Virtual Reality shooters have become an obsession of mine, as you may have gleaned from my articles about Raw Data and Archangel: Hellfire. There’s something about this genre that triggers the pleasure center of my brain in a way that no 2D shooter has ever been able to approach, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Gunheart, a VR shooter by Drifter Entertainment. Drifter is a small studio made up of veterans from the development of the HoloLens, to some of your favorite 2D shooters, including Gears of War, Halo, Doom, and Call of Duty. I got to sit down with CEO Ray Davis to learn more about Gunheart, and to take my first spin inside this beautiful and brutal virtual world.
Jumping into Gunheart is pretty easy if you’ve ever played a VR shooter. You spawn as a customizable robotic bounty hunter inside Bent Horizon, a canteen which serves as the game’s lobby, a gun ready in each hand. After bouncing around a bit to get used to movement, (Gunheart offers movement via both teleportation and smooth locomotion, so you can adjust depending on your tendency towards motion sickness) I headed over to the shooting range so I could get to know my weapons.
There’s no shortage of weapons in this game, 41 so far, but the most exciting part are the Weapon Mods. Weapons don’t just look different, they each have their own, unique playstyle, and the ability to be modded. You unlock the ability to modify your weapons as you level up and acquire more gold. Some mods are simple, such as a tri-shot which, as the name suggests, allows you to fire three bullets instead of one, while others come with interesting perks, such as regenerating your health/shields whenever you damage an enemy.
If one measly mod doesn’t seem like enough for you, don’t worry! Each weapon has the ability to hold up to four mods, so you can expand your clip capacity while generating a shield, heal whenever you damage an enemy, and having your ammo explode upon impact. And that’s just for the gun on your right hand–imagine what your left one could do!
If you’re the type to grumble about being restricted only to handguns, worry not! By turning your weapons gangster style — so the tops of the guns are pointed towards each other — you unlock an impressively powerful, and way too fun, heavy weapon. These can range from bazookas to machine guns, though for my first trip to the firing range, it turned out to be a shielded bow and arrow. I lobbed a few arrows at targets using the flawless motion controls to nock, draw and release, as the other people in the room (have I mentioned the entire thing is, by default, seamless drop-in-drop-out co-op?) generated more targets, balloons, and even Mario-styled pixel art creations for us to destroy.
Confident in my shooting abilities, I headed off to try my hand at the game’s first mission. I set off with two other clearly more experienced players, and found myself planet-side on a barren but shockingly beautiful world. Rocky jags shot high into the air, as moons and other celestial bodies hovered large in the sky. I momentarily put my hunger for cash money aside so I could simply soak up the landscape. By this point, my teammates had moved a bit further on, urging me to catch up via our team chat. I obliged, using the incredibly neat, if not initially somewhat disorienting double-jump to leap a cliff, then another double-jump combined with a teleport to maximize both distance and my style cred.
A rough-and-tumble sounding woman with a Southern accent and a voice made up of long, dry days and cigarette smoke served as our narrator, helping to guide us through us through the map and warning of upcoming threats. It wasn’t long before we were set upon by a whole bunch of creepy, fast-moving, insect-like baddies intent on tearing us apart with their bare hands. Turns out, those were the easier ones; they had big brothers with guns of their own, as well as strange, spitting cousins which were permanently attached to walls, and even ship-sized, laser-shooting, wingless, flying, flat-worm looking creepers.
The maps inside Gunheart are somewhat procedurally generated; there are six or seven different maps which can all be stitched together in different ways, meaning it will be a long time before two runthroughs are exactly the same. The game also adjusts difficulty based upon your level, weapons, and the number of players; the higher gear and more gear and the more people you come in with, the more difficult it’s going to be. While this isn’t hard-scaling, a high level player is never going to have too much difficulty playing through the first map, it’s done with the goal of keeping missions replayable, and allowing veteran players to return to familiar spots with friends who may have just recently picked up the game.
Our map had us leaping across cliffs, crawling through slimy tunnels, trying to operate dilapidated equipment, and shooting lots and lots of bug-monsters. Teamwork was easy, both with and without voice chat, and the first level was pretty forgiving for a complete noob. There was a lot to interact with in the world, from money and ammo generating pods, to ‘waffle maker’ looking stations which, when you pulled the top down, generated explosive barrels which could be thrown or shot at enemies, to the ability to actually grab an enemy and carry them with you. It’s good for asserting your dominance over the insects, making your friends laugh, and knocking other monsters off balance by physically hitting them with one of their own. Upon completing the mission, you collect your payout from what looks like a slot machine, where you receive extra rewards based off your performance, including a boost for speedrunning the map.
Gunheart feels like the perfect game to play with friends, blasting baddies while venting about your stressful day. It was designed to be just that, and in that same vein, Gunheart supports crossplay between the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, as well as traditional, 2D computer play, with support for the PSVR in the works. There’s no indicator within the game itself what platform someone is playing on, and perhaps best of all, your account is shared across all platforms; there’s no need to repurchase the game or start over if you began your Gunheart on PC and later upgrade to a VR system. Your loot, characters, and levels will all be waiting for you when you log in.
Gunheart has been in early access for a year, and has undergone no shortage of changes. “There’s nothing like jumping into a game with a super-fan,” Ray Davis said, “and seeing their reactions and suggestions in real time. They’ve given us a lot of ideas as to where we can go next.”
The good news is, if you’re reading this article, you won’t have to wait to start your own bounty hunting career; Gunheart is leaving Early Access and launching Version 1.0 today, June 4th. You can learn more by checking out the official website, or head on over to Steam or Oculus to go get your Boba Fett on. I know I will be!