Mech combat game Vox Machinae is just what VR needs

Years ago, before the Vive and room-scale VR became the hot thing, the line at Oculus was that the Rift was a 'seated experience.' I imagined then that the most popular VR games would all take place in cockpits, where there's very little disconnect between what you're doing in the game (sitting and moving levers and pressing buttons) and what you're doing in real life. And what better cockpit than a mech cockpit? I can't think of one, so it was a surprise to me when FPSes and other standing VR experiences took the spotlight instead.

Vox Machinae, which I played a couple weeks ago at an Oculus event near PAX East, looks to help fill that gap, and it does so splendidly so far. (Check out parts of my session in the video above.)

Using the Rift's motion controllers, I reach around my cabin grabbing levers to adjust throttle, steering, and boost jets while using the controller triggers to fire beams, slugs, and rockets at wherever I'm looking. Having to physically look at my radar or at my heat gauge and grasp the throttle is a tad overwhelming on the first go, but I was starting to get the hang of it by the end of the match—just like driving a car, I imagine it'll all become second nature.

I love that I can physically pick up a walkie-talkie to chat with my team.

Vox Machinae is a multiplayer game, but knowing that it can be hard to fill servers in VR games, developer Space Bullet Dynamics populates matches with bots to make up for missing players. It will also be playable without a VR headset, or with a VR headset but without motion controllers. I wondered if players who don't have to physically reach over and 'grab' a lever to steer will have an advantage, but the devs on scene didn't seem to think so. Even if they do, I can't imagine any alternative control scheme being more fun than the motion control scheme.  

Currently, there are five mech bodies with customizable weapon groupings. I asked the devs if they planned to go full MechWarrior with the customization—eg, allowing players to mix and match body parts and decide how many heat sinks they want—but for now they're keeping it a little more accessible than that.

There is more complexity to come, though. Vox Machinae will "probably" enter Early Access this year, say the devs, and at that point it will be a "complete game." Rather than making any fundamental changes, they'll be adding new features—possibly including a 'module system' which would add tactical perks, such as a radar jammer. 

More mechanisms to think about could help widen the gap between OK pilots and great pilots, plus I just like the fantasy of hurriedly flipping switches in the middle of a firefight to vent heat, or some other such mech pilot-ey thing. Granted, even with only throttle, steering, and boosting to worry about it's not as if I came anywhere close to being a competent pilot. Boosting is especially tricky (you'll see that I came down hard a couple times) and I spent a lot of time spinning in circles looking for targets. There's also the matter of team tactics, which the devs expect to be the difference between winning and losing. I love that I can physically pick up a walkie-talkie to chat with my team. 

I've got a pretty easygoing stomach when it comes to VR, so it may not be saying much that I felt no queasiness in Vox Machinae. But I do imagine it will be easier to handle for those who turn green at other VR games, such as those that allow full first-person movement with analog stick control. It's more like being in a car (hopefully you don't already get car sick). I had a lot of fun during my session, so look out for more on Vox Machinae sometime this year, assuming the Early Access release goes on as planned.

Tyler Wilde
Executive Editor

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley during the '80s and '90s, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on early PCs. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now, and PS1 classic Bushido Blade (that's right: he had Bleem!). Tyler joined PC Gamer in 2011, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. His hobbies include amateur boxing and adding to his 1,200-plus hours in Rocket League.