Previews
EVE Valkyrie's Dogfights Made Me Want VR Now - Hands On Preview

Jonathan Bolding | 10 Dec 2015 16:45
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Disclosure: CCP Games Provided travel and accommodations that made this feature possible.

EVE Valkyrie is an upcoming space flight combat game by CCP, makers of sprawling free market sci-fi sandbox EVE Online. It's a first person virtual reality game that puts players into the cockpit of a space fighter for intense multiplayer dogfights. Now in full development for PS4 and PC, it started as a side project prototype before becoming something that fan demand made clear was a potential product. Known for space games, it seems like a natural fit for CCP's developers after the FPS Dust 514 made clear that action was a genre they were interested in. Valkyrie will tell a side story in the EVE universe, one of outcast and pirate fighters jockeys scrabbling to make ends meet. It'll star Katee Sackhoff as Ran Kavik, the ace pilot of the Valkyries. I had a chance to play the game, and the unexpected experience I had surprised me. Even unfinished, and after only an hour of play, Valkyrie has the kind of unique charm of a definitive game on a new platform. I've been a big VR skeptic in the past, but I'm ready to upgrade my gaming rig and take to the heavens for Valkyrie. Or maybe just buy a PS4. Or both.

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EVE, and to a lesser extent, Dust, are both specialized and hardcore games requiring dedication to understand. With its Virtual Reality hardware requirement and niche subject, I expected Valkyrie to be the same. What I realized as I settled in to play the pre-alpha build - and what became clear after meeting Lead Designer Andrew Willens - is that Valkyrie is going to be the most accessible, straightforward space combat game in some time. It plays almost like an arena shooter, pitting teams against each other in tests of skill and coordination. A big Battlefield player and fan of multiplayer shooters in general, Willens recently had his Battlefield clan buddies out to the CCP offices to try out the latest build. "We did three hours of matches, and for most of these guys it was their first time in VR, and they were just blown away," he said. "I loved it, it made me more excited for the game than ever. I just wanted to play more and more." (I guess he, unlike I, does not get a little blinky and nearsighted after a few hours of VR.) Willens is clearly very in love with VR, the game's concept, and its genre. He used to work at Ubisoft, heading up titles like Grow Home, but jumped at the chance to innovate in Valkyrie. Innovate they have. The game is designed so that you immediately know what to do, with immersive visuals at the forefront of airtight basic gameplay design.

You fall right into it. You're a pilot. You fly space fighters. This is your kingdom. Get to dogfighting.

And dogfighting it is. The heart of any flight combat game is how ships fly, how they handle. Valkyrie takes the Star Wars approach, and battles are like World War 2 fighters facing off. No worrying about conserving momentum, for example, or making sure you don't go flying past your target and can't correct in time. No 'real spacecraft' approach as in games like Elite: Dangerous, no Battlestar Galactica-esque 180 degree flips to shoot an opponent behind you (despite Katee Sackhoff's presence as the game's hero character.) The familiarity of plane-like controls is a decision that will do well for Valkyrie, keeping the game accessible to nearly anyone. (Anyone who can keep up with fast-paced shooter combat, at least.) The gamepad controls themselves (we used Xbox 360 controllers) are simple: Five buttons, two triggers, one stick. You're always moving forward at top speed. You can slow and then stop by holding one button, or boost on a limited capacitor with another. You use a single stick to direct your ship, shoot with the triggers, and roll with the shoulder buttons. A third face button deploys countermeasures. No second stick, remember, since you're looking around using VR and there's no directional thrusting to speak of. Just forward, forward faster, slow down.

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I was a little trepidatious, though. I like space flight. I like the conceits of microgravity and zero gravity environments. I like directional and axial thrusting. I like moving to max speed, cutting my boosters, and facing my target guns blazing as I speed away. I frankly expected to dislike it - I find that the approach often either makes your spaceship handle like wet soap on ice or like a glorified floating tank. There's a bit of that in Valkyrie, especially with the fastest craft, but the maps I played were definitely designed with the flight model in mind. Maps are thick with terrain: Asteroids, space wreckage, scaffolding, and bits of station are all mixed in - with the occasional terrifying stretch of completely exposed space.

Other space games often get map design wrong, splashing bits of terrain around but not giving them detailed nooks and crannies, or unique overall layouts, that direct the flow of battle - like in a good first person shooter map. Though it's true to life, too much empty space is just... boring. In Valkyrie you constantly have something to duck behind, roll past, or slide into. The game encourages you to use the cover, and if you hit something you'll just slide off it with little damage taken. Willens said that was a very purposeful stylistic choice: "We didn't want to punish people for being cool". If Valkyrie's final maps have this level of quality, you won't mind the simplified flying at all.

The three different classes of ship determine how you interact with those maps, and a planned ranking system will unlock variant ships and hybrids as you play a class more. You choose from up to four pre-chosen ships - depending on rank - each time you respawn. Yes, it's a class-based, rank-based online arena shooter with leveling up and experience. I rolled my eyes when I found that out, too, but I did have to admire the restraint of only three classes - they really did fill distinct roles. Some ships, like nimble supports, exploit terrain by being more maneuverable and faster. Heavies use it by being bigger, tougher, and filling up the narrow spaces with explosive shells. Fighters ]either split the difference or subvert the design entirely, focusing on tricking enemies into the open where a top speed rules and there's nothing to hide behind while they line up the shot and a fully locked barrage of homing missiles leaves the tubes.

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