If you’ve tried a first-person VR game, you’ve probably already had that smile-lifting, goosebump-inducing moment of looking down at your digitally-rendered body, rebuilt as someone else. Maybe it was as the Dark Knight in Batman Arkham VR, or as a lightsaber-wielding Jedi apprentice in Star Wars: Trials on Tatooine.
In case you were worried that those awe-inspiring moments were running dry, or that the digitally-embodied appeal would wear off, rest assured that’s not the case. Or at least if Oculus Rift exclusive Marvel Powers United VR is anything to go by.
Because (if you’re a self-respecting comic book fan) you haven’t lived unless you’ve looked down at your incredibly green, incredibly strong, incredibly incredible Hulk hands and ‘Hulk-smashed’ an intergalactic bad guy into oblivion.
Due out in 2018, Marvel Powers United VR lets you (through the power of virtual reality) become your favorite Marvel heroes. From Deadpool to Captain Marvel to the Inhumans, you’ll take on waves of alien Kree enemies in multiplayer arenas or a single-player story mode, facing off climatically against big-bad villains like Loki and Ronan the Accuser for the finale.
Co-op punch up
I got to try out a four-player co-op throw down, taking on the roles of the Incredible Hulk, trash-talking Rocket Racoon and the mighty Thor.
It’s a colorful, breezy experience, and one that does a great job of making you feel like you’ve become the famous comic book characters. The sense of scale shows the game (and VR) at its best – as the Hulk you’ll tower over both enemies and teammates, while as Rocket Racoon you’ll be a pint-sized player, darting around the feet of alien baddies before jetpacking up into the sky for a bird’s-eye view.
It’s a sense of immersion you just can’t get with any other form of gameplay – at first I thought there was a graphical glitch in my headset until I realised I was staring down Rocket's snout! But some fine-tuning is needed from the devs before the release of the final game to keep my VR head from drifting away from my digital shoulders between loading screens.
The multiplayer match I tried was a survival-type bout, with a Stark industries reactor that needed to be defended and topped up with power through an attack from the Kree, Loki and Ronan.
It’s not only size that differs between the characters that you play as, but the way you can use their individual skills to your advantage. Hulk, as you’d imagine, is a bruiser, letting you pummel foes, pick them up and throw them into the sky and cause an Earth-quaking crack to appear if you smash your Oculus Touch-equipped hands into the ground. You can also teleport-leap into baddies to daze them.
It’s empowering stuff – I’m not short at just shy of six foot, but I am beanpole thin, so to have the bulk of the Hulk was good fun. It was frustrating however to find his grab-and-throw mechanic limited to just head grabs, leaving me flailing pointlessly for enemy appendages that’d make for more natural targets in the real world.
Rocket Raccoon plays totally differently, being more reliant on ranged aerial attacks and his small stature making enemies that bit more intimidating. You'll jetpack up over foes, using dual blasters (holstered at your hips ready to be grabbed), taking pop shots with pistols and wide-spread rifles. There’s also a precision-charged sniper rifle hanging over your shoulders to be grabbed too.
Thor plays as somewhere between the two of them, and was the least satisfying of the three, if only by virtue of not having the novelty of the size extremes to revel in. He’s also a bit of a brawler, but throwing his hammer was too imprecise to be enjoyable.
Visually it’s a lovely realisation of both the characters and Marvel world, leaning more towards the comic book looks than the Hollywood blockbusters. From the sci-fi lobby that preceded each match to the otherworldly gladiatorial arena of the matches themselves, there are Easter eggs everywhere, and oodles of cartoon charm.
There are some creases that need ironing out though. When powerful boss characters like Loki appear, they can easily be felled just by getting in close with a big character and wildly swinging your arms around. A little more incentive for refined technique (even if it was just a reward for throwing an uppercut, for instance) would go a long way.
Likewise the locomotion, tied to control stick pushes and teleporting jumps, won’t be for everyone. Greater support for room-scale walking would be appreciated before the final release. That said, despite the chaotic movements and variation between characters, I never felt remotely queasy in what was close to an hour’s worth of solid play.
It’s the variation between the heroes that will prove to be Marvel Powers United’s strongest selling point, letting you live out a wish fulfillment that anyone who has thumbed the pages of a Marvel comic has longed for.
Whether there will be enough depth to the single player game to carry the experience, or enough Oculus-headset-equipped players to bring life to the multiplayer modes, remains to be seen. But for putting you in the middle of the BIFF! POW! WALLOP! pages of a comic book brawl, it’s looking hard to beat.