EVE: Valkyrie

The space-based dog­fighter set­ting out to de­fine mod­ern VR gam­ing



The count­down be­gins as our ship ad­justs it­self on glit­ter­ing red lanes be­fore lock­ing into place. Three… Two… One. Sud­denly we’re pro­pelled for­ward at such force we al­most fall out of our chair, the speed and the roar rapidly in­creas­ing un­til there’s noth­ing but si­lence. We’ve gone from a warm clone bath to cold space in ten sec­onds and, aside from a pound­ing heart­beat, it’s an al­most tran­quil ex­pe­ri­ence. Un­til the lasers start fir­ing, that is.

CCP’s first­per­son space shooter, which oc­cu­pies the same uni­verse as sci-fi MMO

EVE On­line, could be vir­tual re­al­ity’s most piv­otal ti­tle. There’s a rea­son Ocu­lus has cho­sen to in­clude a copy with each head­set that launches later this year. It’s the first ex­pe­ri­ence many will have with the new tech and, like ef­fec­tive bun­dles of the past –

Wii Sports and Wii Re­mote, EyeToy: Play and EyeToy – it’s a per­fect show­case for both Ocu­lus Rift and PlaySta­tion VR.

But it’s im­mer­sive in a dif­fer­ent way than EVE On­line, less in­volved and more im­me­di­ate, the spread­sheets and subterfuge traded for ten-minute bursts of scin­til­lat­ing space bat­tles. “We’re set there, but we’re not con­nected to it,” says An­drew Wil­lans, lead game de­signer. “We’re our own story, so ef­fec­tively where EVE is fo­cused on cor­po­ra­tions and is very strate­gic and top-down, ours is more vis­ceral. We put you into the pi­lot’s view.” Look down and you’ll see your body. Look be­hind and you might see wing­men. Lean for­ward and your avatar inches closer to dash­board in­stru­men­ta­tion. Since the mul­ti­player com­bat that forms

Valkyrie’s back­bone is heav­ily de­pen­dant on spa­tial aware­ness, VR has in­her­ent tac­ti­cal po­ten­tial, mean­ing that it doesn’t feel crow­barred in, and it works to help rather than hin­der. The main mode here cen­tres on five-vs-five PVP bat­tles, and death­match gives the purest ex­pe­ri­ence of what CCP sets out to achieve: ex­hil­a­rat­ing 360-de­gree dog­fight­ing. Here, threats from ev­ery con­ceiv­able di­rec­tion mean pi­lots must cover all an­gles, glanc­ing be­hind for bo­geys on tails and track­ing them as they at­tempt tricksy ma­noeu­vres.

Each ship bears large trans­par­ent pan­els to en­able sweep­ing views. In or­di­nary flight com­bat games, en­e­mies dis­solve into small red dots on your radar when they’re not fixed di­rectly ahead of you, es­sen­tially ceas­ing to ex­ist, but here they’re a vis­ual pres­ence no mat­ter their re­la­tion to you. Hear­ing a scrap­ing sound then look­ing up to see your ship trade paint with a bulky, screen-fill­ing Reaver is a dra­matic mo­ment.

The same strate­gies ap­ply in a King-Of-The-Hill-style mode in which pi­lots must fly to ter­ri­to­ries on the map and drop off

You have some pow­er­ful tools, such as look-to-lock mis­siles, which are only pos­si­ble in VR

drones to drain op­po­si­tion power. It’s the best demonstration of the dif­fer­ences be­tween the three ship classes: ar­moured heav­ies are ef­fec­tively fly­ing tanks, func­tion­ing best when parked near a ter­ri­tory and de­fend­ing it through sheer over­whelm­ing fire­power; nippy fight­ers are able to move be­tween ter­ri­to­ries fastest; and medic-minded sup­port ships are squad-ori­ented, hang­ing back and buff­ing team­mates’ health with en­ergy beams.

“Ev­ery ship should have value, and the choices come down to your play­ing style,” Wil­lans says. “When we were in San Francisco there was a guy who used sup­port, didn’t know any­thing about the game, and he was mix­ing and match­ing, and de­buff­ing and shoot­ing me at the same time. It was really nice to see that he got into it really quickly and killed me.” That’s Valkyrie – an ac­ces­si­ble spin on a some­times in­ac­ces­si­ble genre. Re­call, mean­while, is the clos­est thing

Valkyrie has to a sin­gle­player story mode. It fol­lows the ex­ploits of Rán Kavik who, af­ter un­wit­tingly awak­ing in a clone vat (her con­scious­ness trans­ported into a dif­fer­ent body), is drafted into mer­ce­nary group the Guris­tas. Sus­pi­cious of their mo­tives, Kavik forms her own splin­ter fac­tion, the Valkyrie. ‘War­ring space pi­rates’ is really all you need to know. DNA strands from de­ceased pi­lots form the mis­sion struc­ture, and you jack into each to play their mem­o­ries. Pri­mar­ily they teach and re­in­force me­chan­ics and modes with­out dis­trac­tion from other peo­ple.

Story is com­mu­ni­cated sub­tly and con­stantly. “We’re pre-al­pha, so we haven’t got a lot of that stuff in yet,” Wil­lans says, “but in terms of scripts there’s a lot of chat. So when you’re in PVP and you go into the lob­bies, Rán will be re­spond­ing to you, giv­ing you ei­ther pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive re­in­force­ment de­pend­ing on how you’ve done in matches.”

Fi­nally, sur­vival is a wave-based mode set against in­creas­ingly tough waves of enemy AI. In­for­ma­tion is still lim­ited, but Wil­lans says, “There comes a point where you don’t even need in­fi­nite waves. You’re go­ing to be dead. The AI is really good, and we’ve al­most got to keep an eye on that. We’ve got a very tal­ented AI pro­gram­mer and the things our ships do are pretty in­cred­i­ble.”

For­tu­nately, you have some pow­er­ful tools at your dis­posal. Take, for in­stance, look-tolock mis­siles, which are only pos­si­ble in VR. Al­though ships have fixed-ret­i­cle at­tacks on the right trig­ger that fire where your crosshair points, hold­ing the left trig­ger queues up a salvo while you use your head to aim a sec­ond crosshair. Turn­ing your face to op­po­nents and re­leas­ing the trig­ger to send a bar­rage at them feels in­tu­itive and frees up your hands for evad­ing. It’s a clear prod for peo­ple to en­gage in VR, even if it can get dis­ori­ent­ing at times.

There are plenty of weapons, too. Heav­ies can use head-tracked ion can­nons that deal splash dam­age on groups. The trade-off for this class’s slow speed is a mi­cro warp drive ac­ti­vated by hold­ing down the left trig­ger that lets you dash away from threats. De­ploy­ment abil­i­ties on X com­ple­ment the two trig­ger­based ones, an ex­am­ple be­ing the sup­port’s spi­der bots: drop them and they’ll spin a blue web which, when foes fly through it, cov­ers them in nig­gling sen­tries that pick apart their wind­shield and ob­scure their view. Friendlies fly­ing through it get a health boost.

Level size varies but all of them aim to get you into fights quickly by cut­ting down on the long trudges from respawn points. The tensec­ond penalty, and the other ten sec­onds it takes to reach fight­ing range, gives a pace just shy of a mod­ern FPS, fast while pro­vid­ing enough sin-bin-style pun­ish­ment to pre­vent care­less kamikaze play. Of­ten it’s best to hang back and wait for team­mates to join the bat­tle, be­cause you can eas­ily fall into the deadly trap of fight­ing alone while they’re sit­ting out, and sit­ting out while they’re fight­ing alone.

The last thing Valkyrie wants is for you to sit stiffly in your chair fac­ing for­ward. This is about us­ing your head as an ex­tra thumb or flight­stick, about mon­i­tor­ing ac­tion that un­folds not only in front of you, but with you slap bang in the mid­dle. It’s an in­ten­tion­ally thin­ner slice of the EVE pie, but as a re­sult it’s just what flight com­bat – and VR – needs.

An­drew Wil­lans, lead game de­signer

Sus­tain enough dam­age and your craft’s glass shat­ters, freez­ing you in space’s sub­zero con­di­tions and cov­er­ing yours arms and legs in icy white crys­tals. Don’t worry – you’re only a clone

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