With seconds remaining before I am ejected from my current host, I select another target and fling my consciousness from the mechanized soldier I'm currently in to a sibling unit across the room. Squeezing the trigger, I smile with the realization that this model has a shotgun. The initial blast takes out two of the enemy robots in front of me, alerting the other 15 soldier bots to my presence. Three more trigger squeezes eliminates the first to notice, and as I reload I see the AI for my current body has already started to reject me as its master. My objective isn't far, but it's important to be careful about what I do next. I can't afford to not have another body to jump to, humanity is counting on me. The core must go down, and it must go down today.
Oh hey look, that gunship floating above has an AI slot I can penetrate. Guess I found my way out after all. Two more rounds from my shotgun dismantle the rest of the robots in front of me, and I slip away into the noticeably larger vehicle above. From here I can see my target clearly, and it looks like I have a full complement of rockets to eliminate it with.
First-person shooters in VR all suffer from the same basic dilemma — movement. If you try to build a game where you move around as though the game is played with a gamepad, you'll find a lot of people are quickly disoriented or nauseated by gameplay. It feels unrealistic and unnatural, which is a real problem. Most game developers are currently using a basic teleportation mechanic, allowing you to pick a space on the map and simply teleport there in between bouts of shooting and dodging. This works, but it's clumsy and mentally takes you out of the beautifully immersive game every time you do it.
This is is without a doubt the best first-person shooter available in VR today.
If you've already decided on your core gameplay mechanics before taking VR movement into account, there's not an easy solution. What makes Damaged Core special is making movement a core part of the gameplay. Instead of playing a tangible character with your own body, you play an AI whose job is to take over enemy robots and use their weapons and armor to accomplish your task. The brilliance here is the way this gameplay mechanic is used. You're still using the teleportation mechanic, but by making it a massive part of the gameplay it enhances the level of immersion and creates an entirely new way to think about the world you're currently in.
Damaged Core starts out fairly simple — you get a basic tutorial level to walk you through the mechanics, and with each level you're introduced to a new and more complicated enemy to either defeat or hack. In the beginning, jumping from body to body is a way to stay alive so you can keep shooting from that fixed position. Three or four levels in, it becomes clear you are most effective when constantly jumping from host to host, taking advantage of their unique abilities to make you a more effective weapon. By the fourth level, you're almost never staying in a body long enough for it to be destroyed if you're doing things right.
The end result is a highly active form of FPS gameplay that feels familiar enough to keep you constantly firing and thinking about the next target, but unique enough that you're never really ready to sit down and relax while you play. Standing is the best way to enjoy Damaged Core, because your perspective changes with every jump and you need to keep the overall mission goal in mind. Most of the time these missions are a combination of all out assault and protection. Keep the human alive long enough for them to help take down The Core, and then wipe everything out. There's a healthy variety in overall objectives, but the pattern takes shape pretty quickly.
As much fun as Damaged Core's mechanics and story are, there's something to be said for the loss of user agency in this setup. Most of the game is played in ruined cities full of broken buildings and decaying streets, and you don't really get to explore any of it. Your individual bodies don't move around, so jumping from environment to environment within a level involves flinging your consciousness to a series of massive floating cameras that the enemy somehow can't detect or fire upon. Everything outside of an immediate combat situation is heavily controlled, which is a shame. Basic control over the floating cameras would have made the experiences out of combat a lot more compelling, and made the user feel at least a little in control of the overall game. You're fighting for the freedom of humanity, but retain none of that freedom for yourself.
While it may lack the world-scale maturity of some of its console-based cousins, Damaged Core is without a doubt the best first-person shooter available in VR today. It's one of the only Oculus Rift games that doesn't feel awkward when you're using a controller instead of motion controllers, and that's significant. You'll have fun, blow up a nearly unlimited number of bad guys, and feel entirely immersed in the process. This is what VR shooters need to emulate moving forward, and I can't wait to see what the team behind this game do next!
- Beautiful, dark scenery
- Easy to jump into and play
- The best FPS game mechanics in VR
- Total lack of user agency
- Insufficient mission variety
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