App Lab Roundup: Spacedust, Guns and Cacti
Each week we will be taking a look at some of the upcoming videogames, demos and unique experiences available through Oculus App Lab for the Meta Quest headsets. Many of these videogames come in varying states of completion, so each title is subject to change.
This week we’re crossing the cosmos, blasting hundreds of bullets and playing at cacti in wartime.
Star Stuff: A Way for the Universe to Know Itself
Yes, I know, the title is quite a mouthful. Now, I’ve played a lot of meditative titles on the Quest recently. The ability to transcend our reality to find a crumb of serotonin is appealing to most, but aside from TRIPP’s Quest app, many of the so-called ‘calming’ experiences do little more than place you in a static environment and pipe in some free YouTube soothing music.
Star Stuff opens with a quote from Carl Sagan, focusing on our place in the universe. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I think of my place in the grand scheme of things, I feel pretty insignificant. All of this wonderful and mysterious energy pulsing around us can have a calming effect, however. Precisely because it’s all so much bigger than us. So when Star Stuff plonked me into a starfield from the Milky Way and began to play soulful music, I actually felt calmer.
Then I realised what the app actually wants you to do. Because I was sitting down, I didn’t realise it at first, but hundreds of stars, moons, and small planets, were leaking from where my body was positioned. I ran my hand through the particles, watched as they flew out and away from me, drifted and danced. Before I knew it, ten minutes had passed and I was waving my arms like a born again spiritualist. Did I feel more at peace? I actually did. Will I ‘play’ it again? Maybe, I’ll definitely recommend that people take a few minutes and experience it.
As with the previous entry in this roundup, there are lots of games and apps which achieve what’s done here; in this instance, allow you to shoot a variety of weapons. Now, there’s not a great amount of guns here; some pistols, a shotgun and an assault rifle, but gosh, the animations and models are just fantastic.
I think what GUNSdemo did, which made me take notice, is make everything feel like it has weight and heft. The Assault Rifle feels large and slightly cumbersome, it kicks back with every bullet fired, the sharp metallic sound of dropping and reloading a magazine feels slick. The pistols have a great animation when using the off-hand to pull back the slide before firing, similarly to the shotgun which reloads by pulling back the slide as an empty shell flies out.
The area in which you test these guns is limited currently; a type of old farm with a few targets, but hopefully, the developer expands this over time. There’s so much attention to detail that it can’t be ignored. For example, many games I’ve played in VR which allow you to look down a rifle scope make it too clunky, or the image in the sight is muddy. Here however it’s beautifully crisp and seems to compensate for the motion controls, meaning shooting isn’t a chore. I only hope this stretches out into a full game release or is buffed with more guns, targets and environments.
Cactus Cowboy – Plants At War
Plants at War opens with a skit of a kid (cactus) being asked by his grandpa (cactus) “are ya winning son?” In true meme fashion. It cracks a wry smile, the kid (cactus) is annoyed the latest shooter isn’t available in VR, which spins into a story about how grandpa (cactus) fought in ‘the war’ and we take his role. After a short cutscene and tutorial, we’re thrown into a D-Day style beach landing, where worm-like bugs are attempting to wipe out the cacti people.
As the boat approaches the beach, the credits roll through the sky above and the developers suggest Plants at War is “a game of questionable quality”, a bit of a misdirect, because the game is actually remarkably good. What might stymie the game however is its timing; many of the accents are Eastern European, the visuals within the cutscene feel eerily close to current conflicts, which is life repeating itself. At points I felt a little uncomfortable with the action, despite the brilliant gun handling, animations and the scale of the world created.
Of course, any game depicting war will feel awkward in the current political climate. Cactus Cowboy – Plants At War tries to make itself as silly as possible, which goes some way to easing that concern. Underneath all the jokes and oddball moments is a very solid shooter which relies on the kinds of gunplay seen in the aforementioned GUNSdemo; everything feels like it has purpose and the mechanics of each gun makes for seriously involved play.
Loading and cocking a gun feels, for lack of a better fitting word, ‘cool’. Like, ‘Matrix in 1999 cool.’ The difficulty spikes (cactus pun) a little unfairly at times and there were moments I found myself wandering around a battlefield unsure how to interact with things like mortars, but when the game is a simple ‘run and gun’ shooter, it’s bags of fun.