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Hands on with EVE: Valkyrie alpha on the Oculus Rift

Expectations for EVE: Valkyrie are sky-high in the build-up to the Oculus Rift launch.

Which is understandable, given it’s one of two games to be pre-bundled with the headset (the other being Lucky’s Tale), while promising to bring action-packed space shooting to life in virtual reality. This week we were fortunate enough to get access to the EVE: Valkyrie alpha, and although we were limited to playing the game on the Oculus Rift DK2 headset, we came away impressed by the sheer action, graphical fidelity and VR implementation. Here’s a quick round of the game in action:

The alpha is currently limited to basic multiplayer and a single tutorial level, with the single player campaign and objective-based multiplayer launching alongside the final game in March 2016. EVE is all about action, so don’t expect to find a detailed simulation of space travel. Instead, it’s about fast-paced arcade-style gameplay in a vivid sci-fi universe; and with this focus on arcade action comes a simple control system that’s easy to master. Nevertheless, it’s still worth checking out the tutorial mission, as it gives you the opportunity to get a feel for how the ships and weaponry handle before taking on real players in the live multiplayer mode. When using the Xbox controller the left thumbstick controls the ships direction, the back triggers fire the cannon and rocket launchers and A and B are used to boost and brake. It’s also possible to rotate your ship or turn along the x axis using the right thumbstick and shoulder buttons. These controls feel intuitive and easy to learn. In fact, we felt like pros at controlling our ship after just five minutes of gameplay (which wasn’t necessarily true, but the confidence was there).

Launching into a multiplayer match is a thrill with each round, with your ship literately catapulting out of a mothership at breakneck speed while the battleground ahead erupts in laser and rocket fire. Using your head to look around is key to winning a successful round, not only because it makes it easier to track enemy foes as they whizz around your ship, but also because you’ll need to lock onto them using head-tracking to fire a barrage of rockets their way. At times you genuinely feel like you’re in the middle of a vast and complex space battle, with lasers, rockets and ships spiralling in all directions around you. It’s a blistering experience, and one that’s heightened by the use of virtual reality to bring it to life.

Given EVE: Valkyrie is a launch title for the Oculus Rift, its VR implementation is practically flawless. After booting the game you’re presented with a fully realised 3D menu set on-board the grungy deck of a vast spaceship. By looking at menu items (each represented by a floating hologram) you’re able to explore the various game modes and settings. Once a match is selected you’ll find yourself in a 3D lobby, sitting in a personal capsule with other players seated around you in a semi-circle, and from the lobby you can even see a live hologram of the match in action. This is VR immersion at its best, keeping you firmly planted in the universe of EVE: Valkyrie at all times; and it continues firmly into the actual game, with detailed cockpits that wrap around your view and a holographic map that’s only available to see by physically looking down with your head.

Graphically this is a deeply impressive game. Powered by the Unreal Engine, lighting is vivid, textures are rich and the entire look of the game is grungy and worn down. There’s a cohesiveness to everything that brings the universe to life, from the suit of your virtual body to the twisted remnants of vast ships that litter some of the games environments, and it runs silky smooth on the recommended Rift hardware. Admittedly, we’re playing the current alpha on the DK2, which features a lower resolution display than the final consumer headset, but the alpha never stalled, jerked or lost track of our head movements. Additionally, all in-game UI and text was easy to see.

We don’t have many issues with the current alpha build of EVE: Valkyrie. Of the ones that spring to mind, the AI appears to be able to fire at you from any angle, which makes tactical manoeuvring almost pointless. Matches can also descend into spiralling loops where ships circle each other constantly firing until one is blown to smithereens. We’d like to see more match variation, a single player campaign and more complex environments that prevent circling; and thankfully that all seems to be coming soon in later builds of the game.

Even on the DK2 headset, EVE: Valkyrie is a deeply impressive VR experience. When the final headset is released, and players launch EVE game for the first time they’re likely to be blown away by the sheer spectacle of experiencing a space battle with such colour, detail and speed; and for those who want to simply explore EVE’s environments without worrying about getting blown to pieces, the game is promising to include an exploration mode where its levels can be appreciated up-close, and in your own time. Which hopefully should make for an amazing first-time experience for those new to virtual reality. We can’t wait to see more of EVE: Valkyrie, and will bring you a full preview when more of its games modes can be experienced.

Official EVE: Valkyrie Website