The team behind Killzone trades masks for mecha with an impressive VR debut.
Publisher: Guerrilla Games
Format: PlayStation VR
Released: October 13, 2016
Copy provided by publisher
It would be silly for Sony not to commission itself a mech combat game in time for the PlayStation VR’s launch. Plonking players into a giant walking tank is perfect for virtual reality – topped only by space flight simulators – giving players an independent body for their head-turning needs while providing a stable exterior shell for manual control.
Guerrilla was awarded the task of delivering a roboticized multiplayer VR title, and the Killzone studio has met the challenge with RIGS Mechanized Combat League – a three-on-three online shooter with sporting elements and a whole host of stomping machinery to choose from.
RIGS doesn’t make the best first impression, though.
The first thirty minutes are given over to a painstaking tutorial, laboriously explaining mechanics and offering several methods of movement to acclimate first-time players. It’s a slog to get through, but it at least does a decent job of explaining how the game works even if it takes its sweet time doing so.
The eponymous Rigs are broken into four distinct chassis types. Hunter Rigs are small and fast, able to hit hard but not take too much of a beating. Sentinels are the largest Rigs, slow moving and highly defensive. Tempests are similar to Hunters but can fly above the arena and harry opponents from above. Mirage units are tall, slender machines with balanced abilities and a double-jump feature.
Rigs are further diversified by unique classes that grant additional abilities. Vampires regain health after each kill, Engineers can heal allies and disrupt enemy radar, while Carapaces carry a shield on their back to prevent unseen melee attacks. There are quite a few classes to experiment with, each boasting distinct and contextually useful skills.
Weapon loadouts are determined by both chassis and class. A Tempest of the Vampire class is a Parasite and comes with twin energy beams. Should a Tempest be married to the Nuke class, however, it’ll be known as the Blast Radius and have different weapons entirely. It can take some time to find the exact Rig for you, but there’s something for everyone.
Unlocking all this gear requires cash earned by competing in matches both offline and online. While it will take some time to unlock everything, cash is distributed generously enough to where more Rigs are acquired regularly and new play styles can be experimented with.
Personally, I’m yet to top the Pain Killer, a Mirage Engineer, but that’s just the one that works for me.
Once players have their Rig of choice, they’ll be able to face off in mid-sized arenas with three match types to choose from.
Team Takedown is the most basic game, a simple deathmatch in which the only thing that matters is shooting down the opposition. Endzone is football with robots – teams race to pick up a ball and run it to the opposing side’s goal, making sure to pass when necessary and trying not to get slaughtered in the process.
Power Slam is a little more complex, and easily the most fun.
Every time players score a takedown or collect pickups dotted around the arena, they come one step closer to entering Overdrive mode. Overdrive significantly boosts a Rig’s abilities and can be triggered in any match type, but Power Slam adds an extra twist – Rigs in Overdrive must make their way to the center of the arena and jump into a huge circular goal in order to score a point for the team.
While each mode is fun, Power Slam blends Team Takedown and Endzone to create a frantic combo of shooting and sporting that I find quite entertaining.
Combat itself is straightforward but enjoyable. Rigs use the DualShock 4 to move, while players can opt to turn via head movement or the right stick. I found stick-controlled turning to be more efficient and intuitive, but again this is a matter of personal comfort.
Each Rig is armed with two weapons, fired independently with the left and right triggers. To aim, players merely have to look at their opponents and keep track of them with head movements. Devastating melee takedowns are initiated by clicking the right stick to surge forward and smash into an enemy.
Melee is powerful but risky – it’ll annihilate sufficiently damaged Rigs, but if the target remains standing the initial attacker is left wide open to a physical counterstrike.
Any given Rig can be set to three distinct modes on the fly – speed, power, and repair. These modes should be self-explanatory, but only one can be active at any given time. In order to move quicker, a Rig cannot repair damage or gain an attack bonus. Similarly, a Rig trying to heal itself will be slower and less offensively powerful.
Overdrive temporarily activates all three modes at once, giving players a noticeable advantage.
What I find most interesting about RIGS is how, despite playing it for lengthy sessions at a time, it didn’t make me feel physically sick. To date, every other VR game I’ve played using traditional controls has caused a significant degree of internal unpleasantness, but RIGS is one of the most accommodating virtual reality experiences I’ve had overall.
Whatever it is Guerrilla’s doing needs to be copied by any other game that utilizes regular analog movement because the difference is phenomenal.
Mechanized Combat League is a fairly good looking game, low on special effects but high on style. The Rigs themselves are appealingly designed, while HUD elements are clear and easy to read. One issue I’ve had is the HUD “drifting” off to the side at times during the course of play, but it’s generally easy enough to correct with some stick-pushing.
A more egregious flaw with the game is its inability to shut up. Matches feature color commentary that seems to consist of a handful of annoyingly recycled stock phrases. Meanwhile, your personal progress is constantly commented on by a Scottish bloke whose patronizing tone and needless exposition gets on my nerves.
Seriously, it’s like you’re being babysat constantly by this weird creep in a motorcycle helmet. He hangs around next to you while you’re navigating menu screens, he chimes in whenever you perform actions, and he can’t even be escaped mid-match, providing unbidden opinions during half-time.
I hate him so much, the invasive wanker.
Preamble is another of RIGS‘ flaws. Lengthy load times and matchmaking processes lead to a lot of sitting around, while matches begin and end with the same recycled, unnecessarily lengthy animations. It gets old quick and contrasts the fast-paced fun of the gameplay itself, especially since matches tend to not last very long at all.
These gripes aside, MCL is a good laugh that is surprisingly easy to get to grips with. While light on gameplay content, the unlockables and customization options provide ample encouragement, and matches themselves contain just enough clomping, smashing entertainment to warrant a good deal of replay.
Players customize their own humanoid avatars with new uniforms, helmets, visor designs and poses. Some of these are unlocked by competing a series of extensive challenge stages, while others are received as sponsorship rewards.
A sponsor is chosen for both offline and online play, granting extra money should pre-planned objectives be completed such as performing a certain number of melee takedowns or becoming MVP of upcoming matches. The first time a sponsor reward is earned, a unique bonus is offered, usually a custom part for one’s avatar.
Sponsorships are fairly passive, but frequently switching them out is a great way to earn new loot, and adds just that little extra bit of satisfaction. Plus it’s always fun to play dress-up with the rewards.
RIGS: Mechanized Combat League joins Until Dawn: Rush of Blood as one of the very few virtual reality games I’ve truly come to enjoy. The head-track aiming system works great, the combat is engrossing, and it’s a remarkably comfortable experience even after extended periods of time with the PSVR clamped on.
Guerrilla most definitely gave Sony what it needed – a deserving mech battling game for its virtual reality foray, as well as a damn fine multiplayer frolic to boot.