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Impressive mixed-reality laser tag game may be VR’s new ace in the hole

It’s an early December afternoon in Stockholm, Sweden, where I’m sitting in a fancy office suite eating falafel amid a small group of journalists and VR content creators. This is my third day in the office-lined Norrmalm district of Stockholm, just a stone’s throw away from scenic Old Town, where approximately 200 game developers from all over the world commute each morning to work in Resolution Games’ labyrinthine three-story studio. It’s shockingly easy to get lost here amidst the chaos and excitement surrounding each of Resolution’s various virtual reality projects, but the atmosphere is so warm that you’d be unsurprised to discover the studio contains two rooms specifically designated “nap rooms” in accordance with Swedish law.

Unfortunately for me, I don’t get much time to nap — at all, actually, given the extreme jetlag one experiences when traveling from Portland, Oregon, all the way to the snowy Nordic realm of Sweden. But that’s okay because I’m wired from my own excitement in anticipation of one thing: a unique mixed-reality arena shooter called Spatial Ops, which I and 10 others would finally get to test against one another only a few moments later. The VR game, which is out today, may very well be the tech’s next big hit, showing the true potential of mixed-reality gameplay.

Parallel space

If you’re unfamiliar with Resolution Games, the studio is best known for creating highly original and somewhat quirky VR games like Demeo and Blaston, the former of which is arguably VR’s most faithful recreation of Dungeons & Dragons, simulating everything from the tabletop experience (allowing you to share a simulated space with up to four players across several platforms, in and out of virtual reality) to the miniatures on the board, which you can pick up and place by hand, giving them a lifelike feel. Meanwhile, Blaston is a physically active shoot-’em-up where you face off against exactly one other player in a duel, but the twist here is that each gun shoots very slowly and you have to outsmart your opponent by blocking off their ability to evade your bullets while they try to do the same thing to you.

A Screenshot of Special Ops gameplay.

By comparison, Spatial Ops is basically laser tag in VR, superimposing a partial virtual world onto the real one. The two hours I spent in it left me feeling impressed and reinvigorated in my excitement for competitive mixed-reality gaming, but not completely blown away as I’d initially hoped. At its core, Spatial Ops is an arena shooter like Halo or Call of Duty, but you play it within the Quest 2 or Quest Pro headset using motion controls instead of remotely controlling an avatar behind a screen via a traditional controller. Its initial modes include Team Deathmatch, Domination, and Free-for-All, though I also tried a Capture the Flag mode which worked surprisingly well though it doesn’t seem like it’s coming just yet.

Many VR games, especially action shooters like Half-Life: Alyx, are built around the premise of making you feel like an action hero. They mostly do a pretty good job of tricking you by giving you physical interactions involving your head and hands, but there’s only so much you can do there. The problem with the “action hero” premise in VR is how difficult it is to convey that feeling of full-body engagement when you’re limited to running around in a game’s world by holding down a thumbstick.

To its benefit, Spatial Ops literally requires you to use your entire body to be effective. It’s way more intense than your average Halo session, but it also feels a lot like pantomiming Die Hard with your friends as a teenager, and those positive endorphins — the ones usually associated with playing a team sport — are what really make it stand out.

It’s basically laser tag in VR

Spatial Ops works like this: Individual game assets simulating physical geometry in the way of barriers, boxes, and spawn points are placed over the physical world, mixing VR gameplay with real-life movement. Each team is granted opposite respawn zones where you run back to respawn each time you die, but as you venture outward toward the enemy team’s side, you’ll quickly find the map is liberally peppered with weapon spawners that shell out guns and grenades — each of which feels punchy to use. You hold Spatial Ops’ various weapons in your virtual hands, but since everything is superimposed onto the real world, it almost looks like you’re holding a cartoon weapon in your actual, physical hands.

You can judge the quality of a shooter by its shotgun, and Spatial Ops’ shotgun passes that test. It requires me to pump it after each round while packing a ton of damage in each shot, often forcing an enemy player to physically walk back to their team’s spawn point after I landed a headshot on their avatar.

Spatial Ops gameplay

Likewise, grenades and pistols are versatile, allowing me to tactically coordinate precise headshots and use grenades to force others out of cover. I was pleasantly surprised at how accurately-tracked each headset was to everyone playing in real time. My own movements also felt perfectly in sync with my avatar’s, making it feasible to powerslide, drop to my knees, crouch, and even military crawl across the floor in a vie to get the slickest trick shots and rack up as many kills as I could. I wasn’t always successful, and I did end up nearly running face-first into my teammates more than once, though Spatial Ops cleverly highlights where every player is with a clearly marked indicator, potentially minimizing any mishaps that could occur.

Simulating a full-blown standoff might be one of the coolest uses of the Meta Quest 2 I’ve seen thus far – though it’s probably not all that practical for the average Quest 2 owner, who may not have the physical space to play Spatial Ops at home. Luckily, Resolution provided us with an open space that stretched at least two lengths of 5×5, making for one of the coolest battles I’ve ever fought in virtual reality. Much like Space Pirate Arena before it, Spatial Ops is at its best when it pits real players against one another in a local physical space, but if you don’t have anyone to play with, it can fully simulate up to seven other players.

At least for those who have the space to play it, Spatial Ops will almost certainly be a cornerstone action game that moves the envelope forward in what can be expected from mixed-reality gaming. And given that it’s officially open to the public, it may possibly be the best launch title for the Quest 2’s mixed-reality mode.

Spatial Ops is out now on Meta Quest 2 and Meta Quest Pro.

Disclosure: Digital Trends was flown to Stockholm, Sweden to preview Spatial Ops, with travel accommodations covered by Resolution Games. This did not influence our coverage of the game.

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