My initial reaction to a tower defense game in VR was skepticism. How does a simple strategy game translate to a digital, three-dimensional world where you can look at a game from every angle and move throughout the space? Defense Grid 2: Enhanced VR Edition changed my tune. I played it, and a number of other games, at the Oculus Content Showcase at GDC.
Stop The Aliens
The goal of each level in Defense Grid 2: Enhanced VR Edition is simple: Stop the aliens from taking materials from your core by installing a series of turrets to take out the threat. Each level contains a path that the aliens take to your core, and you can install turrets for guns, lasers and cannons throughout the path in an effort to thin out enemy forces.
The main tactic is to find a choke point for the alien invasion. If you can set up the right number of turrets at a specific location, you can make the aliens’ route to your core system a death trap. As you continue to gain energy from killing aliens, you can build more turrets or upgrade existing models. If things get really hairy, you have a large laser cannon at your disposal that only works every five minutes.
On the PC and console versions, the game’s camera is fixed in an angled, top-down view of the map. However, VR doesn’t have this camera restriction. Instead, what players see could be described as a scale model of the level in VR. It's as if you have a model of the area on a tabletop.
By simply looking at a square and pressing a button on the Xbox controller, you can place turrets throughout the map. In addition, the developers added other features to the VR version such as hidden items, which you can find by looking (or walking) around the map. Various buildings on the map have extra effects. For example, you can activate a small factory in the distance so that it spews smoke from its chimneys.
In essence, you get the feeling of being a true armchair general. With a scale model of the map, you can easily allocate turrets against the aliens and see the battle unfold in your virtual tabletop. The gameplay is identical to the original version on consoles and PC, but the fact that you get to see each map with such detail makes you appreciate each level’s design. Some areas are set in space, so you get the backdrop of a barren moon, while others are situated on the sea. The entire map is right in front of you, and you can lean in to closely inspect an area or walk around the virtual world to see it from different angles.
You can also zoom in on a specific turret so you can see the battle up close. From this view, all you need to do is turn around in your chair to view other parts of the battlefield. It reinforces the belief that you’re actually participating in the battle and seeing each shot and explosion up close, which makes the game more intense with every alien wave.
Skeptic Turned Believer
The demo lasted for 30 minutes, but I wished I could have played longer. Each level was amazingly detailed, and I spent the first few minutes just admiring the presentation. When the aliens started to invade, I was focused on putting up turrets, and each animation of a turret rising from the ground was amazing. Each battle was exciting, and it was a joy to watch all of the action unfold in VR.
The entire thing reminded me of the various scenes of holographic projections of battles that we see in some science fiction movies. However, those special effects are no longer constrained to the magic of science fiction. It’s here with Defense Grid 2: Enhanced VR Edition, and it’s made me believe that a simple tower defense game could work well virtual reality.