Welcome to Lawnmower Men, MMORPG’s brand new virtual reality column. We at MMORPG believe that virtual reality gets at the heart of what we love about MMOs - existing in a virtual world. This is where we’ll be covering everything exciting in the world of VR, offering impressions and editorials on the latest games, and full on reviews of VR MMOs, RPGs, and games fans of those genres might enjoy. To kick things off, I want to tell you about what is absolutely the most intense shooter, nay, game period, I’ve ever experienced: Front Defense VR.
Front Defense is the latest game from Vive Studios, created by their internal team, Fantahorn. Using the Vive’s room-scale VR, it puts you behind the eyes of a World War 2 infantrymen, doing his damndest to hold the line against enemy forces. So far, I’ve only played the first of three levels, but as a newcomer to VR, I can absolutely say that I’ve never had an experience in a game that even comes close to the intensity of Front Defense. It is enthralling and exhilarating, and honestly, a little bit of a workout. In this game, you really are the soldier.
Allow me to explain. The Vive has two motion controllers with just an incredible sense of fidelity. Even the slightest moves you make are translated to the game world. The headset, also, is packed with sensors tracked by two laser base stations in the corner of the room. From the waist up, every move you make can appear in game. Vive Studios and Fantahorn capitalize on that in a big, bad way. To pick up a weapon, you’re literally reaching out and pulling a trigger to pick it up. When your clip runs dry, you have to pull it out, and reach into the ammo box for a fresh one to lock in place. It’s the same with grenades: Grab one from a box or the strap on your chest, bring it to your face to pull the pin, and chuck it with real world force. You’re doing the same with gun emplacements and a monster bazooka, all while crouching behind sandbags to dodge the bullets whizzing overhead.
When it all comes together, you really feel like you’re there in the middle of this war. Enemies come fast and hard, forcing your full attention on the fight. You don’t have time to think about the room you’re actually in. After my wife went to bed last night, I spent a good two hours scrambling around on my living room floor, grabbing clips, lobbing grenades, and popping in and out of cover like my life was really in danger. When an enemy finally rushed my barricade, I gasped out loud when he thrust his bayonet at my chest.
I may also have fell face first into my couch when I tried to lean into the sandbags. Just sayin’.
The game is hard. I played the level a good five times, and did better each time, but wasn’t able to crack it. Part of that might be because, frankly, it’s harder to be a crack shot when you have to aim down the sights of multiple guns. I managed to get a good hang of the assault rifle, but I can’t lob a grenade accurately to save my life, and the peephole sight on the mounted LMG is like aiming through a keyhole. Firing that thing from the hip is an absolute blast, however (pun definitely intended).
The game’s not perfect. Comparing it to normal, non-VR games, it’s content light. There are only three levels that I’m pretty sure are independent of each other. The thing is, I’m not sure that’s a fair comparison to make at this point. VR brings back the joy of the score attack in a way normal games just can’t. Front Defense VR is so incredibly experiential that going for those high scores is much more engrossing experience by default. The game is also an affordable $20, so it’s not exactly breaking the bank.
Another criticism likely to be leveled is that the AI is fairly rudimentary. A fair amount of enemies stand out of cover just waiting to be shot. But to be honest, I think that’s perfectly fine. A game like this needs simpler AI just to be playable because not everyone that comes to it will be a VR aficianado. Taking out those enemies, even the ones who barely move, is incredibly satisfying because you physically have to put effort into putting them down. I didn’t move around a 12,000 DPI mouse with a sniper button to pull off a headshot; I pulled up my gun, aimed down my sights, and fired on target. Then I scrambled back down like a ninny to avoid being shot.
Today, I have a sore knee. I’ve had knee problems for years, and last night knowing that I’d be in for it in the morning, I couldn’t pull myself away from my barricade hidey hole until far into the night. Someone who’s experienced in VR might have a different take, but for my part, I was enthralled. This is actual immersion. After writing about games for the last nine years, I wasn’t sure anything would really “wow” me again. Last night, I must have said “wow” out loud at least five times. Front Defense VR and the handful of games I played last night made me a true believer and I can’t wait to experience more.