Under Cover is possibly the best arcade shooter-inspired option for VR right now

Under Cover is another great gateway game for VR, however it’s a couple of rounds short of a full clip.

It was during the PS3 era when, suddenly, arcade shooters stopped getting console versions. It turns out that there was a whole bunch of different reasons for this, not least the fact that consoles were now innovating faster than arcade, or because, with the release of the Nintendo Wii, the opportunity to relaunch older games for a console that had a pointing mechanic core to its controller appeared. Nope, the main reason was that television technology suddenly took a step forward and so the affordable, laser-reflection based technology that powered most ‘guns’ simply stopped working. VR is great for a lot of reasons, but the fact that it can make a like-for-like experience with old arcade shooters is amazing, and Under Cover shows exactly that.

The things that made arcade, light-gun shooters great were pretty simple. There was normally some reloading gimmick, special weapons, and an action-packed, on-rails experience. Good news, all of these things are present in Under Cover. However, a lot of the modern conveniences are not.

There is, for example, not much going on after you’ve finished the four-chapter-long main campaign. There’s no shooting range, challenge modes, boss-rushes, or even characters and weapons beyond the starting choice of two (and then two again). Each character also plays identically — although they follow slightly different paths within each ‘gallery’ of the campaign. Those are the negatives, plain and simple. The absences are glaring and make it feel like it’s either been designed to have post-launch content (be that costed, or as free updates) or had its development scope cut in order to have it out the door. That’s a shame because Under Cover has so much going for it otherwise.

Under Cover

Much like its clear inspiration — the Time Crisis series — Under Cover challenges one or two players to make their way through a series of shooting gallery-style scenes that the characters move between as they clear them.  Each character has a pistol that can be swapped out for ammo-limited special weapons if they can shoot them around the map, but most of the time will be spent with the pistols. Pistols have very limited shots in them, and a reload can be triggered by going into cover… you also can’t be hit while under cover (get it? That’s the game name).

This all feels great in VR, although I did have to make sure that I had rezoned my standing area so that I didn’t occasionally karate-chop the fridge while trying to dip around side cover. Most of the time you won’t need to lean much, although I would recommend the seating option for those with a weaker, or moany, spine or set of knees; Button-to-cover still feels just as great.

The story was great, it’s 90s, it’s cheesy, there’s a underlying story about the main character’s friendship and there’s goofball incompetent, Saturday-morning Cartoon style mid-bosses littered throughout. The villain is called something irreverent like Chad Hamburger or Jared Ferrari or something, and is a hypercapitalist parody of every rich-kid turned social media owner. It makes for easy listening, easy watching, easy playing.

That kind of goofball villain and the plot it creates means that Under Cover takes you through some really fun, cool settings — from train yards to casinos to expo floors. My favourite, however, was the almost Western-themed area of the last chapter, which made me yearn for a Wild West, quick-draw shooter on VR.

Under Cover

Critically, the shooting feels great. There are loads of bonus weapons littered around and there are also plenty of explosive objects which, when shot, trigger a cool, slow-motion moment where you can land a few more careful hits on enemies. For the most part, the enemies come at you thick and fast, although if you’re particularly adept then you might find yourself helping out your partner, as there is almost always some crossover between your line of sight. I particularly enjoyed taking out enemies that were targeting my teammate, however, I did feel like the game didn’t really celebrate how cool this was.

Because the thing is, that is cool. It’s really cool. And considering that the only real reason to return to Under Cover is to chase high scores on the area leaderboard — and that you get those high scores through balancing quick-shooting, delicate shooting and scoring neato headshots — it feels like a missed opportunity to award points as a bonus for it.

Is Under Cover good fun? Yes, it’s a fantastic and stylish example of how arcade lightgun shooters have a new home. Is it something you’ll want to keep sinking more and more time into once finishing? Likely not.

Under Cover is available now through the Meta Quest store.

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