Space may be the final frontier for man, but it’s one of the first frontiers being explored by virtual reality. Titles like Elite: Dangerous and Eve: Valkyrie are fueling a space combat renaissance, and the best way to play is sitting in a virtual cockpit, ogling the various console instruments and peering out into the great unknown between waves of fighters.
Eve: Valkyrie trades the hard sci-fi trappings of games like Star Citizen and Elite in favor of a more streamlined, arcade experience. You don’t need to constantly manage energy resources between your shields, weapons, and engine; all you need to do is point and shoot at any ship you can catch. The true skill is measured by how well you can stick to evasive enemies and dodge incoming fire.
The visceral experience of sitting in this futuristic cockpit is the biggest selling point to Valkyrie. Being able to move your head to track ships as they fly across your bow or turn aggressively brings you into the experience in a way a 2D screen cannot, and I cringe every time a blast breaks through the cockpit windows and the cold ice of space takes over my vessel. The potential for a defining VR experience is here, which is why the extreme lack of compelling content is such a shame.
In Valkyrie you play the clone of an ace pilot, experiencing deaths countless time but remembering your previous failures so you can presumably learn from those mistakes. Few details are given as to who you are fighting for and what is at stake, but the setup is intriguing. Rather than continue to build on this narrative kernel from the opening sequence, CCP offers a handful of wave-based combat scenarios and a scouting mode where you can fly through the small number of environments to locate backstory “echoes” and some salvage for ship upgrades. The environments used for both are pretty to look at, but largely stagnant; you can’t even shoot the debris floating through space. The lack of more scripted mission sequences is a major wasted opportunity. I hardly expected a game in 2016 to have less compelling content than decades-old space-combat forefathers like X-Wing and Wing Commander.
Instead, Valkyrie places the majority of its chips on a multiplayer bet. Dogfighting is undeniably alluring, but the design choices the team made feel ripped straight out of a first-person shooter. Your mode options are 8v8 team deathmatches and a thematically strange conquest mode. A long progression eventually allows you to unlock a couple other ship types and cosmetic customizations, but even with different ships at your disposal, the battles lack dynamism, and my interest in continuing the progression unlock stream subsided.
Another problem facing Valkyrie is one completely out of CCP’s hands: low player population. Given the extremely short supply of Rifts out in the wild, most of your battles are fought against bots rather than real people. This problem should be alleviated when Oculus ramps up production, but by then, will anyone be around given the limited content?
Based on early demos, Eve: Valkyrie seemed to be one of the brightest beacons for virtual reality gaming. That potential clearly exists in the final version, but woefully underdeveloped single-player and multiplayer offerings ultimately suck the air out of the cockpit.
The Rift brings this space combat game to life, but is that enough?