I love VR. Despite my inability to utilise both screens, I really enjoy putting on any of the silly looking headsets and immersing myself in another world. Ground Runner: Trials chucks you straight into a world of rocks and sand; then jacks it up a gear with a beautiful hoverbike, a pair of sci-fi Desert Eagles and a playground in which to scream around ruining the afternoon of some drones.
Forged in the depths of the AstroFish offices over the last year — with their sights set on a Q2 release — Ground Runner: Trials pitches a new idea to the question of locomotion in VR games.
This game flips the bird at conventional controllers by providing you with a futuristic hoverbike which is piloted via a surprisingly intuitive virtual joystick. A peripheral which, if physical, would usually be reserved for spaceships with cockpits designed by someone who really likes glass, and folks with the money to afford expensive custom controllers.
I had the opportunity to try the Early Access game out at the recent Pocket Gamer Connects conference in London; lacking a VR headset and thus having no reason to keep my finger on the XR industry pulse, I’d not previously heard of Ground Runner: Trials. After giving it a spin at the show, I knew this game was going to be my gateway drug into the VR sphere.
As instructed by your in-game companion, a quizzically Scottish octahedral drone which resembles a tiny Atlas from No Man’s Sky, you grip the right controller whilst hovering your ethereal gloved hand over the joystick; you can then either rotate your hand to make a turn, twist to strafe, or give the joystick a hearty shove to roar the engines into life and fling your bike towards whatever scenery makes the unfortunate error of being in your way.
The control scheme felt very natural: whilst I scraped off the paintwork by clumsily bumping into rocks and grating along the sides of cliffs for the first few minutes; I quickly got a feel for the combination of turns, strafe and speed. Pretty soon, I couldn’t hold back the stupid grin which followed my mental narrative of “holy crap I just did a 180 slide through that tiny hole in the rock and then wove through a bunch of obstacles without crashing — THIS FEELS AWESOME”.
After a few minutes of pirouetting through caves and rocky spines, I slowly became conscious that a few people were standing around watching me play. Not wanting to be that guy who hogs the cool looking game at shows, I pulled off the headset and repeated my mental headline from the previous paragraph to the guy manning the stand.
“Did you try the shooting?”
The guy responded to my wide-eyed reaction by fussing around loading up The Level With The Guns, I took this cue as permission to put the headset back on and gleefully awaited some sci-fi drive-bys. I was soon back to the swiftly-familiar seat of the hoverbike, rejoined by Scottish Atlas, and now in a new chamber which looked like something straight out of Halo.
“Ground Runner,” Scottish Atlas announced, “you’ll need to take out the nearby drones with your pistols to succeed.” You bet I will, Mac Highlander.
I grabbed the throttle, chucked it forward as far as it can go, and flung myself down a satisfyingly long launch tube and entered the arid landscape once more; except this time, I had a chunky-sized gun holstered to the side of the hoverbike, gun-slinger style. Nice.
Similar to the controls explained a few of paragraphs ago, you again hover your spooky floating hand roughly where the gun is, grip, and it pops into your hand like an explosive, deadly wand. I soon spotted a drone a little way off in the distance, minding its own business doing what appeared to be Futuristic Mining by vomiting lasers at some rocks. Finding myself unable to stand this wanton destruction of the beautiful natural landscape, I sped towards it. I carefully aligned my bike, raised my gun and — with a sound effect so mesmerisingly gratifying — launched a bunch of Futuristic Space Bullets at the Anti-Environmental drone. Debris spewed everywhere before the little robot eventually exploded and tumbled to the ground with a resigned groan.
I hurtled over the drone’s remnants and caught a glimpse of something beautiful: Another pistol holstered to my bike — could I really?
Some smaller drones which resembled those little Lindt chocolate balls, albeit armed with anti-gravity drives, appeared from behind a rocky outcrop. I attempted what I hoped would be possible: I pushed the hoverbike into a drift to skim underneath the Space Chocolates, let go of the controls and grabbed the other gun. Oh my gosh yes.
Like every action hero scene you’ve always wanted to recreate, I gleefully slung bullets at the drones with both pistols whilst sliding sideways underneath them. Explosions flashed around the canyon lighting up the ancient spines of rock as the echoes of my voice making noises of excitement bounced around the chasm. The cherry on top of the action movie scene was re-holstering the pistols required me to slam them into their nooks like the bad-ass I very much felt like thanks to the game’s mechanics, regaining control of the bike just before I slid into a solid wall.
With my escapade over, I removed the headset with my brain still sloshing around in adrenaline and I knew I had to try this again later. Sure, the mileage of performing hover drifts through endless stretches of similar-looking sand and rocks might not be very long — and I really hope the game offers more environments, challenges and mechanics beyond what I experienced at the show. But, at least for a few hours I could absolutely enjoy what the title had to offer.
Very few games make me feel like a genuine action hero bad-ass, the last two being Shadow Warrior and Crysis 3. I’m very glad Ground Runner: Trials has managed to get the balance of challenge and difficulty just in that sweet spot for you to act our your own daydreams. If you have a goofy looking headset and their respective hand controllers, I definitely recommend you pick up the game and take your hover bike out for a spin.
If you fancy picking up a copy of Ground Runner: Trials to try out, the game is currently in early access – with an aim of a Q2 2018 release – and available on the Oculus Store for £14.99. It will unlock on Steam from the 15th February.