My favourite thing about the mechs in Vox Machinae (available on some of the best VR headsets) isn't their lasers, rockets or miniguns, but their horns. When you look up in your VR cockpit you see a handle dangling on a cord—pull it to make your mech honk, and the sound is specific to each of the five classes. The agile Hopper squeaks like a comedy clown horn, while the boom from the hulking Dredge is loud enough to guide a cruise ship into port.
These little details make Vox Machinae’s multiplayer mech fantasy come alive. When one of your teammates talks into their radio, their character appears on a monitor in the top-left of your cockpit, lips moving in time with their voice (it’s not full lip sync, but it’s still impressive). The radar below it bleeps with both friendly and hostile dots, and you can grab its screen and move it around, bringing it in or out of your peripheral vision.
The keys in the ignition jangle up and down in time with your stomps, and to your top-right the weapons monitor lights up every time you pull the trigger. If you overheat your weapons the whole mech shuts down: metal panels clamp over the cockpit and a red light spins as you wait, agonisingly, to get back in the fight, hoping no one has noticed you’re a sitting duck.
You move your mech using three separate control sticks. One of them is a throttle that works like a gearbox in a manual car, and you slide it up through the gears to gain speed. Next to it is a jump jet controller which you pull to fly, nudging left or right to adjust your trajectory, while twisting the lever near your right hand rotates your mech from side to side.
It sounds complicated, but Vox Machinae’s five-minute tutorial is enough to make you a competent pilot. The control setup—left hand for speed, right hand for turning—feels natural, and after half-an-hour I was moving by instinct, my hands snapping to the sticks when I needed to adjust course. It helps that shooting requires little thought: you aim with your eyes, and simply squeeze the triggers on your touch controllers to fire.
I was soon pulling off what felt like expert manoeuvres, jump-jetting perfectly to a small platform of rock while firing lasers, landing, and then raining down missiles from on high. The lightly-armed Hopper is my go-to mech because of how mobile it is, and I love buzzing between enemies chipping at their armour, swooping away to the safety of my teammates after I’ve drawn all the attention.
The way the cockpit reacts to the action in Vox Machinae makes you feel all of your mech’s 100 tonnes. It judders when you land from a long jump, urgently beeping if you’ve come in too hot. When you’re under fire it jolts with every bullet, the sound of denting metal coming from wherever you’ve been hit, and as you take damage your cockpit glass cracks.
If you glance to the side, you can see bits of your armour peeling away. You can really feel every impact, to the extent that I find myself leaning into turns when I need to escape, as if it’ll make me spin faster, and bracing my arms for impact when I charge into an enemy.
Your weapons feel and sound suitably powerful, too. When you land a direct hit you’ll see sparks and smoke fly off your opponent’s chassis, and if you aim precisely their arm or leg will pop off, useless. When you finally down a mech it’ll crumple in a fiery heap, the opposing pilot ejecting with a trail of flames stretching up to the sky.
All of the maps are designed to funnel mechs into one spot, which guarantees combat is a spectacle. At its best, it’s a mosh pit of metal, with rockets wailing overhead and explosions shaking the ground every few seconds.
Vox Machinae is in Early Access, and will likely remain there for most of this year, so developer Space Bullet Dynamics Corporation still has time to address its minor flaws. For example, I’d like more feedback with jump jet controls. The in-game joystick is tiny, which means your character’s hand barely moves when you grab it, even if you’re desperately jamming it in one direction. It creates a disconnect between your actions in real life and what you see in your headset.
I also found it hard to tell if I was actually pulling up on the joystick—which makes you fly—or just pushing it forward. If you’re in an open area then it’ll be obvious from the way your mech moves, but certain terrain can make it hard to judge. I had difficulty jump-jetting up some hills, and from looking at my character’s hand I couldn’t tell whether I was actually trying to jump and the rocks were blocking me, or whether I needed to readjust my grip and try again.
I’d like a progression system, even if it just provides cosmetics. At the moment, there’s little to do between matches in Vox Machinae’s 8v8 multiplayer modes (deathmatch and the control points-style Stockpile and Salvage, in which you capture and hold a neutral mech). It means you’re only ever 15 seconds from your next match, but it’d be nice to have a extrinsic reason to return week after week. It wouldn’t take much: rewarding players with decorations for their cockpit or paint jobs for their mech when they gain experience would be enough.
Lastly, it’s worth noting that you can’t heavily customise your mechs, as you can in other mech games like MechWarrior. You can swap out weapons, but you can’t change your armour or choose how many heatsinks to equip. I’d like to be able to tinker a bit more and really build a loadout that fits my playstyle. The devs promise that a “module system” that adds new abilities is coming before release, so perhaps that’ll scratch my itch for more customisation. I’ll reserve judgment for now.
But even with those criticisms, Vox Machinae has become my latest VR time sink. The way your mech reacts to combat, and the details crammed into its cockpit, make it the most believable first-person mech game on PC—and one of the best VR games you can play right now.