Virtual reality has the potential to make some game types better: storytelling can be more immersive, the jump scares of horror can be more frightening. However, fast-paced first-person games in VR have generally only succeeded at making me feel nauseated. But the PlayStation VR-exclusive RIGS Mechanized Combat League proves even that genre can work in the confines of a headset. RIGS has serious flaws in execution, but it nails the fundamentals of movement in VR in a way no other game I’ve experienced has.
At its core, RIGS is a first-person shooter where you pilot a robotic mech through sprawling, multi-tiered arenas across three primary modes: Team Takedown (team deathmatch), Endzone (a capture-the-flag-meets-American-football variant), and Power Slam (the game’s unique and most interesting mode). In Power Slam, you destroy opponents or collect orbs scattered around each arena to enter a powered-up Overdrive mode, after which you can jump through a large ring in the center of the map to score points for your team. The concept sounds complicated and weird, though the deathmatch-meets-basketball mashup is genuinely fun.
But the number of camera and comfort options are what truly make racing across the game’s maps and leaping through the air to score aerial takedowns feel so natural. When you turn and look around, the field of view around you, but without diminishing your peripheral view too drastically. When you get ejected from your rig, you can enjoy the flight up in the air where you’ll choose your next respawn point, or just let the game momentarily black out the background while you soar upwards. And the ability to use your head to move around and aim, while disconcerting at first, is what makes the entire VR experience come together. You can always opt for a more traditional twin-stick controller setup, but the responsiveness of the game’s head-tracking allows for almost mouse and keyboard-like precision (and the fairly generous aim-assist helps too).
There’s both a single-player and multiplayer campaign, and both are built around completing a set number of matches to complete a “season.” The overall rank you earn–designated by the number of new fans you acquire after each match–carries across both online and off. And through increasing your rank, you can hire stronger AI teammates (though they also demand more of the reward pot for each match). But the matches too frequently felt lopsided. I faced computer opponents who sometimes offered an exciting challenge, while others either completely crushed my team or fell to double-digit losses. But the pace of the matches are perfect–an endless, unpausing march of the game’s clock that gets you in and out of the action in 10 minutes.
When you can find a match, the game really shines mode. It’s more fun to play against human opponents than the game’s inconsistent AI, you can actively coordinate with your real-life teammates, and, you can swap out your RIG in-between matches (in the offline mode, you have to back out to the game’s garage to change your RIG). And, outside of sometimes seeing a delay between the start of a match and my teammates appearing, there’s no noticeable lag or similar technical issues when playing online. However, actually getting into a match can be an insurmountable chore; I haven’t been able to start a full 3v3 match on any mode except Team Takedown since the game’s launch. The wait might not be so bad if there was something to do while you waited, but there’s nothing to do on the loading screen except look around the main menu hub–and that oppressive wait is compounded by the fact that you’re isolated inside a VR headset. It’s funny that the part of RIGS that forces you to take a break with the headset off isn’t the intensity of combat, it’s the boringness of the loading screen.
RIGSs combat is about quick matches and intense shootouts, but lots of little additions continually drag down that sense of speed. Each match starts with the same laborious screen where you and your teammates get loaded into your mech, and every single time after you finish a match, you’re forced to watch a completely pointless dance animation from the MVP of the match. Every. Single. Time. Regardless of whether it’s you, a teammate, or the opposition, you can’t skip it, and it just gets more and more irksome when you’re itching to jump into another match.
And RIGS shows that same lack of urgency in the way you unlock the game’s mechs. RIGS seems to keep things simple by giving you four core models to choose from: the small and agile Hunter, the airborne Tempest, the tank-like Sentinel, and the balanced Mirage. But then for each mech type, there is another subset of classes, each with a separate perk–like leaving leaving a martyr-like bomb behind when your RIG explodes or regaining health for taking down enemies. Then on top of the perks, the weapon loadout for each mech is different and locked to that specific mech.
Outside of the first mech you earn, you have to purchase each additional one with in-game funds. You earn funds pretty quickly both online and off–every few matches you earn enough to buy another mech–but it’s a tedious system that makes nailing down which mech combination is right for you unnecessarily complicated. And it also makes figuring out exactly how weapons work more of a chore, since there is such a wide assortment of different armaments; after purchasing a new mech, you have to go into a separate training room to test it out. As a game that focuses on online competition, it just doesn’t make sense all of the various mech types, abilities, and weapons aren’t available from the beginning.
The game’s upgrades are equally ill-conceived. From the home menu, you can select “sponsorships” that task you with things like “complete five melee takedowns” or “earn MVP twice” and reward you with cosmetic upgrades like visors, uniforms, and helmets. But the rewards are only for your pilot, not your mech. And you can only choose two sponsorships at a time, one for your online campaign and one for offline; after completing a sponsorship, if you want to swap it out (and thus get a new reward), you have to back out to the main hub and cycle through another menu. You still earn lesser rewards for meeting the stipulations of the sponsorship a second time, but you only earn the bigger cosmetic one once. On top of that, you don’t get a preview of the cosmetic rewards you can earn–basically, you don’t know what you’re working towards (beyond “new visor” or “new suit”) until you earn it.
The groundwork is here for an amazing first-person experience in VR. RIGS controls are top-notch, and aside from the grating, repetitive announcers, the arenas are colorful places that I love competing in. But the smaller details that RIGS stumbles over make it hard to justify continuing after completing an initial season. RIGS is a great showcase for how to make a VR shooter, but it’s also a game that could learn from the “less is more” mantra.