I guess I don’t feel entirely comfortable saying that a game about nothin’ but shooting restored some of my damaged faith in VR, but what the hell: yee-haw! In my fond imagining, VR was going to take me to brand new places, not strand me in the blood-strewn alleys of modern videogaming’s norm. There’s no avoiding it, though: Serious Sam VR: The Last Hope [official site] feels so damned good. This is Time Crisis steroidal and unrepentant, eschewing both gimmick and complexity in favour of finger guns and laughter.
I’m pretty sure this is the longest I’ve played any VR game for, as it’s had zero negative effect on my guts or skull, and it’s one of few instances in which I want to go back – all that, and it’s still only in Early Access. In hindsight, Croteam’s long-running deconstructed-yet-unreconstructed shooter series is pretty much ideal for a technology like VR: it is so profoundly uninterested in much of what constitutes a modern videogame. Stories and puzzles and choices and socio-political commentary and open worlds: no thanks, we’re Sammish.
Serious Sam VR is fingerguns, pure and simple. You grab your Vive controllers (no Oculus support yet), you pick a weapon, you spray bullets until wave after wave of monsters and flying robots and spiky autonomous rolling mines are all destroyed. Then you do it again, because Sam you are.
I’m not even sure that VR plays an entirely meaningful role in why this works so well. An enormous TV or projector would probably do the trick, as by and large you’re only ever firing in semi-circle in front of you. It’s the tracking that makes it sing, particularly on the Vive controllers. Look and shoot, look and shoot: totally natural.
I’ve tried other VR shooting games that tried to be involved, had sights or reloads or even manually inserting ammo packs bound to various buttons on the controller, and frankly it was just a faff. Felt like trying to shave while wearing mittens.
This, by contrast, has zero ambition to be anything more than point and shoot. While that means it’s not exactly trying to simulate a virtual reality, it does make it elegant: this is Arnie heroics, pointing more or less in the direction of a foe and being rewarded with their precision death as a result.
It starts off with the slightly stilted flow of an arcade lightgun game, and there was I thinking “yeah, I guess this is OK.” Then, as any Serious Sam game does past a certain point, it turns into Serious Sam. Hordes! Giants! Hordes of giants! Cackling, frenzied death unbound, teeth grit, hands aching, heart soaring.
It’s just a wave shooter. Sure, you can move around a bit if you have the floorspace, but frankly the nature of this thing is to just root your feet to the ground and keep spraying until everything’s dead, not worry about frippery like dodging. If this were a traditional game, it’d be laughed out of town. It works because you get to be guns. Two guns, always: the defining SSVR moment is to be firing two miniguns at once in opposite directions, barely even glancing at either.
There’s some kind of strategy needed if you ramp up the difficulty: the brute force spray of the minigun is good for hordes of smaller creatures, but you’ll need more precision with a pistol or shotgun to target larger, more erratic ones. There’s a chainsaw in the mix too, although I don’t have the drummer’s mind required to slash at close-up foes with one hand while pew-pewing remote ones wit the other. Guitar Hero, but the only song is AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA.
It’s Early Access as I say, and promised for later are more levels (you get eight so far, which last a couple of hours total, but you will go back), more weapons and upgrades and various other wibble that constitutes what we now call ‘game’. Levels aside, it doesn’t need any of it, but I won’t say no, I guess.
It’s something I’m going to go back to, which is a relative rarity in the world of VR. I’m going to go back not because there’s more to discover or it’s some transformational experience that redefines how we interact with technology, but because finger-gunning a load of monsters to death is a goddamned good time.
Serious Sam VR is available now for Windows and Vive, via Steam.