Set in the Eve Online universe, Valkyrie is a space combat game designed specifically for VR. It features intense Star Wars-like space battles, but it was something a lot more mundane that really sold it to me. During a battle in an asteroid field, I flew away from the action briefly to follow a mining barge I saw moving slowly through the spinning rocks. I flew alongside it, watching it through my side window, and could hear the deep, thundering roar of its engines. I really felt like I was in the shadow of a colossal physical object. Then someone blew me up with a homing missile.
I’ve played a lot of virtual reality games, and Valkyrie is among the most convincing. The sensation of being there—what people in VR circles call ‘presence’—is really quite remarkable. As you weave through asteroids, firing your miniguns at enemy ships, launching missiles and watching the smoke trail curl into the distance, you genuinely forget you’re sitting in front of a PC clutching a gamepad. You’re there, in that ship, in an asteroid field, and it’s absolutely exhilarating. There are moments when your brain reboots and reminds you that you, in fact, aren’t there, but it’s easy enough to push that treacherous logic aside and plunge back into the fantasy.
The game itself is fairly simple: a streamlined, almost arcade-like shooter. You move with the left stick, roll with the bumpers, boost with A, brake with B, and activate a limited use anti-missile turret with X. To lock onto an enemy ship, you just look at it and squeeze the left trigger. The reticle precisely follows your head movements, and the longer you hold it, the more missiles are loaded. Then you simply let go to fire your salvo. Squeezing the right trigger fires your miniguns: a pair of loud, booming cannons on either side of the cockpit that glow orange as they heat up. And that’s all there is to it. But this simplicity is by design, because complexity in VR games can shatter the illusion. The more intuitive the controls are, the more immersive it is.
The game will come with some PVE missions, but it’s largely focused on online multiplayer. I played in a session with a group of journalists, and it was amazing to think that all these ships buzzing around shooting at each other were being controlled by other people, all plugged into their own VR headsets. During one battle I found myself chasing another player through a field of debris. They’d squeeze through narrow gaps in giant, floating chunks of shattered metal to try and shake me, and I’d give chase, firing my miniguns. It was incredibly exciting, and tracking them by just moving my head felt completely natural. And all the while I was leaning back in my chair, gritting my teeth, and leaning from side to side, fully lost in the moment.
The controls are simple, but the game does have depth. Ships are split into familiar class archetypes (fighter, support, heavy, etc.), but you can combine their traits to create your own hybrids. Support ships can fire a beam that eats away at an enemy’s shield or restores an ally’s. You can sacrifice your homing missiles for a warp drive that gives you a sudden, blistering burst of speed. And some ships can drop energy bubbles in the battlefield that will sap the shields of any enemy pilots who fly through them. There’s an XP unlock system, an in-game currency, ship customisation, and everything else you might expect from a modern competitive multiplayer shooter. Game types range from simple deathmatches to more strategic point-capture modes.
When you die, the glass in your cockpit shatters and you see the interior of the ship, and your body, slowly freeze in the deep cold of space. But death, as Eve fans will know, is not the end in this universe. Your mind leaps into a fresh body, a clone, and you appear in a new ship. And every time you start a new life, your ship is launched out of a tube at immense speeds, which made my stomach lurch every time. One of the best ways to avoid death, I found, was slamming the ‘brakes’ and spinning my ship around on a pivot, Battlestar Galactica-style, and surprising my pursuer with a burst of minigun fire. After a particularly long killstreak, I felt like a legendary space pilot, even though I was just a man with a plastic box stuck to his face.
Today, Oculus announced that Eve: Valkyrie would be bundled with the Rift when it finally launches next year, and it’s a perfect showcase for the technology. Mario 64 was the Nintendo 64’s killer app—a game that showed off the potential and power of the hardware—and Valkyrie could be the Rift’s equivalent of that.