC’s are just awful to look at, wooden and awkward in their movements with hands and arms disappearing into their bodies. Thankfully they don’t walk too much. But you have to. It soon felt like a trudge walking around the various cabin compartments, made even worse by the fact that to move the story along every single person had to be spoken to, even if that’s the last thing you want to do. Credit to Space Bullet for combining the narrative into each character’s monologue rather than some jarring cutscene, although trying to get back to the action was laborious at points. This led me to stop the campaign for a bit and start up the multiplayer.
Vox Machinae’s multiplayer is really what you’ve come here for, big 16-player battles across a variety of gameplay modes. Whether you prefer an all-out war or missions with strategic targets to defend/attack, the modes cover all bases. As you’d expect from a videogame focused on team battles for the last few years.
All the mechs have five areas to shoot depending on your tactics, the main body, arms and legs. Taking out the arms means opponents are generally defenceless depending on the GDR, or hammer at the leg to really make it difficult for them to move. All this whilst pulling and pushing those sticks, grabbing the walkie to talk to teammates (an excellent addition) or pulling on the horn – locomotive-style – when you get a kill. All thoroughly engrossing. There were points where I’d fumble a stick movement due to everything going on so the ability to map the controls was super handy. You can completely customise the controls so there’s no physical exertion whatsoever. Making the seated experience hugely accessible to players no matter their ability.
Vox Machinae coming to Meta Quest 2 is a huge achievement for Space Bullet, it’s great to see this title finally hit the standalone headset and reach a wider audience. Sitting inside those mechs is a joy and never gets old when you’ve got a few buddies watching your back, stomping around the battlefield unleashing lasers and rocket barrages. It isn’t all plain sailing though, glitches were noticeable throughout and that 10-hour campaign makes for heavy, painful going. If you love giant robots fighting and always wanted to partake then Vox Machinae provides a grand (multiplayer) mech experience.