Marvel Powers United VR wants to capture a very specific fantasy: To enable players to feel like superheroes. And although the limitations of virtual reality's current state as a medium will always hold it back, there's fun to be had in Marvel Powers United.
Marvel Powers United VR is a co-op multiplayer action game exclusive to Oculus Rift. Up to four players take control of Marvel heroes and battle enemies with their various powers. Disney unveiled the game during its D23 expo last weekend with three playable characters--Hulk, Captain Marvel, and Rocket Raccoon--saving the reveal of a fourth, Deadpool, for this week's San Diego Comic-Con. GameSpot went hands-on with the game over the weekend and tested out a couple of the characters.
Playing as Hulk, your size is evident--you tower above enemies and other players alike. You can leap across the battlefield with the press of a button and smash your hands together in the air or downward to unleash powerful attacks. Or you can just grab enemies and throw them, or hurl exploding crates around the room.
Captain Marvel feels totally different. She can glide through the air, letting you get a better angle on enemies, and her hand lasers can be fired in short bursts or charged up for more powerful shots. She also has a shield on each hand that charges over time, or more quickly if they absorb enemy fire, and spews powerful focused laser beams.
The final game will have over a dozen characters, and if they all play as differently as these, there will be plenty of variety in the full experience.
As an Oculus Rift exclusive, Marvel Powers United VR was built from the ground up for virtual reality by Sanzaru Games, a studio with experience working on both traditional games (the Sonic Boom and Sly Cooper series) and VR titles (VR Sports Challenge and Ripcoil).
If you've played many virtual reality games, you're probably aware of the limitations inherent to the technology, some of which are evident in Marvel Powers United VR. For example, movement can seem slow, especially when you're "flying" with characters like Captain Marvel; what you're really doing is simply hovering stationary above the ground, which isn't nearly as cool.
But virtual reality also has its strengths. Using the Oculus Touch controllers, the novelty of looking down and seeing your virtual hands can't be overstated. The Touch controllers' unique sensors can detect index finger and thumb movements as well as large gestures, so you can point at teammates or give them a thumbs up (the middle finger isn't tracked individually, unfortunately). When you're doing this with the Hulk's gargantuan green fists, it's even more fun.
There's a hub area where you hang out in character between levels, and although we weren't able to move around in the D23 demo, the game's creative director, Sanzaru's Mat Kraemer, told GameSpot you can in the full game. It's there that the game's many unlockables, collectible items, and tchotchkes from the Marvel universe will be displayed, and Kraemer said it will be fun simply to walk around the space and explore your collection.
The mission they showed us involved a series of escalating encounters set in a linear environment inside the location known as Knowhere, from the Guardians of the Galaxy corner of the universe. As a team of four we battled from room to room before confronting Ronan the Accuser, the villain from the first Guardians movie, in a final boss fight. The whole thing felt too easy, although Kraemer said the difficulty had been cranked way down for the demo. Even so, it was fun to leap or hover around tossing, punching, shooting, and blasting wave after wave of cannon-fodder enemies. And Kraemer said there will be other game modes.
"You can expect a ton of different locations, tons of different modes of play," he said. "This is a 100% full-size game. This isn't a little demo, it's not an 'experience,' it's not an on-rails thing. This is a full retail game."
A scoring system keeps players competing with one another, as well as working together to score more points by using combo attacks. For example, Hulk can smash enemies and stun them, and when other players follow up with their own attacks everyone will earn extra points.
"It's a team game, so you've got to really rely on your teammates and work together," Kraemer said. At the end of each level you get to pose together for a virtual selfie, which will presumably be followed by social media links in the full game.
The final game will also include a variety of options, including different ways to look around and different movement speeds. That's how you account for many different types of players who have varying levels of tolerance and comfort within virtual reality, according to Kraemer.
"There's only one opportunity to do this first," Kraemer said. "There's no other Marvel VR game. So I see it as opportunity."
Marvel Powers United VR is scheduled to launch in 2018 exclusively on Oculus Rift.
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