Surviving a neon wasteland in Blasters of the Universe

Across the main three VR platforms, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR, there have been plenty of VR shooting experiences, but Blasters of the Universe is the first to combine that with the frantic pace of the bullet hell genre. One essential component that all games labeled as a bullet hell experience have in common is the constant need to be on the move, dodging countless foes and their relentless onslaught of bullets. Controlling a ship or a character while doing so is one thing, but actually having the experience brought to life through VR was something that I wasn’t prepared for. On top of that, Blasters of the Universe’s neon wasteland is an awe-inspiring VR location to destroy hundreds of drones and face off against the comedic villain behind the entire thing.

Known as Alwyn in VR, the once underachiever in real life found solace in his local arcade back in an age when arcades weren't endangered from going extinct, at least here in North America. Finding a way to transport himself into the game, he turned a once empty digital landscape into a bright neon kingdom that he rules with an iron fist. As a member of the Blasters, it is your mission to overthrow Grand Master Alwyn and take back virtual reality.

Although the game has been in Steam Early Access for some time, The Secret Location brought the latest build to the game to PAX East 2017, where I strapped on an Oculus Rift with Touch controls and went hands-on. After customizing my weapon and taking out a few targets for practice, I hopped into a level from the newly added campaign mode. Previously, the game only featured an endless wave-based game mode, allowing you to claw your way up the online leaderboards. Your score is dependent on how well you perform, from taking out enemies quickly, pulling off headshots, and even for nearly dodging incoming bullets. While your gun is firmly attached to your right hand, you can pull up a shield using your left hand, but using it should be a last resort, as you’ll miss out on the bonus points from dodging bullets. Make no mistake, Blasters of the Universe is a workout, and while you can use the shield if you don’t want to move around too much, the game is best played when you are free to weave, duck and dodge in your playspace without obstructions. Everything in the game happens in front of you, so you don’t have to worry about turning around and having the cords from the headset wrap around your legs.

The developers set the game to negate any damage I took, making sure that anyone that was trying the game for the first time would be able to play through the entire level that was being showcased. I did only fail to dodge roughly two or three bullets in my whole time playing, so I felt good that I even without the handicap, I would have successfully beaten the level. While I firmly stood my ground against the first few waves of enemies it didn’t take long before I was crouching on the ground, and swinging my body around at my hips to dodge pattern based bullets. While you head is the only thing you need to worry about, I felt like I was a part of this Tron-esque world. For example, in one complete sequence, I ducked out of the way of a triangle-based bullet pattern, quickly swung my gun to the left, took out a few robots, weaving left and right as I stood up and finally reflected back the glowing bullets heading straight towards me with my shield. I found great excitement watching the bullets as they passed by me, something that will never grow tiresome inside VR for me.

While it was my first time using the Oculus Rift Touch controllers, I quickly learned where the triggers and buttons were located that I needed to use, especially since I was handed the controllers after putting on the headset (probably a mistake on my part). Tracking felt perfect, and up to that point, I have been reviewing PSVR games exclusively, all of which suffered some loss of tracking or world wobble to some degree. Considering I was playing the game in the middle of the show floor, with thousands of people walking around, and the countless number of lights and tv screens flashing, I was thoroughly surprised at how well the game run. It was certainly not the ideal setup for this type of game, but everything from how the game run, to moving both your gun and shield in a 3D environment was flawless. In a game of this nature, even the slightest issue could prove to be fatal, as the bullets are nigh endless, and any hitching while in VR, especially when you are moving around as much as I was in this game can mess with your mind.

Blasters of the Universe is still in Early Access, but The Secret Location plans on releasing the game on Steam and the Oculus Store during the Summer. Afterward, they will take a look to see if it makes sense to bring the game to the PlayStation VR.

Blasters of the Universe