I’ve already decided from the early days with Playstation VR that shooters are my favourite virtual reality experience. They’re just so much fun to play and they have me excited for what might come in the future – I mean, who doesn’t want to play the likes of ‘The House of the Dead’ or ‘Time Crisis’ in VR? It’d be amazing.
When I saw Pixel Gear I was intrigued. Its ‘Minecraft’-like visuals and monster shooting gameplay looked fairly unique, especially since the Playstation VR doesn’t have too many shooters available yet. Launching fairly early in the Playstation VR lifespan, it had the chance to make a mark on early adopters of the hardware – unfortunately though, it doesn’t quite match the quality of the likes of ‘Until Dawn: Rush of Blood’ or ‘The London Heist’.
Pixel Gear can only be played with a move controller, alienating any Playstation VR gamer who hasn’t yet got their hands on a motion controller yet. It’s both a good and a bad thing – the gameplay is really complimented by the natural use of the move controller, but it also means that not all gamers can dive right in.
Baring that in mind, Pixel Gear utilises the move controller for shooting much better than any other VR shooter I’ve played so far. Rather than pointing the controller at each target, you hold it like a gun with the back trigger button actually feeling like a gun’s trigger. It’s a more natural way to play and something that impressed me from the get go. It’s just a shame that the gameplay doesn’t follow suit…
Pixel Gear is a first person shooter that pits you against wave upon wave of enemies, each level then culminating in an epic boss encounter. You’ve got to shoot at enemies, blast any projectiles away, and amass as high as score as possible. It’s incredibly simple and pretty fun to begin with, though that feeling is short lived given the game’s repetitive nature and lack of variety.
There are only three levels in the game: a field, castle gates, and a snowy mountain. Each level is fairly large and has enemies coming at you from all directions, but they lack any real personality. Whilst there are objects in the environment you can shoot at for a bit of interactivity, the fact you’re left in one spot the whole time meant you got used to each stage incredibly fast. They each take around twenty minutes to complete too, leaving you looking at things from the same view point for long periods of time. It wouldn’t be such a bad thing if there were more levels to check out, but given Pixel Gear’s small level count it didn’t take long before I’d seen everything it had to offer.
The shooting is competent though and between waves of enemies you can unlock extra guns and upgrades. Despite the variety on offer, I found myself mainly sticking to the pistol. Whilst the machine gun and grenade launcher packed more punch, the pistol was just much more satisfying to use. There’s also a sniper rifle, but the less said about that the better…
One small beef I had with the shooting was that I wasn’t able to turn off the laser sight. Whilst it was definitely handy to use it and it allowed me to hit targets with pinpoint accuracy, I thought turning it off might add a bit more challenge to the game and maybe demand I work a little harder to take enemies out. I couldn’t find any option for it though, so I just had to stick to knowing my shots were going to hit every time.
There are multiple difficulties to play through with the game’s higher difficulties actually providing a much more enjoyable experience. I’d actually recommend gamers start off on the hard difficulty – the game mechanics won’t take you long to pick up, whilst the higher enemy count and more threatening nature of the AI makes the whole thing a lot more engaging. Of course, you could always play through the harder difficulties after beating normal mode, but you might’ve got a bit fed up of seeing the same thing over and over again by then.
Pixel Gear offers a scoring system that challenges you to rack up as high a score as possible, with things like combos for beating enemies as quickly as possible and bonus rounds of shooting ghosts adding to your score. It offers some incentive to return and better your score, but there are no leaderboards for you to see how you compare to others. The omission of any form of leaderboard is such a bad move by the developers, especially since the gameplay is so lacking in content for players to return to. The thought of being ‘the best in the world’ might’ve encouraged gamers to put a lot more time into the game, but with no way to compare your scores with other players or friends I stopped caring about how well I was doing.
One thing Pixel Gear certainly gets right is its visual style, offering ‘Minecraft’-esque worlds that are complimented by some great enemy design. It’s all incredibly simple, but looks great in-game – especially through a VR headset. Whilst the game only offers three locations to visit, at least they all feel a little unique aesthetically. I just wish I could’ve got the chance to explore them, or at least seen them from different viewpoints.
Pixel Gear’s enemies come in your standard ‘Ghost ‘n Ghouls’ variety, with the likes of knights, skeletons, bats, and monsters hunting you down. Each enemy type offers something different too, though it all typically boils down to shooting a destroyable projectile that’s coming your way. They’re all there to simple get shot before overwhelming you, taking on the role of cannon fodder that attack with the ‘strength in numbers’ approach as opposed to harnessing any real combat ability.
The boss battles are much more impressive though, demanding you think a little in order to take them out. It does boil down to learning and countering attack patterns, but they were still an enjoyable endeavour that had me looking forward to the end of each level. Their huge size offers a real sense of scale too – I was in awe of the Stone Golem boss of the second level, with the sense of scale he provided really embracing the immersion that VR offers.
Pixel Gear isn’t a bad game and its gunplay and visual design impressed me. It just doesn’t have enough going for it to entertain for the long term. There’s potential, but it’s potential that gets wiped out by a sheer lack of variety and content.
It could’ve easily won over early adopters of the Playstation VR if it offered a little bit more to play through, but with other shooters already available on the system that provide a much more varied and enjoyable experience it makes Pixel Gear a little hard to recommend.
Developer: Geronimo Interactive
Publisher: Oasis Games
Release Date: 20/10/2016
Format(s): Playstation VR