I need a bug zapper – Gunheart VR Early Access preview

I’m always a little leery of Early Access in VR. Titles tend to be more tech demo than game, and many of them end up sitting in that Early Access state in perpetuity with little plan or hint of a full release date. Tackling Gunheart on the day it kicked off its Early Access run is inconsistent with my usual caution, and that confidence comes from three words – Halo, Gears, and Doom.

Drifter Entertainment, the team behind Gunheart, is helmed by three names you might recognize; Ray Davis, Brian Murphy, and Kenneth Scott. Ray Davis helped bring Unreal Championship 2: The Liandri Conflict, Unreal Tournament III, Shadow Complex, Gears of War, and Gears of War 2 to life, as well as the Oculus Rift exclusive VR shooter, Robo Recall. Brian Murphy (seen here) created the HoloLens launch experience HoloTour, as well as working on Xbox One and Xbox Kinect – his most recent bona fides demonstrated in the Virtual/Augmented Reality space. Rounding out the team is Kenneth Scott whose credits include Daikatana, Anachronox, Quake III Arena, Doom 3, Quake 4, Halo 4, and Halo 5: Guardians. I guess what I’m saying is, these three know how to make shooters on cutting edge hardware.

Gunheart is a cooperative shooter at its heart, but that’s as understated as saying that BBQ sauce is an optional rib condiment. Starting off in a common instanced hub space, players are greeted by an over-the-top weapon store, armor shop, hall-of-horrors display of some of the creatures you’ll be dealing with, and a mission panel (“The Job Goblin”) for grabbing cooperative or competitive adventures. From there, it’s all cowboy hats, Nyan Cat capes, and so much bug blasting carnage.

Kicking things off, the first of the two available areas in this Early Access build is entitled “The Homestead”. Here, players can select from four available mission types – Welcome to Homestead, Infestation, Invasion, and Homestead Money Pumps, each increasing the difficulty by a notch. Welcome to Homestead is a simple run and gun with fairly easy enemy types to get you used to the mechanics of the game, built around the pistol and homing-crossbow that all players start with. Completing it and collecting the cash in the environment can get you enough money to pick up the other available weapons, giving you chance to upgrade to machine guns, bows, and more. While the store is still very much in development and balance phase, here’s a quick look at what you might buy from both equipment stores:

During my time with the game, Infestation was locked out, but Invasion flips the script, pressing the player with an unrelenting alien assault that you and your friends must repel. Much larger foes will keep you on your toes, as you can see in the Money Pump video below.

Homestead Money Pumps is a tempting bit of risk and reward. Players take up position near massive pumps that extract “liquid space time”, spewing literal buckets of money for players to collect as they do. Unfortunately, it also attracts the attention of the natives who will work relentlessly to destroy these pumps (and you). Each wave gives you the opportunity to back out with your winnings or press your luck and continue to run the pumps as even more foes pour towards you. Rather than try to describe it for you, here’s a quick snippet of that level in action.

Comfort is a persistent problem for VR, but developer Drifter has tackled it in a big way with Gunheart. The game can be played standing, seated, or in room-scale VR. You can use a teleport mechanic, or edge ‘blinders’ for natural motion. The team has even announced that they are adding additional ‘smooth rotation’ options via thumbsticks, as well as extra movement mechanics to satisfy all players. A great example of this forethought comes early on when you teleport onto moving platforms. Players like myself would have nausea problems with teleporting to something already in motion, but the team instead halts the platform once you appear on top of it, avoiding that issue entirely. I found that the teleport mechanic worked wonderfully, and at no point did I experience nausea, even for a moment. I can’t think of many games that nail it this completely right out of the gate.

There are a lot of Early Access games on Steam, and it feels like VR is some sort of infested nesting ground for games that’ll take a month of Sundays to release. Games like Gunheart remind me that there are developers who can develop in the open, engage with their community, and still release a quality product in the process. The game has been in Early Access for a matter of a week, and it already feels more feature-complete than many games that have crossed the finish line. Snap this one up and try it for yourself – if this first few hours are any indication, Gunheart is going to be a must-have for any VR gamer.

Gunheart is available on Steam via Early Access for Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive, with PlayStation VR coming at an unspecified time in the future.

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