We all know the drill: a new toy comes out and with it we’ve got a big ol’ pile of launch games to go through. Just like with the Wii’s launch back in the 2000s, some of the launch options for the PlayStation VR are great and some…not so much. One of the big surprises for me when it comes to the PSVR launch was that there are actual, complete video games to play on the headset rather than just a bunch of digital distractions, and one of the best I’ve tried is RIGS: Mechanized Combat League.
RIGS sets you up as the latest rookie to go pro in the Mechanized Combat League, a futuristic sport featuring arena battles between mechs. You’ll join a team, hire pilots to join you and sign sponsorship deals as you push to reach the top of the league. It reminds me a bit of SLAI: Steel Lancer Arena International, a mech battler with RPG elements that was one of my favorite games for the PlayStation 2; here the RPG elements are minimized, but there’s still enough progression and immersion that you’re doing more than just battling.
I was more than a little surprised at how well this kind of game works in VR. RIGS uses the standard DualShock 4 pad; you’ll move with the left stick and control your facing with either head tracking or the right stick. I found the head tracking option to be preferable as it was faster and more accurate, and I’d suggest sticking with it as I’ve also heard that right-stick view controls in VR games like this can cause motion sickness in some users.
Your Rig can jump with the X button, and depending on the type of Rig you’re piloting, they’ve also got additional movement options; the ultralight Tempest can launch into the air and glide, the massive Sentinel can use a powerful charged jump and blast shockwaves on landing, and the medium Hunter and Mirage can sneak through small gaps and have a double jump respectively. The triggers fire your left and right weapons, which automatically aim at enemies that you’re facing, and the other face buttons are used to redistribute your rig’s power to speed, power or healing according to your preference. Finally, you’ve got a quick melee charge that can finished off a damaged opponent or push you out of incoming fire.
After some initial awkwardness, I quickly found controlling a Rig to be a joy. This is the kind of game I’ve always wanted to play in VR, frankly: you can actually move around the world, jumping and clambering about like in any other game, rather than being chained to the limitations of the platform. It’s fantastic and I can’t think of many other games that offer this experience at the moment.
Initial worries that controlling a VR game in this way would lead to motion sickness were proven to be completely unfounded; I’d guess that’s because you’ve always got a “point of reference” in the form of your Rig’s HUD, as well as the visible structure of the Rig itself, but it’s hard to say. It could also be related to the way that controlling a Rig feels. You are very obviously driving a vehicle with heft and momentum, so there’s no “gliding” sensation that might have caused some upchucking. In any case, RIGS offers numerous comfort options to keep your lunch where it should be, including disabling the aerial launch and subsequent birds-eye respawn selection that accompanies the destruction of your Rig.
As for the actual game, it’s a fairly standard arena shooter: you’re in a mech, you blast other mechs, repeat until satisfied. You’ve got three modes – team deathmatch, a take on football and a combination of the two using powered-up rigs as the “ball” – and each largely boils down to keeping their guys dead and your guys alive. Victory results in cash that can be spent on new rigs to drive; it can also please any sponsors you’ve signed deals with, resulting in additional cash and customization options for your pilot.
The sponsorship system is a nice touch, giving you some incentive to mix things up in battle, and I’m never going to complain about progression so long as rewards are doled out early and often as seen here. You’ve got quite a few different rigs to check out; as mentioned, there are four different classes of Rig, and each can be paired with an innate passive ability. The two together makes a Rig, which is purchasable as its own named unit including a predefined weapon loadout. My favorite ended up being Winning Streak, the Carapace Tempest, which bears a shield that protects it from back attacks and a pair of grenade launchers so it can rain death from on high.
You can also take RIGS online to do the same thing against other players, which is a riot. It’s worth noting that this is firmly on the low time-to-kill side of the shooter spectrum, so new players can expect to serve as meat for the grinder for a little while until they get their bearings. It can also take awhile to actually find a game, though that’s understandable since this is a $60 title for a $300 system that requires a $400 peripheral so the install base probably isn’t too high just yet.
RIGS’ presentation is top notch, as you’d expect for a AAA title from one of Sony’s development houses. The stylized graphics are to be expected from a VR game, since they require a little more horsepower to run, but they look nice and clean, plus everything works well in motion. There’s plenty of voice acting as well, namely in-match commentary. I found this to be endearing, though the lines will repeat before too long so that probably wouldn’t last.
Really, a lot can be said for the fact that RIGS: Mechanized Combat League is an honest-to-God full game designed to be played on a VR set. It’s not a cute gimmick, it’s not a collection of minigames, it’s an enjoyable arena shooter that’s enhanced by the use of the headset but would be worth a look even without it. My main concern before jumping into VR would be that the technology would never see games like this and we’d be stuck with Wii-style shovelware forever. RIGS demonstrates this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case, and that’s more than enough to earn my recommendation.