It’s not often you get to feel like you’re actually flying a starship as part of a crew, but that's exactly what Ubi’s four player VR experience achieves. Let’s skip past the practicalities of finding three friends with headsets for now, and get to the good bit: it’s the spaceship game you’ve been dreaming of.
Put on a headset (in my case a Rift, although it's coming to both PS VR and Vive) and you’re right there on the bridge with your friends - the massive central, space-filled window looming over your station; the rest of the crew sitting around you. That alone is great, recreating the sights and sounds of Star Trek beautifully, but there’s more because everyone has a job to do if you’re going to boldly go anywhere. There are four positions: Command, Helm, Tactical and Engineering, all of which have to function as a single unit to manage power, weapons, shields, flight, and more to complete missions.
In my demo that involved heading out to a distress signal to search for survivors in the wreckage of a destroyed space station. I was playing Tactical, which meant targeting and scanning for life signs as Helm guided the ship within range of various escape pods. Using Rift’s Touch controllers my (virtual) hands waved over a console where I could pick objects on the scanner to target them, press a button to raise and lower shields, or tap out phaser blasts and launch photon torpedoes.
It’s an odd experience at first: while the captain shouted out orders I initially silently carried them out before realising I needed to actually say what I was doing - this is a game about communication as much as it is pressing buttons. Once you get that then the final part of the gameplay clicks into place. ‘I’ve got survivors!’ I shouted as my console pinged back a signal, adding my chatter to the coordination between each station as we worked on our rescue.
That teamwork element really came under test when - Surprise! - the Klingons attacked. It took all of us to fight back under the captain's direction: Helm steering the ship into firing positions for me to shoot back, while Engineering managed power and teleported the survivors to safety. It is, as Spock might say, a fascinating experience: with enemy torpedo impacts making panels on the bridge pop and catch fire, while everyone shouts at each other, it’s that bit in every film or TV show ever. Except this time, you’re the one pretending to shake in the chair while the camera wobbles.
While the appeal to Trekkies is obvious, there’s some exciting potential here. It’s not the first game to try a multiplayer approach to starship combat (Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator on PC already does that) but the VR flourish really adds a whole new layer here. It’s easy to see this being the start of a whole new genre of multiplayer co-op piloting games. Obviously that’s something most people won’t be able to enjoy for years, until VR tech is cheaper and more widespread, but then isn’t sci-fi all about looking to the future?