Despite being out for nearly a year now, I don’t think Playstation VR has really managed to find that simple multiplayer focused title that’s easy to just pick up and play. There’ve been releases like Smashbox Arena, RIGS, Battlezone, and Werewolves Within that offer an enjoyable multiplayer fix, but they never had that easy satisfaction of simply being able to jump into a quick paced game that offers all out competitive action with minimal fuss. Sparc looks to change that, with its accessible focus make it easy to quickly get into some intense one vs one competitive action.
Sparc feels like a mixture of baseball and dodgeball, with the focus of the game being on hitting your opponent with your ball whilst trying to avoid theirs. All the action takes place in a narrow passageway, so you’re able to bounce your ball around from all angles to try and catch your opponent out. Hit them with the ball and you’ll earn a point. Simple.
There are a few spanners thrown in the works though, like the Strike Zone. If you manage to hit the ball directly behind your opponent in their Strike Zone, your ball will increase in speed and size, making it even trickier for your opponent to avoid it. It works the other way around too, so it’s always better to hit the ball away rather than simply avoiding it. You can do this by using your Shield, though this can only be used whilst holding the ball. The catch is, once you’ve used it once you can’t use it again until you throw your ball, leaving you briefly vulnerable until it comes back to you. It’s a case of timing everything perfectly, all whilst making sure you’re maintaining a decent juggling act between defending and attacking.
The whole concept of the game is fairly simple on paper, but perfecting it and learning all of the tricks of the trade is a lot more complicated. It makes for some incredibly tense action that’ll not only put you on edge, but is also a hell of a lot of fun to play through.
Admittedly, it might take a little bit of time to get good at Sparc. My first hour with the game was pretty dreadful, with all of my throws lacking accuracy and speed. Add to that the fact that I didn’t have the sharpness to defend and attack at the same time, and it left me feeling pretty dreadful at the game. Don’t get me wrong, I was having fun, but I was getting absolutely destroyed time and time again.
When you finally understand the ins and outs of the game though, it becomes incredibly satisfying to play. You’ll start to figure out where to throw the ball to get the most awkward angles, the speed you need to throw it to trick your opponent, the best times to throw it to leave your opponent in an awkward spot, and even how to apply a bit of spin to keep your opponent guessing. Whilst the mechanics of the game are easy enough to learn, actually mastering them and becoming a pro Sparc player is another thing altogether.
Sparc is actually one of the best examples around of games that allow you to exploit your opponent’s playing style by observing how they play. When playing with a traditional controller you can’t always figure out your opponent’s actions, but in Sparc you can see their each and every movement. You can see how they move their body, their arm placements, their throwing arm, where they like to lean, the different shots they like to throw – seriously, it’s surprising how differently each player plays, so a huge part of the experience is simply figuring them out. It really shows that Sparc is going for that one on one competitive sport vibe, and it works tremendously in-game.
Nearly all of your time in Sparc will be spent taking on other players, with the single player portion simple consisting of a tutorial and a few challenges. The challenges are actually pretty neat, especially since they have an online leaderboard that lets you see where you stand compared to other players, but it’s a little too bare-boned to feel like something you’ll spend a lot of time playing around with. It’s a little disappointing that there isn’t an option to play against AI opponents, though at the same time I think it could make Sparc lose some of what makes it so special in the first place – the satisfaction of taking on other real-life players in epic showdowns.
Sparc has three different multiplayer modes on offer that each retain the standard mechanics of the game, but add their own little twists on the ruleset. ‘Brawl Basic’ is a simple time limit focused mode, with the winner being the player who can score the most points in three minutes. There’s no room for draws though, with any tied matches entering a sudden death scenario where the next player to score a point wins. It’s easily the most accessible game mode on offer, with players able to punch away any balls coming their way – it alleviates the constant need to move your body around, as well as the pressure of making sure your shield is charged.
The ‘Brawl Advanced’ mode ditches the time limit with the winner being the first player to score four points. The ability to punch away balls is taken away too, so there’s an emphasis on defending through manoeuvrability and dodging your opponent’s shots. Whilst Playstation VR has no real room-scale functions, using your body and moving around slightly to dodge balls actually worked really well. I never found that I wasn’t able to dodge anything or that the game put me in an impossible situation, with each mistake I made simply my own doing. It’s definitely the most wearing of the game modes though, with my constant prancing around and exaggerated body movements leaving me a sweaty mess by the end.
Finally, there’s the ‘Experimental’ mode. This brings back the time limit of the Basic ruleset as well as the ability to punch balls away, but it morphs the environment so that it’s no longer a narrow, straight passageway. Instead, you’ve got different angles to bounce the ball across, adding a more unpredictable nature to the direction it’ll bounce. Playing through the other game modes and then coming to Experimental adds quite a change to the formula – everything you’d have learnt so far about the different shots your opponents will play gets completely changed, with the unpredictable nature of each shot leaving you in a disorientated panic as you try to counter it. It’s good fun.
Whilst each of the three game modes offer something different, I do wish there was a little bit more variety on offer. It’s not that I grew tired of any of them, but rather that it would’ve been nice to spice up the simple formula of the game. I can just envision players all becoming so good at the game that matches feel less competitive, so a few wildcard settings that would modify how each match plays could help ensure there’s always a level of excitement to be had. Developers CCP Games have a good track record of adding new content to their releases though, so hopefully we might see some new additions down the line.
When you get online you end up in a lobby where you can interact with other players by wagging your arms around like a lunatic or, more sensibly, through the in-game voice chat options (I always forget that the Playstation VR headset has a built-in mic that allows every other player to hear my grunts and groans whilst playing). One real neat feature of these lobbies is the fact that you can spectate upon the match that’s currently taking place, with the playing field and its players right in front of you like some sort of mini diorama. It’s a neat way to watch the action taking place and even pick up a few tricks from other players. Best of all though is the fact that anyone who is playing can actually see these giant spectators looking over them – it adds a fair bit of pressure to see a huge head poking through the side of the arena and hear their comments echoing around you, but damn is it impressive.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a competitive multiplayer game if you couldn’t customise your character a bit. Sparc features plenty of different options along with a multitude of colours, allowing you to make your avatar look however you please. It adds a feeling of individuality to the game, which is something that I appreciated when you consider how up close and personal you can get with other players both in-game and in the online lobbies. You might not necessarily get to see how cool you look all the time, but when you’re mocking your opponent with questionable hand gestures it’s nice to look good, right?!
A lot of Sparc’s success will come down to its player base and how long it manages to maintain it. In the early days since launch I haven’t struggled to find a match, and with the decent online lobbies and communication options I can easily see a community forming. It just needs to make sure that it keeps it up; I’ve played plenty of multiplayer-focused virtual reality games where the player base drops significantly after a few weeks, so hopefully that won’t be the case here.
Whilst there are plenty of multiplayer titles on Playstation VR at the moment, none of them capture the vibe of competitive sport quite like Sparc does. The focus on quick-paced one on one action makes for some virtual reality showdowns that aren’t only incredibly tense but also a hell of a lot of fun too.
There isn’t a whole lot on offer outside of the online multiplayer options, though it’s understandable seeing as Sparc is at its very best when played with other players. Still, it does mean it’s going to live or die by its community, so hopefully there’ll be plenty of people playing Sparc for a long time. I don’t see why there won’t be though – it’s bloody great.
Developer: CCP Games
Publisher: CCP Games
Release Date: 29/08/2017
Format(s): Playstation VR