Rigs Mechanized Combat League review
We've been here before. A new piece of exciting PlayStation hardware that promises a taste of what's to come, pushed by a winningly stylish future sports game developed by a talented UK studio. Rigs might be an all-new IP, but there's plenty about this PlayStation VR exclusive that's familiar.
This is a much more sedate affair than the dearly departed WipEout, as any poster child for the potentially woozy world of virtual reality needs to be. A three-on-three mech-fuelled sports and shooter hybrid that spills out across colourful arenas, its basic premise comes to life through no end of style. It's a spin on Speedball that's seemingly been given a makeover by The Designers Republic, all colourful optimism, clean concrete and impossibly large advertising hoardings.
Rigs' aesthetic really works. The set dressing here is exquisite and worn brilliantly well, seeping into every crevice of the experience. You ally yourself to a team - and again the graphic designers deserve credit for logos so beautiful I'd happily wear merchandise for my chosen team, the Grizzlies - and can take to offline matches that see you work your way up through leagues, recruiting new and better teammates as you go. Sponsors can be picked so you can plaster your overalls with their emblems, unlocked by attaining set objectives that can then open up new items with which to customise your avatar.
Speedball's the obvious comparison again, though Rigs goes to greater efforts to sell you on its fiction. It's in the periphery that this excels: the crowd counting down the final five seconds of each half in shouted excitement, or the post-match cutscene that takes place aboard a plane, your teammates sitting either dejected or elated by your side while a holographic readout highlights the player of the match. It's a great VR moment, a neat little observation that does so much to immerse you in Rigs' world. Lean across and look out the window and you can see the clouds skimming beneath the plane's wing. You're really there at that point, a superstar sportsperson enjoying a mundane moment aboard a private jet.
The pageantry of Rigs is exceptional; the fireworks that burst from every stadium, the process of being lifted up into each arena and seeing the crowds lined up in noisy anticipation. The sport itself? It's okay, a perfectly serviceable blend of sport and shooting that doesn't quite play to the magic of VR in the way some of the medium's best games aspire to. It understands the pitfalls perfectly well, though.
A laborious, overly long tutorial that introduces the basics of first-person movement suggests Guerrilla Cambridge is extremely cautious about its VR concoction. It needn't be, really; the slow and deliberate movement of the mechs, combined with a smart and very well implemented solution to the problems of first-person VR games that has you moving your head to aim and change direction ensures that, after a small period of acclimatisation, Rigs is relatively comfortable. Some of its more spectacular moments - the stomach-turning rush as you're ejected, affording you an aerial view of the map before you respawn in - are optional, which also helps take the edge off for VR newcomers.
When you're in, Rigs is extremely simple. There are three basic modes: a team deathmatch that's self-explanatory; Endzone, in which you must transport a ball through goals on opposing ends of the arena; and finally Powerslam, in which you must power up your mech by taking down opponents or collecting orbs and then guide your mech through a hoop at the centre of the map. All the time you're juggling three power modes for your mech - attack, defence and speed, effectively - while the four arenas available do a good job of adding some variety, offering four very distinct spaces. There's no escaping the fact, though, that this is a very basic game.
If the base offering is slim, there's at least the promise of depth in Rigs' line-up of mechs. There's a real variety on show here, from Mirages that double jump to great heights, Hunters that sneak through passageways on Rigs' maps to Sentinels that can hover menacingly in the air. Passive abilities also sit beyond the different classes, from Vampires that absorb power upon defeating other mechs to suits that explode upon being taken down for a little collateral damage. For all that variety there's not much in the way of personality, especially if you've been spoilt recently by the likes of Overwatch. For all the effort that's been put into providing different flavours of mechs, Rigs seems reluctant to do much with it, as team composition is a frustratingly blind affair when it comes to online multiplayer games.
The paucity of what's on offer with Rigs, as well as some of its minor niggles, could be easily remedied over time and a handful of updates, and they shouldn't obscure what Guerrilla Cambridge has achieved here. The sturdy, enjoyable and stylish skirmishes that Rigs hosts are proof positive that a traditional multiplayer first-person game can work in VR. If that's what you're after then Rigs handles its brief with aplomb, though it's not the most exciting use of this strange new medium that you'll find at PlayStation VR's launch.