We've had no shortage of shooters for the HTC Vive, from neo-futuristic sci-fi experiences to more realistic simulations. However, despite the sheer number of titles currently on the market, there's still yet to be a successful competitive multiplayer experience.
This concept alone is what makes Downpour Interactive's latest title, Onward, so compelling. Taking the form of a military simulator, the game puts players into squads of four to battle it out in expansive arenas.
If you're an avid first-person shooter fan, you'll know what to expect from Onward's current content offering. From its debut on Steam's Early Access program, Onward has offered a small rotation of multiplayer maps, a single game mode and a wide variety of weapons. While this is only a fraction of the content the game is expected to include in its final state, the current experience still lays the foundation for general gameplay mechanics.
Onward is a slower paced shooter than most from traditional console and PC gaming, which helps massively in adapting the genre to the HTC Vive. Similar to slower paced PC shooters, such as Insurgency or Arma 2, the game promotes strategy and coordination over player reaction times. While having sharp aim will still be hugely helpful, moving away from twitch gameplay adds more depth to the simulation.
"The most outstanding characteristic of Onward is the game's robust gunplay"
This is reinforced by the game's focus on player communication, made clear by the decision to take advantage of the HTC Vive's inbuilt microphone. This has emerged as a key part of gameplay, adding an extra layer of complexity to encounters. While a radio can be used to communicate with teammates at a further distance, the game's positional proximity chat is heard by all players in a certain vicinity. Not only does this add greater immersion to gameplay, but also allowed me to make new friends to a point I've never experienced before.
Perhaps the most outstanding characteristic of Onward is the game's robust gunplay, seen across the varied arsenal of weapons. While weapon operation isn't as complex as sole simulators such as Hot Dogs, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, basic weapon knowledge is still required to operate certain firearms.
Before deploying into the battlefield, players are also able to customize their loadout, choosing the weapons and gadgets to haul into battle. During this stage, players can also briefly customize their weapons, with the various sights and grips available.
This customization will influence your role on the field, with multiplayer designed to support all weapon types. Most levels have a careful balance of enclosed areas and open spaces, each more suited for differing playstyles. Due to the nature of the game's roots as a military simulator, reckless map navigation can wind up with an instantaneous death from long-range gunfire.
"Onward is introducing new approaches to gameplay more suited to the genre"
All this is tied together by a unique take on player movement, which has been mostly unchanged until now. While it seems that teleportation has become the standard for player movement in VR, we've previously outlined how this increases the limitations of multiplayer shooters. Onward takes advantage of the HTC Vive's touchpad, mapping its inputs to directional movement.
I'm personally unaffected by motion sickness in most scenarios, but from speaking to other players, it appears this input method rarely leaves players with unwanted side effects. This hugely complements Onward's gameplay, adding the overall consistency required for a multiplayer shooter. While there are still a number of issues that plague virtual reality shooters, these small changes in approach help the game stand out from the market.
Onward might not be the best shooter in virtual reality, nor the most complete – but it does manage to introduce some welcome concepts. While many of today's VR titles are adopting growing standards, Onward is introducing new approaches to gameplay more suited to the genre. While still in Early Access, content is on the lighter side, but the current foundations set the groundwork for a great virtual reality shooter.
Disclaimer: This preview is based on an in-progress 'Early Access' version of Onward, using the HTC Vive.