There’s a lot of VR titles popping up on Steam. Nary a week goes by without at least 1 or 2 titles showing off new applications for this exciting platform, so understandably, it’s hard to keep track of the good ones. Yet if I had to pin a date on when I realized how much of a game-changer (pun intended) the VR platform was going to be, it would be April 5, 2016 – the day when Space Pirate Trainer was officially released on Steam.
Now Space Pirate Trainer (from now on SPT for brevity’s sake) is a simple game in concept – shoot at waves of drones trying to hit you while equipped with gun(s) and shield(s). Just like the classic arcade games, you’re certainly destined to get hit – the point of the game is to prolong the inevitable.
And boy, once you get the hang of it, your game sessions do tend to get prolonged more and more, such fun it is to play. The concept, as mentioned, is simple. If this was a game played using a keyboard or mouse, or an arcade stick and buttons, it probably wouldn’t go past the casual game stage. Yet VR’s application towards this game’s simplistic mechanics turns SPT into a monster of a game where your normal instincts in a 2D type of game – “move your mouse and your character moves with it” – turns instead into “move your point of view and your hands and survive another wave”! It’s a game that encourages you to revert back to the level of fun in childhood games – point and shoot, duck and laugh hysterically as laser blasts bounce of your shield; whoop out loud when a pesky drone goes down in flames with a lucky shot aimed haphazardly over your shield.
The difficult thing with reviews of VR related apps is how the old adage is doubly applicable – you have to experience it to really “get” it. Failing that, I will instead describe briefly some of the clever features you get to play around with in this virtual world. You can go into battle equipped with two guns if you’re feeling like John Wayne.. or John Wick. The gun action can be changed from single shot, to burst, continuous laser, or a “charged shot” using the touchpad controls of the Vive’s controllers. Reaching back over your shoulder will swap either gun with a shield. Game mechanics with the shield is excellent – you can put up your shield and shoot over the lip using your other controller, or hold out the shield towards one direction while shooting another drone somewhere else. The game also allows movement, like ducking or side-stepping, adding a lot to the authenticity of the virtual world. Just be careful not to wrap your stomach around a table edge like I did.
As with a lot of VR titles, SPT can become a social game too, even if there’s only one headset and one person doing a duck-and-sidestep trying to get to wave 9. The rest of your mates are probably laughing out loud or yelling instructions at you due to the HTC Vive’s ability to display the action on an external screen at the same time as running the headset.
There are a lot of other excellent titles out there that we haven’t tried, and I’m sure there’s a lot of titles that can give SPT some good competition fun-wise. SPT’s claim to fame then would be how well it has thought out how the VR medium can apply to a classic concept of arcade-y game goodness – keeping things simple but using VR’s advantages to make the game addictively fun. Think Space Invaders but you with a gun instead of a ship and invaders that look a lot more threatening and shoot at you from the sides.
SPT is the best introduction to VR’s unique abilities I have experienced. You’ll get used to actual movement instead of mouse-and-keyboard movement in no time. In fact, I think this actually isn’t a space pirate trainer – it’s a V-aRRrrR trainer, and it’s my new favorite pastime.