Preview: AGAINST – Slicing a Hardcore Rhythm

Against

When a virtual reality (VR) developer reveals another rhythm action videogame it can be a little difficult to get excited about the whole prospect. However, when Joy way revealed that its latest project AGAINST would be in this genre it piqued VRFocus’ interest due to its dark aesthetic and multiple gameplay features. Looking unlike any other rhythm action title is one thing but providing a unique gameplay experience, that’s a bit harder. Due to arrive as a Steam Early Access videogame, AGAINST does have its own flair, even if it is a bit cheesy at points.

Against

You might have already played a version of AGAINST as Joy Way took part in Steam Next Fest during the summer, offering an early demo of its gritty design. The look and feel of AGAINST has been significantly enhanced since then, particularly where the visuals are concerned. Gone is the very striking, almost film-noir style in favour of an environment a touch easier on the eyes. That hint of colour which would only appear in an enemy’s eyes or as the indicator to slice in a particular direction has made its way across the landscape, making for a far more polished looking experience.

AGAINST might look prettier but it’s no less brutal in its delivery, where you can hack henchmen in half, cut the heads off giant snakes and uppercut gormless goons with visceral trails of blood. Unlike a lot of other rivals AGAINST doesn’t pretend to try and handhold new VR players with friendly, bouncy rhythms; it’s brutal, in your face and definitely looking to attract those hardcore VR fans.

In a similar vein to Pistol Whip 2089, AGAINST employs a narrative campaign strategy rather than loads of individual songs you can swap between. So you get a story set in 1930’s New York City, playing out over seven levels. Full of the stereotypical comic book tropes, there’s an over-the-top villain who wants to unleash darkness on the world and you play a detective determined to stop him. While the narrative does provide a mildly humorous respite between levels and provides some explanation of why you’re fighting werewolves, burly blokes and snakes, if you skip it you won’t be missing much. Although the skip function never worked, so replaying levels meant having to listen to it all again and again, unfortunately.

Against

When you first start AGAINST it drops you almost immediately into the tutorial, and for good reason, there’s a lot to get to grips with. If you’ve played any rhythm action title several components will be instantly familiar such as using the sword to slice opponents, knuckle dusters to punch them, and a revolver – followed by Tommy guns later on – to shoot them at range. Kill them in time to the music – which is mainly Dubstep or heavier EDM – and you’ll score points, helping attain that leaderboard position, you get the gist.

AGAINST mixes things up by adding punchable directional arrows, thus activating a short wall run sequence or boosting you up to a higher platform. The wall running especially helps to open up the dark and moody levels, providing a novel switch in focus for a moment. However, later levels naturally bombard you with opponents, obstacles to dodge and these switching moments. Even on the normal difficulty setting (Easy and Hard are also available), this can get quite fierce which some players may find jarring.

Get past that and you’ve got a really challenging experience that takes two or three levels to get into. The first just seemed ridiculously difficult even on normal with multiple restarts required to complete the level. The second and third were a breeze in comparison and moments where you have to use the sword to deflect bullets back at the shooter became mini (John Wick style) badass moments that were very satisfying to complete. What you have to get used to is the constant weapon switching between the sword, guns and fists. As any Beat Saber player will know, you find a nice rhythm and flow that makes the more expert levels manageable. AGAINST doesn’t quite have that as it just feels like it’s trying to do too much all at once.  

Against

That being said, AGAINST has a personality that other VR rhythm games lack and additions like the mini-bosses at the end of some of the levels help to give it a classic arcade vibe VRFocus loves. Joy Way says that the Early Access period will be used to add a couple more weapons and polish and that the core campaign is done, which is slightly concerning regarding longevity as there are only seven levels. There is a free Beatmap Editor (VRFocus hasn’t tested this tool yet) which could extend the experience by making your own custom maps if you really want to. AGAINST didn’t instantly hook, it takes time to warm to but there is a little magic under the surface. Hopefully, Joy Way will nurture it and not leave it in the early access abyss.

Preview: After the Fall – Frosty Social Mayhem

After the Fall

With all that’s happened over the last couple of years, 2019 seems like an age ago. It was that year when VRFocus got its first hands-on glimpse of Vertigo Games’ Arizona Sunshine follow up After the Fall, an action-packed shooter set in the frozen wasteland of Los Angeles. After a few delays, the studio is almost ready to launch the zombie-themed FPS across multiple headsets and VRFocus got another peek at the title and game mode called Harvest.

After the Fall

In actual fact, the demo contained three distinct sections of After the Fall, and as expected offering a different flavour to the proceedings since last we met. Available were the Outlands, and introductory level given players the main gist of the controls, a hub section called The Line where players can meet up and chat before heading out on co-op missions together, which leads us to the Harvest.

If you’ve played Arizona Sunshine you’ll likely have dabbled in the frantic horde mode, a later addition where you have to survive waves of enemies. Harvest is After the Fall’s horde mode of sorts but instead of running around a singular map, players have to work their way through a level, stopping off at occasional safe houses, with the main goal being to collect as much Harvest as possible from dead enemies.

This you can then use in Harvest-o-Matic’s found in safe rooms to purchase useful equipment such as health, pipe bombs and ammunition. It’s a setup most Left 4 Dead or Back 4 Blood players will be familiar with. You all have to work together because inventory space is very limited, choosing between a health pack or a tasty explosive could mean life or death on those frozen streets.

After the Fall

Before getting there The Line is worth an exploration. It’s like a massive arcade with loads of cabinets in the middle, where you can team up with three other friends before going on a Harvest (AI bots are available to make teams up to 4), head to the shooting range or talk to Luna who runs the place. *Spoiler* As an awesome nod to Vertigo Games’ previous title there are Arizona Sunshine cabinets offering a very basic twin-stick shooter for a quick time killer.

Vertigo Games has been sure to include plenty of accessibility options that are always worth a peruse before heading into the action, as you can play seated or standing, teleport or use smooth locomotion and change how reloading works. It’s the latter that VRFocus instantly had issues with which was a worry so close to launch.

Ammo is located right on your chest, with the belt height adjustable to suit each player’s requirements. You then have the choice of Quick or Advanced reloading, the former consisting of merely bringing the gun to your chest whilst the latter is a more traditional manual VR mechanic, ejecting the magazine, grabbing a clip and cocking the gun. However, when it came to fighting that first ravenous horde of Snowbreed it was an absolute fumble fest. The Quick reloading was intermittent at best, constantly jabbing the gun at the ammo belt until something happened. Advanced reloading, on the other hand, was smooth as butter, feeling natural popping clips out and jamming another in. Additionally, there’s a Harvest multiplier if you choose the Advanced option.    

After the Fall

After the Fall also employs and omits several other familiar VR shooter mechanics. Taking a leaf out of Half-Life: Alyx’s book are the wrist pockets, these are your only inventory slots for things like health and explosives. This becomes even more of a juggle once you start locating Floppy Disks, these unlock new equipment by taking them to the Harvest-o-Matic and then completing the run. You can hold up to four weapons if you so wish, one on each hip and one in each hand for that proper gun-toting Rambo look. But you can’t put anything over your shoulder, even the bigger two-handed weapons go on your hip which seems a bit strange. There wasn’t a chance to test how two rifles on each hip and one hand-held would look although we’d imagine the visual clutter might be a bit much. Also, there wasn’t a chance to test the weapon upgrade system which was a shame, that’ll just have to wait for the full review.

Even with those grumbles, the gameplay was exactly as hoped, fast and at times unrelenting, with Snowbreed clambering through walls, across ceilings or just plain smashing through stuff like a bulldozer. It was arcade action at its best, ziplining across buildings, gunning down corridors or monsters then in those moments where you could take a breather exploring rooms to find useful loot and collectables. Aside from the base slow and fast Snowbreed there were four more specialised foes that would pop up occasionally, Juggernaut, Eater, Brute and Smasher. They’re all tanks in their own right with the Juggernaut able to pick you up, the Eater explodes, the Brute is a super speedy fella whilst the Smasher was the final huge opponent to overcome. Certainly impressive and tough in the first run, how well they work across multiple Harvest remains to be seen.

After the Fall is gearing up to be one of VR’s biggest winter 2021 launches thanks to the wall-to-wall combat. There’s also the impressive feat of co-op, cross-platform gameplay between all supported headsets, which should ensure player numbers for full Harvest runs. Considering how some VR videogames have struggled with this feature, having it available from day one could mean all the difference. After the Fall is coming to Oculus Quest 2, PlayStation VR and PC VR headsets on 9th December, so there’s not long to wait to see if it’s been worth those delays.

Preview: RC Rush – Mini Motoring Mayhem

RC Rush

Franchises like DiRT Rally, Forza ­and Gran Turismo might be all about realism and hardcore racing but there’s something to be said for the cheekier, plucky racing titles out there designed just to be fun. How better to encapsulate that than with diddy racing cars hurtling around compact challenging courses. There are several pint-sized racers for virtual reality (VR) players with the latest aiming to make its mark in the genre coming from Tea Monster Games, RC Rush.

As the name implies RC Rush isn’t about miniaturising cars but racing remote-controlled vehicles around tracks, with all the chaos and bumper to bumper fighting you’d expect. Designed primarily for VR but with a non-VR component ensuring everyone can play, RC Rush puts a range of micro monster trucks at your disposal with more to unlock as you progress through the career mode.

Initially, RC Rush gives you three trucks to choose from, each with the usual stat variances such as speed, grip and off-road handling. There are no customisation options – not even for liveries at the moment – so if you want a greater selection then it’s all about working through the 100 levels that make up the career, a mixture of race, time trial and elimination events. There are 30 track designs, with later levels offering different tweaks on previous courses.

If you’re playing in VR – as you should be – the controls are split between both controllers so in-game you actually have two remotes which looks a little weird but isn’t off-putting. Usual triggers for braking and reversing, and sticks or thumb pads for steering, so the controls are super simple to pick up. In VR you do lose one option though, the ability to switch viewpoints. Playing on a screen you get three to choose from (standing, behind the truck or top-down cameras) whereas in VR you’re at the sideline the entire time. This does mean that while RC Rush can be played seated, it’s easier to play standing for that better viewpoint. Hopefully, Tea Monster Games will add some more accessibility options during early access, allowing the height to be adjusted or possibly offering alternative viewpoints.

RC Rush

There are some options currently available depending on your skill level. Younger players can switch on automatic steering so all they need to worry about is acceleration and braking. Whilst the full “Pro mode” gives you full control over the vehicle. There’s even a brake helper should you need it.

Out on the courses the RC cars really do feel like you’d imagine, not taught racing machines but bouncy and very lively machines. So the courses make full use of this toy-like realism with jumps and bumps aplenty, as well as obstacles galore to knock out the way or get stuck behind. The very first level is a great example of this, racing around an oval swimming pool, and what do pools have…loads of balls laying around. Going from first to last place because your car is now trying to mount a beach ball is both comical and frustrating. The notable downside with the single VR position was that busier courses were more difficult to gauge obstacles, easily clipping a post or building. Much less likely to happen if you’re directly behind the car.

Get stuck on career mode and you can always head on over to Quick Race for a few laps around the courses you’ve unlocked. Or, there’s Free Roam where you just wander the levels as you please. Tucked away here are some specific obstacle courses that’ll really test those driving skills. A multiplayer mode is planned but that wasn’t available at this time.

RC Rush

Currently, RC Rush is shaping up very nicely considering it’s a two-man team developing the videogame. All the cars and tracks look really good, nicely detailed with plenty going on. The mechanics and physics all seem on point, making it very easy to flip a vehicle if you fudge a jump. RC Rush is expected to launch as a Steam Early Access title on 20th October 2021. As development continues VRFocus will keep you updated on its progress.

Preview: EVERSLAUGHT

EVERSLAUGHT

It used to be that all-out speed and really intense combat was a bit of a no-no in virtual reality (VR) so thank goodness that’s all changed. Titles like Doom 3: VR Edition have proven that if you’ve got the VR legs for it then wall to wall carnage can be achieved. And that’s literally what you get with MobX’s Early Access project EVERSLAUGHT, a no holds barred action experience which takes no prisoners.

EVERSLAUGHT

You always have to take Steam Early Access titles with an understanding that the gameplay is going to be a bit ropey and bugs are going to be present. So you have to try and look past these to see the potential of what’s to come. Right from the start EVERSLAUGHT conveys solid foundational gameplay that’s easily reminiscent of iD Software’s iconic shooter, think fast, keep moving and you might just make it through.

At this early stage, EVERSLAUGHT is very much roguelike in its presentation, mixing both melee and shooter mechanics. While MobX plans to build an expansive world full of lore and secrets, currently the videogame is a procedural dungeon crawler all about heading into Egyptian-style ruins to face hordes of undead creatures, slaughtering them to collect blood which can then be used in all manner of ways, from doing up your character to healing or using the rather awesome wrist-mounted shotgun.

Certainly one of the biggest features in EVERSLAUGHT is the gadget which attaches to your left hand – and only the left hand at the moment. This steampunk looking device has three features to help in combat; health, rapid movement and destruction. And it’s all controlled with a flick of the wrist. As mentioned there’s a hand cannon that pops out when your palm is facing right. Palm down and you’ll activate the grappling hook which can get you up to high ledges or latch itself onto an enemy so you can fly in to unleash all hell. Lastly, whacking the device into your right wrist will activate the healing ability, depending on how many blood vials are remaining.

EVERSLAUGHT

Blood is what powers EVERSLAUGHT, and the only way you can get it is by killing enemies. Run out mid-level and you’ll just have to rely on the sword in your other hand to do all the work. This is where you’re introduced to the titles RPG elements. Along the way, you can pick up various broad and short swords, each with its own damage attributes as well as durability. Currently, the sword combat is fairly basic, more of a hack ‘n’ slash rather than Until You Fall’s more in-depth one to one’s. There’s no one to duel anyway, the four enemy types which you’ll come across are the standard grunt zombie, an archer, an explosive type and a big fella covered in armour sporting a massive axe.

It’s all very visceral with plenty of blood flying everywhere and heads to separate from bodies. While big swings supposedly do more damage, most encounters boiled down to some light arm flailing as the hordes rush in, only the archers keep their distance and actively run away when approached. The sword combat might not be entirely satisfying but when combined with the other abilities it does make for an enjoyable experience. Set piece encounters where you’re suddenly trapped in an expansive area are the real meat of EVERSLAUGHT, perfect for those who love videogames like GORN.

There are plenty of areas EVERSLAUGHT needs to refine during Early Access like its menus which felt clunky, trickier enemies and more depth to the character stats. Equally, the title has lots going for it and bags of potential. Not to mention it looks gorgeous with that ancient civilisation vibe, towering obelisks and intricate hieroglyphics everywhere. EVERSLAUGHT is brutal, remorseless and all the better for it, hopefully, the next year will see it grow into something special.

Preview: EVERSLAUGHT

EVERSLAUGHT

It used to be that all-out speed and really intense combat was a bit of a no-no in virtual reality (VR) so thank goodness that’s all changed. Titles like Doom 3: VR Edition have proven that if you’ve got the VR legs for it then wall to wall carnage can be achieved. And that’s literally what you get with MobX’s Early Access project EVERSLAUGHT, a no holds barred action experience which takes no prisoners.

EVERSLAUGHT

You always have to take Steam Early Access titles with an understanding that the gameplay is going to be a bit ropey and bugs are going to be present. So you have to try and look past these to see the potential of what’s to come. Right from the start EVERSLAUGHT conveys solid foundational gameplay that’s easily reminiscent of iD Software’s iconic shooter, think fast, keep moving and you might just make it through.

At this early stage, EVERSLAUGHT is very much roguelike in its presentation, mixing both melee and shooter mechanics. While MobX plans to build an expansive world full of lore and secrets, currently the videogame is a procedural dungeon crawler all about heading into Egyptian-style ruins to face hordes of undead creatures, slaughtering them to collect blood which can then be used in all manner of ways, from doing up your character to healing or using the rather awesome wrist-mounted shotgun.

Certainly one of the biggest features in EVERSLAUGHT is the gadget which attaches to your left hand – and only the left hand at the moment. This steampunk looking device has three features to help in combat; health, rapid movement and destruction. And it’s all controlled with a flick of the wrist. As mentioned there’s a hand cannon that pops out when your palm is facing right. Palm down and you’ll activate the grappling hook which can get you up to high ledges or latch itself onto an enemy so you can fly in to unleash all hell. Lastly, whacking the device into your right wrist will activate the healing ability, depending on how many blood vials are remaining.

EVERSLAUGHT

Blood is what powers EVERSLAUGHT, and the only way you can get it is by killing enemies. Run out mid-level and you’ll just have to rely on the sword in your other hand to do all the work. This is where you’re introduced to the titles RPG elements. Along the way, you can pick up various broad and short swords, each with its own damage attributes as well as durability. Currently, the sword combat is fairly basic, more of a hack ‘n’ slash rather than Until You Fall’s more in-depth one to one’s. There’s no one to duel anyway, the four enemy types which you’ll come across are the standard grunt zombie, an archer, an explosive type and a big fella covered in armour sporting a massive axe.

It’s all very visceral with plenty of blood flying everywhere and heads to separate from bodies. While big swings supposedly do more damage, most encounters boiled down to some light arm flailing as the hordes rush in, only the archers keep their distance and actively run away when approached. The sword combat might not be entirely satisfying but when combined with the other abilities it does make for an enjoyable experience. Set piece encounters where you’re suddenly trapped in an expansive area are the real meat of EVERSLAUGHT, perfect for those who love videogames like GORN.

There are plenty of areas EVERSLAUGHT needs to refine during Early Access like its menus which felt clunky, trickier enemies and more depth to the character stats. Equally, the title has lots going for it and bags of potential. Not to mention it looks gorgeous with that ancient civilisation vibe, towering obelisks and intricate hieroglyphics everywhere. EVERSLAUGHT is brutal, remorseless and all the better for it, hopefully, the next year will see it grow into something special.

Preview: EVERSLAUGHT

EVERSLAUGHT

It used to be that all-out speed and really intense combat was a bit of a no-no in virtual reality (VR) so thank goodness that’s all changed. Titles like Doom 3: VR Edition have proven that if you’ve got the VR legs for it then wall to wall carnage can be achieved. And that’s literally what you get with MobX’s Early Access project EVERSLAUGHT, a no holds barred action experience which takes no prisoners.

EVERSLAUGHT

You always have to take Steam Early Access titles with an understanding that the gameplay is going to be a bit ropey and bugs are going to be present. So you have to try and look past these to see the potential of what’s to come. Right from the start EVERSLAUGHT conveys solid foundational gameplay that’s easily reminiscent of iD Software’s iconic shooter, think fast, keep moving and you might just make it through.

At this early stage, EVERSLAUGHT is very much roguelike in its presentation, mixing both melee and shooter mechanics. While MobX plans to build an expansive world full of lore and secrets, currently the videogame is a procedural dungeon crawler all about heading into Egyptian-style ruins to face hordes of undead creatures, slaughtering them to collect blood which can then be used in all manner of ways, from doing up your character to healing or using the rather awesome wrist-mounted shotgun.

Certainly one of the biggest features in EVERSLAUGHT is the gadget which attaches to your left hand – and only the left hand at the moment. This steampunk looking device has three features to help in combat; health, rapid movement and destruction. And it’s all controlled with a flick of the wrist. As mentioned there’s a hand cannon that pops out when your palm is facing right. Palm down and you’ll activate the grappling hook which can get you up to high ledges or latch itself onto an enemy so you can fly in to unleash all hell. Lastly, whacking the device into your right wrist will activate the healing ability, depending on how many blood vials are remaining.

EVERSLAUGHT

Blood is what powers EVERSLAUGHT, and the only way you can get it is by killing enemies. Run out mid-level and you’ll just have to rely on the sword in your other hand to do all the work. This is where you’re introduced to the titles RPG elements. Along the way, you can pick up various broad and short swords, each with its own damage attributes as well as durability. Currently, the sword combat is fairly basic, more of a hack ‘n’ slash rather than Until You Fall’s more in-depth one to one’s. There’s no one to duel anyway, the four enemy types which you’ll come across are the standard grunt zombie, an archer, an explosive type and a big fella covered in armour sporting a massive axe.

It’s all very visceral with plenty of blood flying everywhere and heads to separate from bodies. While big swings supposedly do more damage, most encounters boiled down to some light arm flailing as the hordes rush in, only the archers keep their distance and actively run away when approached. The sword combat might not be entirely satisfying but when combined with the other abilities it does make for an enjoyable experience. Set piece encounters where you’re suddenly trapped in an expansive area are the real meat of EVERSLAUGHT, perfect for those who love videogames like GORN.

There are plenty of areas EVERSLAUGHT needs to refine during Early Access like its menus which felt clunky, trickier enemies and more depth to the character stats. Equally, the title has lots going for it and bags of potential. Not to mention it looks gorgeous with that ancient civilisation vibe, towering obelisks and intricate hieroglyphics everywhere. EVERSLAUGHT is brutal, remorseless and all the better for it, hopefully, the next year will see it grow into something special.

Preview: EVERSLAUGHT

EVERSLAUGHT

It used to be that all-out speed and really intense combat was a bit of a no-no in virtual reality (VR) so thank goodness that’s all changed. Titles like Doom 3: VR Edition have proven that if you’ve got the VR legs for it then wall to wall carnage can be achieved. And that’s literally what you get with MobX’s Early Access project EVERSLAUGHT, a no holds barred action experience which takes no prisoners.

EVERSLAUGHT

You always have to take Steam Early Access titles with an understanding that the gameplay is going to be a bit ropey and bugs are going to be present. So you have to try and look past these to see the potential of what’s to come. Right from the start EVERSLAUGHT conveys solid foundational gameplay that’s easily reminiscent of iD Software’s iconic shooter, think fast, keep moving and you might just make it through.

At this early stage, EVERSLAUGHT is very much roguelike in its presentation, mixing both melee and shooter mechanics. While MobX plans to build an expansive world full of lore and secrets, currently the videogame is a procedural dungeon crawler all about heading into Egyptian-style ruins to face hordes of undead creatures, slaughtering them to collect blood which can then be used in all manner of ways, from doing up your character to healing or using the rather awesome wrist-mounted shotgun.

Certainly one of the biggest features in EVERSLAUGHT is the gadget which attaches to your left hand – and only the left hand at the moment. This steampunk looking device has three features to help in combat; health, rapid movement and destruction. And it’s all controlled with a flick of the wrist. As mentioned there’s a hand cannon that pops out when your palm is facing right. Palm down and you’ll activate the grappling hook which can get you up to high ledges or latch itself onto an enemy so you can fly in to unleash all hell. Lastly, whacking the device into your right wrist will activate the healing ability, depending on how many blood vials are remaining.

EVERSLAUGHT

Blood is what powers EVERSLAUGHT, and the only way you can get it is by killing enemies. Run out mid-level and you’ll just have to rely on the sword in your other hand to do all the work. This is where you’re introduced to the titles RPG elements. Along the way, you can pick up various broad and short swords, each with its own damage attributes as well as durability. Currently, the sword combat is fairly basic, more of a hack ‘n’ slash rather than Until You Fall’s more in-depth one to one’s. There’s no one to duel anyway, the four enemy types which you’ll come across are the standard grunt zombie, an archer, an explosive type and a big fella covered in armour sporting a massive axe.

It’s all very visceral with plenty of blood flying everywhere and heads to separate from bodies. While big swings supposedly do more damage, most encounters boiled down to some light arm flailing as the hordes rush in, only the archers keep their distance and actively run away when approached. The sword combat might not be entirely satisfying but when combined with the other abilities it does make for an enjoyable experience. Set piece encounters where you’re suddenly trapped in an expansive area are the real meat of EVERSLAUGHT, perfect for those who love videogames like GORN.

There are plenty of areas EVERSLAUGHT needs to refine during Early Access like its menus which felt clunky, trickier enemies and more depth to the character stats. Equally, the title has lots going for it and bags of potential. Not to mention it looks gorgeous with that ancient civilisation vibe, towering obelisks and intricate hieroglyphics everywhere. EVERSLAUGHT is brutal, remorseless and all the better for it, hopefully, the next year will see it grow into something special.

Preview: iB Cricket – Scores a Stunning Six

iB Cricket

Sport is one of those universal activities that bring people together no matter where they’re from yet some translate better across the world than others. Football (soccer) seems to have near-universal appeal yet when was the last time you watched a cricket match? In fact, if you’re not a fan do you know how it’s even played or what an over is? Well, if you’ve ever been intrigued by the game of cricket then you’ll want to take a look at iB Cricket by ProYuga, one of the best cricket titles currently available for beginners and veterans alike.

iB Cricket

Currently in Steam Early Access for PC VR headsets, iB Cricket assumes right from the start that you know nothing about the sport. This is really refreshing as some sports titles give you a controller rundown and that’s about it. iB Cricket feels more like a VR experience created by cricket fans who want you to fall in love with the game like they have, running through the basics of the sport with instructional videos that have actually filled in a few black spots for this player. If you’re familiar with cricket then you can easily skip past all the intro stuff and get right into the extensive gameplay selection on offer.

And it is very extensive, even for an Early Access title. There are gameplay options galore, from just getting started with a few overs in Quick Play to trying some of the more specific skill challenges, there’s a dizzying array (day/night, ground type, stadiums, bats) that should keep you entertained for hours. One of the best places to begin is the Coaching option if you are completely new to the sport. Here you can learn the various defensive and offensive motions to scoring and scoring well. At this stage you’d be quite right in thinking iB Cricket is as close to a pro cricket simulator as you could get in VR, teaching you where to look and how to strike the ball for maximum power.

After each hit, you’re provided with stats on what you did wrong and how to improve. It all worked exceptionally well, actually doing what it claimed to do, taking someone who could only hit the ball in one direction to actually having some semblance of control and choosing where the ball should go.

iB Cricket

Which was a particularly good showcase for iB Cricket’s mechanics and physics. Being a cricket game you get to keep a bat in hand at all times, whether you’re hitting a ball or pressing the big chunky menu buttons which is a nice touch. So you can do away with the second controller and get into the feel of the gameplay by using both hands on one controller. If you happen to be an HTC Vive owner with the normal Vive controllers then iB Cricket does fit exceptionally well due to the longer handle design.     

The bat swing feels natural with no noticeable lag and for that extra bit of immersion, there’s a suitable thud when knocking the bat on the ground. When playing against the AI bowlers they will throw all manner of spinning, fast, and slow balls at you, which really begins to showcase the complexities of the sport.

However, iB Cricket isn’t a fully-blown cricket sim as that would be a little impractical. It supports room-scale only gameplay and all you’re doing is batting, there’s no bowling or fielding here. Likewise, there’s no running so be careful letting new players try it, last thing you want them doing is running for a wicket and slamming into a wall! General runs are wisely scored by the distance the opposition has to run and the time it takes them, which works well enough.

iB Cricket

Visually iB Cricket looks decent enough with the stadiums providing that grand sense of occasion. Player models are also fairly well detailed and the bowlers do act the part by varying their run-ups –  although, there was a number of occasions where a longer run would turn into an anti-gravity hover along the ground which was amusing. Also, the commentary is quite grating as it’s clearly just a robotic AI voice giving you rather boring feedback which gives a rather stale atmosphere. Some real voice acting would go a long way in enhancing that feeling of immersion and presence.   

Most importantly though, iB Cricket was a lot more fun than expected. All the core mechanics seemed very well-tuned with no noticeable bugs or glitches suddenly ruining the gameplay. It may still be in Early Access but it has all the makings of a true cricket simulator, possibly turning a few gamers into fans in the process. You have a ton of options to play with and to unlock, plus there’s even a demo so you can give it a whirl and see what this game of cricket is all about

Preview: Z-Race – Futuristic Toy Car Racing

Z-Race

As a kid did you ever grab toy cars or planes and whizz them around the house pretending they were racing? Well, that’s what it kind of feels like playing XOCUS’ new virtual reality (VR) videogame Z-Race – minus the screaming parents – a futuristic racing title that will immediately make you think of WipEout yet offers a very different gameplay experience.

Z-Race

Z-Race immediately stands out thanks to its visual style, the anti-grav vehicles looking awesome thanks to a mixture of F1 and spaceship inspiration. While the tracks tend to be mostly tubular in construction there are moments when they open up, providing stunning views among the clouds or racing through icy, industrialised terrain.

For its Early Access launch on Steam for HTC Vive, Valve Index and Oculus Rift, you’ll be able to pilot 10 vehicles split across three-speed grades, three in grades three and two with four ships in the fastest grade one. Gaining access to the next grade requires upgrading one vehicle to the max, which you can only do by collecting coins on the track or by winning. These are split down into Acceleration, Top Speed and Nitro sections, each with three upgrade slots. So each race is a careful balance between keeping that perfect line or trying to collect those coins.

When it comes to the tracks there are 12 in total, split across Bronze, Silver and Gold cups. Unlike the variety found in the ships, the tracks only have four terrains, so by the time you enter the Gold cup they can feel somewhat repetitive. XOCUS does try to mitigate some of this by increasing the number of obstacles, so not only do you have other opponents flying around you there are red cylinders that will instantly slow you down – they’ll even ricochet if someone in front hits one – and red walls to thread through. In some of the tighter tunnels, it can be quite the challenge trying to feed your way through everything.

Z-Race

To help in these scenarios you have slow-mo and nitro to use, the former can only be used three times per race whilst nitro appears as blue orbs on the track. So far this all sounds like a blistering sci-fi racer – albeit without any weapons – offering face-melting speeds and intense competition.

However, if you’re a fan of VR racing games you’ll know inside the vehicle is where the action is, it’s the only true way of feeling that sense of speed. Z-Racer doesn’t, in fact, as its entirely third-person. There aren’t any actual options because of the control mechanics XOCUS has employed, great for comfort, not so much for speed. As VRFocus alluded to earlier, Z-Racer’s controls are like holding a toy in your hand, the controller becoming the ship. It’s a similar format to Shooty Skies Overdrive, all you need to do is move your hand around the track.

While this may not sit well with racing fans it does mean a generally comfortable experience even with all the undulating track design. It does take a moment to get used to but it provides a different experience to more conventional titles like Radial-G: Proteus.

Z-Race

As for the competitive aspect, Z-Race doesn’t offer your standard multiplayer where you have to wait for other players. Instead, the only mode currently available is Asynchronous Racing, where there are other racers on the track who represent other players times. The benefit of this system is no wait times, just dive straight into a race, and you do get that pseudo-competitive feel even though you know no one else is competing at that moment.

Currently, the content available means you’ll see all Z-Race has to offer in under an hour, going back through each course once you’ve supped up the best ships to gain a prominent leaderboard position. Yet Z-Race is an Early Access title and XOCUS’ plans for more content could radically change the experience. An actual head-to-head mode is planned for Q2 2021 which could really add some much-needed depth to the gameplay. Far more radical is the proposition of a cockpit mode. This idea is being looked at due to player feedback and if implemented would completely alter the control scheme, likely two very different racing modes.

For now, though, Z-Race offers a very average racing experience. It’s enjoyable for that initial hour then begins to wain unless you really want that number one position. There’s plenty of potential to be unlocked as the quality of the graphics and smooth gameplay already set a high, premium bar so hopefully, the studio has plenty of content updates planned. Should that cockpit mode arrive then VRFocus will be revisiting Z-Race.

Preview: A Wake Inn – Old-Timey Horror

A Wake Inn

There are a couple of exciting looking horror titles coming to virtual reality (VR) headsets this year, with VR Bros’ A Wake Inn being one of them. VRFocus has been closely following its development for a while now, thanks to its narrative which finds you embodying a mechanised doll as well as its central gameplay where you’re confined to a wheelchair for the entire experience. The studio has now released a taster of what’s to come, showcasing an experience which keenly understands VR technology and how suspense can be created without scary monsters jumping out at you.

A Wake Inn

A Wake Inn isn’t unique in placing the player inside a wheelchair but unlike Last Labyrinth, for example, you’re in direct control of the chair, providing both gameplay and narrative context. Because of this, A Wake Inn doesn’t lend itself to an action-oriented experience. There are frantic moments which can almost make you feel completely helpless against the denizens you encounter, highlighting and teaching you to be cautious at all times. In turn, this ramps up that uncertainty of what lurks around each corner.

VR Bros has crafted a world set within the mysterious Silver Inn Hotel, where you wake up as a human-sized doll with no idea who you are or why you’re there. You do have company though, as Doctor Finnegan who owns the building talks to you over shortwave radio, piecing some of the story together. The rest you have to figure out by exploring the hotel, finding notes from past occupants as well as old-timey video reels. Of course, you’re not given free run of the place as there are more dolls wandering the hallways which aren’t wheelchair-bound and mindless in their aggression towards you.

With the scene now set, VRFocus got a nice 2-hour demo out of A Wake Inn, able to test out the various movement and puzzle mechanics. Right from the off, A Wake Inn doesn’t conform to the usual videogame tropes such as tired menu systems you have to scroll through. Refreshingly, in a very steampunk style, you instantly find yourself in the wheelchair surrounded by various knobs and dials which help you switch the options on and off. It’s this type of nod to VR that VRFocus keenly looks for, mechanisms which easily ground you in the experience.

A Wake Inn

The idea behind the wheelchair is about comfort. Ensuring that most players won’t be put off trying to explore the Silver Inn. So naturally, the first thing you have to try is wheeling yourself around, operating exactly as you’d expect by grabbing the wheels and pushing. There’s even a handy handle on the left-hand side to raise or lower yourself in the chair for an optimal position. The team could easily have stopped there but you have two additional locomotion options available, a joystick which can be swapped to either side of the wheelchair or teleportation; offering up a rather cool looking metal hand you can swap to.

During the demo, VRFocus found the joystick the most accessible out of all the methods. It’s permanently there making it easy to grab and remote control yourself through the hotel, yet it is a little slow. Going straight for the wheels offers improved speed yet trying to turn proved to be a bit inconsistent, practice definitely required there. Teleporting worked as well as you’d expect, although the distance is a little short and reduces the immersion.

The wheelchair also comes with plenty of other components to play with. Upfront you’ve got a storage box to place fuses and other useful items in. It also serves as an interactive menu, with home, save and load save buttons – yes you can manually save which is always a boon! There’s a convenient hook to pop a movie reel onto for easy storage and another for a big flashlight which takes rather large batteries – essential for the dark hotel corridors. Its interactive elements like these which VRFocus loves about A Wake Inn, properly thought out additions which add up to one cohesive whole, and a decent sense of presence.

A Wake Inn

That first time coming across one of the dolls wandering the hotel was immensely fraught as they’ll instantly charge. When that happens options are few, smashing them around their sketchy looking faces with the flashlight didn’t seem to do much and the stun grenades have to be used very wisely. The only real option is to escape as fast as possible. Which is where A Wake Inn could falter as death came often due to the movement either being too slow or too erratic.

Even so, A Wake Inn still offers an exciting prospect for VR horror fans. Elements like the design of the hotel and the audio carefully craft an atmosphere rich in tension and dread, whilst teasing the sinister story just under the surface. Puzzles weren’t that complicated so hopefully, they’ll ramp up deeper into the experience, plus VR Bros has previously mentioned the enemies can be taken down with melee weapons which didn’t seem to be available in the demo. A PC launch is still slated for Q1 2021 so there shouldn’t be too long to wait and find out.