Space Junkies

FPS games and VR sounds like a match made in heaven, but few titles have managed to make it work. Farpoint has wonderful aiming controls with the aim controller, but movement is slow and plodding. Starblood Arena has fantastic presentation and movement, but lackluster shooting. Now it’s Ubisoft’s turn to take their shot. Sadly, Space Junkies fails to be the breakout title that FPS and VR fans are waiting for.

Space Junkies in an immersive online multiplayer VR FPS game for PC and PS4. You use your jetpack to dive and ascend to out-maneuver your enemies on multiple beautiful maps. There are multiple game modes like free-for-all deatchmatch, team deatchmatch, and king. That last one is like king of the hill but is instead focused around a crown that your character can carry. First team to hold it for 100 seconds claims the victory. It’s your typical multiplayer shooter fare.  It’s a basic, yet fun formula that’s hamstrung by PSVR.

Two Controllers Are Better Than One

You know all those control options you have with PSVR? Throw that all out the window, all you get is a DualShock 4. To be fair, Space Junkies doesn’t lend itself well to any PSVR control scheme. But having both hands mapped to one controller puts you at a distinct disadvantage. Anybody playing the game on PC has one controller per hand which would make aiming markedly easier. It’s not quite the advantage that PC players have with keyboard and mouse, but there’s a clear disparity between platforms.

Even though you’re at a huge disadvantage to the competition, I don’t hate the controls. They’re a little clunky, but Ubisoft did the best they could with what PSVR has to offer. Holding your DualShock a couple feet in front of you to aim your gun is extremely unintuitive. However, the movement using the sticks on the controller is just as solid as you would expect from any shooter. The controls would be serviceable if you were just shooting targets in the tutorial, or enemies with dumb as rocks AI. You’re able to turn off cross-platform play, but you’re not able to play. Or at least I was never able to. Even on the day Space Junkies launched I was unable to find any PS4 players. This was at peak play times from 6 PM to 9 PM.

The biggest problem with having both hands mapped to one controller is the inability to effectively dual wield. I love all the guns in this game—except for maybe the pistol. You can still fire two guns simultaneously, but you can’t aim each hand independently. If you’re getting ganged up on by the opposing team on PC you could theoretically point one gun right and one left to take out both of them. With PSVR you need to aim right with both then left with both. By then you’ll most likely be dead.

Space Junkies
Ubisoft Montpellier

We Aren’t Quite There Yet

The biggest issue I have with the controls is the lack of a button or option to recalibrate the controller. After a little while the game will start to see your controller as being slightly tilted to one side. You don’t even need to play for hours to see this issue as I’ve had it come up on my first or second match of my play sessions. I believe this is due to PSVR’s notoriously shoddy tracking, but an option to recalibrate the controller should become a standard. Just to clarify, you can re-center the screen by holding the options button, but it will not fix the tracking of the DualShock.

The controls may not be the best I’ve experienced in VR, but I loved the visuals. Most of the guns look playful and fit well into the goofy world of Space Junkies. The character models are fantastic and the other-worldly environments pop with bright colors. It all looks good in still photos. Where it starts to get a bit raggedy is in the animations. They’re shaky, awkward, and make the great models look bad. When you’re at a distance from your opponents it’s not as big of an issue. But when it zooms in after you get killed or at the end of a match you would be best to close your eyes. I would advise you look away, but that won’t do you much good when you’re strapped into a VR headset.

Space Junkies
Ubisoft Montpellier

The VR Future I Imagined

Despite the wonky controls and lack of competition on PS4 there’s still something about Space Junkies that reminds me of the VR future portrayed in TV and film. All you need to do is slap that VR headset on, rev up your PS4 and you’re off to the races. There’s still just something magical about being fully immersed in a VR game. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t pull any punches with my opinion of VR games. Few VR titles give me this feeling. Even though the controls aren’t perfect, they’re still good enough to keep you anchored in that world.

The lobbies were also surprisingly fun. There are beach balls you can shoot through hoops as a warm up for the actual game. You can practice your aim on your opponents (or teammates) as you wait. Most of all, the ability to openly chat with everyone—a maximum of four players—in the lobby is a wonderful thing. I know most people in online games love to spout curses and racial slurs, but everyone I encountered in this game was incredibly friendly. Of course, everyone won’t have the same experience. However, just having the ability to shoot the breeze about the new PC build your opponent just did to run their Oculus Rift is a part of what makes voice chat in this game so special.

Prepare to Be Immersed

When I play Space Junkies, I feel like I enter a different world. The look, the feel, the sound all melds together to create a wholly immersive experience. Even though I’m still using a DualShock joystick to fly around, it feels natural. It’s like how I imagine one would control a jetpack. The speed at which you move feels good, but the turning needs some work. When you tap the right stick left or right it turns your character at a 45-degree angle. This is another disadvantage PSVR players have compared to PC players, but even worse it lessens the immersion. I understand why they do this angle turning in VR games, but it just makes the gameplay feel choppy and unnatural.

Even though that one unfortunate feature exists, the sum of this game’s parts makes it an immersive VR title. This is most clearly seen in the outstanding audio design. Space Junkies uses binaural audio recording for a ridiculously immersive aural experience. Let’s take a quick aside for those unfamiliar with binaural audio. It’s a recording technique that uses two microphones placed in a manner to simulate human ears. The result is stunning and creates some of the most life-like audio you’ll ever hear. Back to it now. This binaural audio not only gives you the sensation of being close to far from an opponent, it gives you the sensation of where the sound is coming from. This is incredibly helpful for finding your opponents, but also for fully immersing yourself into Space Junkies.

Space Junkies
Ubisoft Montpellier

Space Junkies: The Verdict

PSVR has a long way to go. I can’t blame Ubisoft for the faults of Sony. Despite the flaws from PSVR and Ubisoft not accounting for them, Space Junkies is still fun. It isn’t anywhere close to being a VR seller, but it’s a well-made game. The ability of this Space Junkies to immerse you in a fantasy space world is impressive. Even though a few issues with the animations stand out, they’re short enough to not ruin the immersion. Overall it’s worth trying out if you’re into FPS games on PSVR.

Remember to check out more of our reviews over on OpenCritic.

THE GOOD
Wildly immersive
Fantastic audio
Great visuals
Smooth controls
THE BAD
Limiting controls
Choppy animations
7
Good

Review Summary

Space Junkies is a special game, but it won’t blow you away. It’s just a solid VR game that’s fun to play.

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