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While once prolific in the 90s, real time strategy games have ebbed in recent years. Controlling multiple units while managing resources, maintaining map awareness, and researching new weapons of war is a daunting task when armed with a mouse and keyboard, and nigh impossible anywhere else.
Yet I was blown away by how well Phaser Lock Interactive’s VR real time strategy game, Final Assault, captured all the fun of a real time strategy game while streamlining all the messy bits, creating an immersive virtual tabletop wargame.
At PAX South 2019 I was able to get some hands-on time (and heads-in for VR) with the 1v1 PvP mode for Final Assault, on the Hill-512 map.
I was immediately pleased with the aesthetic and size of the battlefield. Final Assault smartly keeps the World War 2 battlefield small and intimate so you don’t have to spend any time jogging around your living room or slowly pulling yourself across the contested war zone.
The cardboard and plastic art style is very reminiscent of the classic Army Men toy soldiers, or popular miniature wargames like Memoir ’44, giving the entire game an enjoyable tabletop vibe. Several times during the demo I was so distracted by the detail of the units, animations, and buildings that I fell behind in troop deployment.
“We used train sets as references. It’s amazing how detailed those train sets can get,” says Michael Daubert, CEO, Phaser Lock Interactive. “We wanted to make it a compelling and beautiful environment. It helps as well with performance and being able to build big environments and run at 90 frames per second.”
“One of the things I like about our maps is that if you look off into the distance, it doesn’t look like you’re in a fake world. I feel like I could go look and see what’s on the other side of those hills,” says Todd Bailey, Creative Director.
There are no resources to mange nor fog of war to worry about. A single currency level gradually ticks up, creating quick decisions on which units to buy, or to wait and unlock more advance units. Supply boxes will periodically air drop onto the map, granting a quick boost of money to whoever gets there first.
“Originally we created an entire RTS game, and it was crazy. There was way too many buttons, but when we took that out, you were waiting too long for stuff to build up. When you’re in VR you want to get into the action as quick as possible,” says Daubert. “What we did is focus more on the combat itself. We took away base building and tech trees. I wanted to focus on the faster gameplay of what an RTS can be. We’ve created a happy medium between RTS and MOBA that gets the player in as quickly as possible without the mental fatigue of trying to manage everything.”
A console-based strategy game is going to live and die by its control scheme. Final Assault’s drop-and-drag system worked perfectly to quickly get units out on the battlefield and into the fight.
The clipboard UI looks and feels great. I hold my tech tree catalog in one hand and simply grab the unit I want, like a biplane or tank, and plop it onto the map. Final Assault uses the lane-based combat of MOBAs to provide an easy way of handling multiple units. If a unit is dropped into one of the main lanes on a map, they’ll automatically follow it, engaging enemy forces along the way.
Infantry will constantly spawn and push the lane, creating a constant tug-of-war. It’s up to me to purchase and deploy the right units, and set them up in strategic places. Bombers can soften up tanks, while anti-air guns will help prevent an aerial ambush, and artillery can bombard fortifications from afar.
The demo ended as I deployed my Axis forces’ ultimate weapon – a V-2 rocket. I watched in gleeful satisfaction as it physically launched from my base and soared toward my opponent’s to the warning sounds of klaxons.
I came away really impressed with how quickly I was able to grasp the controls and flow of the lane-based warfare, despite having very little VR experience. Final Assault already looks and plays great, and is shaping up to be a worthy competitive experience for any VR general.
Final Assault is coming to Steam Early Access on February 12, with a full launch later this April on Oculus and Vive. It will launch later this Summer on PlayStation VR and support cross-platform play. The final game will feature a single player campaign as well as online multiplayer PvP with 14 maps at launch, and more factions to arrive as post-launch DLC. It’s rated E10+.