The first “virtual reality esport” is a likely holy grail that must be keeping a lot of VR game developers up at night these days. The emergence of viable consumer-grade VR and the surging popularity of competitive games like Rocket League and Dota 2 have been two of the dominant events shaping gaming for the last several years. Their intersection seems like it would be a golden goose. Rigs: Mechanized Combat League, developed by Sony’s team, Guerilla Cambridge, for PlayStation VR, comes closer to achieving that goal than any game we’ve seen yet.
Rigs, which is blessedly not a forced acronym, is an arena-based sport where two teams of three people, piloting giant mechs (called “rigs”) compete to accumulate points in various ways over quick, five minute matches. There are four general classes of rig, differentiated by size, speed, durability, and weaponry. In turn each class has specific, unlockable variants that come with different weapon loadouts and special abilities.
There are three types of play: “Team Takedown” is a straightforward deathmatch-style game, with teams competing to score points by taking out their opponents. “Endzone” involves a virtual ball, which teams fight to control and bring through the opposition’s goal posts for points. Finally, “Power Slam,” the game’s signature mode, where players are trying to get into Overdrive mode through taking out opponents or collecting power-ups from the field, and then leap through a ring in the center of the arena to score points. The arenas, set in cities around the world, are laced with ramps, tunnels, and platforms that allow for strategic variety and different ways for teams to control space, both horizontal and vertical.
Gameplay is fast, fun, and easy to understand, but also has a high threshold for mastery. The three main modes can be played online, or offline with AI teammates in a sports game-style season for in-game currency rewards. There are also solo skill challenges. Sponsorship deals with fictional companies act as a sort of achievement system, wherein you can have one online and one offline sponsorship at any given moment, giving you rewards for completing particular challenges, such as hitting a certain number of takedowns or assists in a given match. All of these modes reward you with currency for buying new Rigs and customization options for your pilot’s appearance and celebratory gesture.
The whole shebang
This diverse range of gameplay types, both on- and offline, tied together with an in-game economy and progression system, makes Rigs one of the most fully-realized games currently available on any VR platform, with most of the games out there still feeling largely like tech demos or proofs of concept. Crucially, the added variable of other players promises to extend the life of Rigs far beyond many of its peers. While single-player games generally have a more linear relationship between the amount of content and how much play there is to be found, a multiplayer sport allows the developers to hone in on refining its core mechanics and systems, trusting the emergent chaos of the game itself to keep players interested.
Gameplay is fast, fun, and easy to understand, but with a high threshold for mastery.
Supporting its fun, core gameplay, the overall presentation is also top-notch. While Rigs suffers from a general degree of pixelation that plague many PSVR games – this may change for players who pair their PlayStation VR with the upcoming PS4 Pro console, which launches next month — the underlying design is slick. The graphics are bright, well-designed, and inviting. The crisp sound design greatly assists immersion, and your pit chief is well-voiced as a guide for the whole game.
Rigs admirably makes more concessions for comfort than most other virtual reality games, an accommodation that will go a long way to help players with little to no VR experience avoid nausea and discomfort. While aiming your weapons is always accomplished by turning your head and looking — a strict improvement over using a thumbstick — but players have the option to turn the robot also with their head, or to have it more conventionally controlled by the right stick. We found the latter to be more comfortable: We found the head-controlled turning made us uncomfortable much more quickly.
The game also narrows the player’s field of view slightly while turning by default as peripheral movement can, apparently, be a source of nausea for many players in VR. When players are knocked out, they are ejected high above the arena before respawning. The game allows a range of options for masking none to all of this process, taking height discomfort into account.
These restrictions can be tweaked to preference, and the game recommends that players increase their peripheral view over time. With VR discomfort so particular to every individual, and liable to change over time as they get acclimated, having a suite of comfort options is an excellent concession for which more developers should strive.Our Take
Rigs is a lot of fun. Guerrilla Cambridge has created a slick and thorough package that feels more fully-realized than nearly any other PSVR game we’ve played so far. As with other competitive games like Rocket League or Overwatch, Rigs is best played with friends. If a substantial enough community develops, it could even help convince competitive players to take a closer at PlayStation VR.
Is there a better alternative?
There are plenty of solid, competitive online games these days, but nothing that we’ve seen comes close to this level of polish for VR, especially on PS4.
How long will it last?
Given that online games live and die by the strength of their communities, it’s hard to say whether Rigs will catch on for the long haul, but it definitely has the potential to be one of the platform’s go-to game for quite some time.
Should you buy it?
Yes, as one of the most complete games available for them platform, we heartily recommend Rigs for anyone with a PlayStation VR looking for something quick, competitive, and very replayable.