Game review: Hover Junkers is the best VR game so far

Online first person shooters are already a reality on HTC Vive, in a game that may be a watershed for multiplayer VR games.

There’s an extra thrill to playing virtual reality games, that is amplified if you write about video games for a living. And that’s that you have no idea what most of the games are or what they’re like. And that adds a special buzz of discovery, and uncertainty, whenever you pull the visor down over your head. it does make shortlisting them for review difficult, but we had at least heard of Hover Junkers before. We didn’t know what it was, but we knew it was meant to be one of the best games for HTC Vive. Which we can confirm is absolutely true.

As it turns out Hover Junkers is a first person shooter. Which did surprise us, as we’ve spent the last couple of years quizzing developers on whether they’re possible in VR and being told that the speed they move at would be too disorientating. Although true enough Hover Junkers bears little resemblance to something like Call Of Duty. Instead, it’s based around the idea of driving a Star Wars-like sand skiff, referred to as a junker, in a post-apocalyptic world – and then shooting people from that instead.

The background to the story is something about the world running out of water, which at least explains all the sand. This results in what is basically Mad Max with hover boats, as you float around looking for scrap to claim or, preferably, steal from someone else. This in turn is used to customise your junker, creating cover points for when you get in a firefight. Which is something you have to keep doing because it’s all very easily destroyed.

You can still duck and cover on the junker by physically moving about (remember that the Vive’s big selling point is that you can move and walk around a virtual space in your living room) but you’re not running around on foot shooting people. It’s a clever trick to get around the limitations of current VR, while also taking advantage of the Vive’s unique functionality. Especially as it largely maintains the freedom of movement of a normal shooter, just in a different form.

In terms of structure and mechanics it’s the sort of thing that makes Battlefront look like Civilization, with infinite ammo and zero in the way of skill trees or level unlocks. But the beauty of VR is that such traditional concepts aren’t necessary to keep you interested, at least not in the short term. The fun of the game is in the physicality of miming your very own post-apocalyptic cowboy shoot out, as you duck beneath cover and lurch across the living room to make an impossible shot/scare the cat.

A special mention should go to the action of reloading your pistol, which you have to act out on the controller’s touchpad by circling around it to physically put in the bullets and then flicking it with your wrist to close the cylinder. That never gets old, even if reloading the shotgun can’t be mimicked quite as well.

The game’s more serious limitations become obvious very quickly, not least the fact that it’s physically tiring to be jumping and crawling around on the floor all the time. There’s also only those two guns, even if the game promises more are on the way soon. It’s also worth bearing in mind that you actually have to be a good shot to get anywhere. You’re not aiming with a joypad here but firing a gun, almost, for real. For most people that’s a new skill to learn, which is great, but it does mean that head shots and aiming at any kind of a distance are going to be all but impossible for many players.

Apart from a shooting range to practise in Hover Junkers is multiplayer-only, which is unusual so far for VR – in the sense that most other games and experiences are the exact opposite. But here you can compete with up to eight players at a time, in simple deathmatch and team deathmatch modes. Hover Junkers is not what you’d call content rich, but if you’re rich enough to actually own a Vive then you’re unlikely to be quibbling over one of its best games being a few pounds too pricey.

The graphics are pretty basic but in their simple economy are reminiscent of TimeSplitters, which will actually be a bonus for some people. We don’t really like the way your guns just hover in mid-air in front of you though, which unfortunately seems to be the default for most first person VR so far. Although we can well believe that trying to simulate a virtual body is a hideously complicated endeavour.

Everyone will have a hundred different suggestions for how Hover Junkers could be a better game (the sluggish, inflexible controls of the junkers are our pet peeve) but that doesn’t stop it from being a milestone in both first person shooters and virtual reality games. In years to come it’ll be seen more as a museum piece than an all-time classic, but that doesn’t make it any less memorable.

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