Ground Runner: Trials — Alone with the drones

Ground Runner: Trials adds the run and gun formula to a blisteringly fast hoverbike — speeding through open canyons, blasting drones and shooting for high scores.

VR games do a lot to appease the senses. The feeling of being transported to another world within the confines of impossible situations, faced with impossible odds and overcoming them — is a cause for celebration. Experiencing a game that tantalizes and delights with amazing visuals, interacting with unique, foreign objects and even walking around a land that doesn’t exist is a mind-blowing experience, each and every time. Ground Runner: Trials gives you an opportunity to explore a desert planet with drones that want to murder you and crystals ripe for the collecting — but this virtual landscape might fill you with a sense of monotony rather than wonder.

Your role as a Ground Runner means that you are on this planet to mine the local currency: Torsion crystals. This process tends to quickly gain the attention of the Alliance — a ‘bad guy’ group that wants to control the power of these crystals for their own purposes. They will send their drones at you in order to try to stop you from zipping around and collecting the crystals. While it offers the core gameplay of running and gunning, the drones feel unnecessarily difficult to avoid gunfire from and the process of dealing with them begins to feel repetitive. I’m all for swarms of enemies in games, but when it feels like more of a chore than a goal, gameplay starts to lose its momentum. Thankfully, they drop the same currency that the crystals do when you blow them to smithereens, so seeking them out for an extra monetary boost can be worth your time.

There’s a lot to like from the core mechanic of piloting your plasma bike — whether it’s the speed, the feeling of piloting a vehicle from many a sci-fi fantasy or simply the unique visual feedback of the user interface and the bike’s overall sleek design — but ultimately, it’s what you do with it that makes the experience. Ground Runner: Trials is a game that leans heavily on its controls, and while they do work, their handling may not be for everyone.

Physically reaching out and taking a hold of the throttle, whilst using your off hand to squeeze some rounds off from the pistol you’re brandishing is a juggling act all by itself. You can also gain additional weapons and even upgrade your bike in further levels, but the act is still challenging, if not more so for it. It takes some getting used to to really feel like you have some control over your bike, and once you get the hang of it, you’ll be drifting and sliding around with ease. For most, however, it’s the motion sickness that will prevent you from ever getting to that point.

Having played every type of modern VR platform, Ground Runner: Trials was tough for me. I have experienced nearly every scenario in VR that could possibly get your stomach churning and your face turning different colors yet came out the other side without incident. Ground Runner: Trials feels unoptimized, and having so much action with moving around at fast speeds, strafing and sliding all over — while not fully obtaining proper frame rates for VR — makes the game a recipe for motion sickness and it certainly did me in good. I had to play the game in portions and could not play for extended periods of time. It’s possible that you may be completely immune to motion sickness, but for me, it made the game challenging in a way that I didn’t want to experience.

Ground Runner TrialsGround Runner: Trials looks great, though, and while the three different maps that you are zooming around may be riddled with annoying drones, it brings a sense of a sci-fi wasteland not much different from the likes of Mad Max. Rock outcroppings are set up in just a way that jumping over, sliding under and racing through them feels exhilarating, and each landscape is peppered with interesting landmarks to help you retain a sense of direction without having to look down at your map.

The holographic user interface map in Ground Runner: Trials that is attached to the center console of your bike should win some type of award for its simplicity of use. It makes navigating and finding the various floating drones around the level that are firing holes in your back even easier, with indicative red markers that stand out from the blue dots of the crystals that you are searching for. You can also see your current objectives at a glance, and having a map that’s part of the worldspace — without being in your face while you are trying to drive — is always a welcome addition to a VR game, in my opinion.

Ground Runner: Trials has the potential to be a fun game — with its Mad Max feel and sense of speed — but I felt let down by framerate drops and seemingly forced objectives that try to artificially extend the game’s limited gameplay loop. With both a single-player campaign and a free-roam arcade mode, you’re bound to find a gametype you enjoy. If you’re looking for a VR bike game that offers up fast-paced arcade action and aren’t too concerned with story or enemy variance, then this might be a game for you. Otherwise, I find it hard to recommend after a severe case of motion sickness I experienced every time I put my headset on.

Ground Runner: Trials is available now on PC and Oculus stores. Visit their website for more information about the game.

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