A new arena combat game takes flight on PS VR
Given how high tech PlayStation VR is, it seems only fitting the best experiences I’ve had are with futuristic shooters. Games like Eve: Valkyrie and RIGS: Mechanized Combat League are two that have kept me hooked long after launch. Now I can add a new favourite to that list: WhiteMoon Dream’s furious new arena combat shooter Starblood Arena.
Platform(s): PlayStation 4
Right from the get-go, Starblood hooked me in with its fun take on combat sports. It has all the explosive action you’d expect from the genre, but injects a healthy dose of personality into the mix.
This is evident upon start up when the first two characters you meet are Grox, a Jabba the Hutt wannabe, and J3-RY, a lanky, sarcastic droid. The duo hover around on a flying sofa and act like cheesy game show hosts, skinny microphone and all.
Starblood Arena, as you learn, is actually a broadcast reality show out to entertain its carnage-obsessed viewership across the universe. It’s kind of like Gladiators meets Death Race meets Smash TV, with an alien twist. As the show’s next big pilot, you’ll be fighting for fame, credits, and your life.
Six degrees of freedom
Next, it’s off to the training simulation room to learn the ropes of Starblood Arena. Humourously, Grox and J3-RY gloss over the many safety features of your ship in favour of the good stuff: moving and blowing things up.
First, you’re taught how to maneuver your ship. Starblood features six degrees of freedom (6DOF, for short) allowing you to move in all directions—up, down, left, right, forward and backward with pitch, yaw and roll. That means unlike traditional FPS games where you are always oriented to the world, the world itself orients around you.
It might sound a tad complicated, but the controls are easy to grasp and the VR experience is exceptionally smooth. In fact, despite constant rolls and flips in full 360-degree movement, I encountered no dizziness or disorientation. While everyone’s experience with VR is different, Starblood stands out as one of the most comfortable game I’ve tried yet.
Mighty arsenal of weapons
Once you’ve got movement under control, it’s time to learn about your ship’s weaponry—and there’s plenty to know. First up is your primary weapon, which varies from character to character, but is mostly of the high-speed/low damage variety. Next, every ship is outfitted with a secondary weapon that is typically more powerful and specialized.
Thirdly, you have a long-range attack, usually in the form of heat-heating missiles. Fourth, there’s your heavy weapon (requires charging) that dishes out enormous damage. And finally, you can deploy mines that blow up on contact.
Massive character variety
While every character in Starblood has these base weapon types, what’s awesome is just how different they all are. Each of the nine pilots has a different combat specialization, with their weapons reflecting this. For example, Buck is a gun-obsessed alien “Beserker” who pelts enemies with his rapid-fire Bullet-Thrower and heavy Chain Railguns. His high offensive capabilities makes him a great choice for newcomers.
More advanced players may want to try out characters like the mad scientist Dregg. He’s a long-range sniper class who specializes in deadly precision shots and missiles. Dregg is most effective after you’ve locked onto your target, which is no easy feat in this fast-moving game. However, once you have got an enemy in your sights, watch out!
After trying out all nine pilots, the one I landed on as my choice is the robotic electrical expert Gundo. He’s the only all-range character with effective weapons no matter the distance from your enemy. His Nuke Missiles can destroy ships at long-range, while is Proton Guns and Ion Discharger can shred enemies at close- and mid-range.
Characters with personality
Much like the quirky announcers, all pilots in Starblood are teeming with character. They’re an eclectic mix of humans, robots, and aliens from across the universe and very reminiscent of those in Overwatch.
Take the characters Tik Tak Toh for example, these three tiny hive-minded gremlins are considered one playable character. At first glance you can’t help but love these guys with their droopy eyes, floppy ears, and wiggly little antennas.
Once you take flight though, they’re laugh out loud funny. Two of them take control of the left and right control sticks, while the third one (presumably) is the eyes of the group. Seeing these munchkins fiddle around with your ships’ controls up close in VR in really quite amusing.
Other characters are just as entertaining. Apollonia is a hunter with a super-sized Scattergun nearly the length of her body. Blade is an alien lizard who constantly does tricks with his two assassin blades. Gundo is a tiny floating robot with a human brain who loves making gun gestures with his hands. I love the creative, original looks of each character, and their mannerisms are really fun to watch.
Single-player and Online play
Starblood Arena features five different modes, playable offline in single-player, or online with friends. The modes are:
Burn Circuit – Play your way through 10 different challenges for each pilot. The circuit offers a blend of the four modes below, letting you gain experience with your chosen pilot as you battle A.I. bots. For completing a full burn circuit you’ll get a special new character skin for your pilot.
Carnage – This is your standard free for all deathmatch where it’s everyone for themselves. Carnage is playable for 2-8 people.
Team Carnage – Like Carnage only it’s two teams of four. Coordination and teamwork are the keys to success here.
Gridiron – This is Starblood‘s sporting event. Teams compete to capture a ball and score in their opponent’s net. Instead of blowing up when your ship’s shields are depleted, your ship is put in a temporary stasis while it recovers energy.
Invaders – A co-operative mode where you defend your base against waves of bugs. The further you progress, the more numerous and challenging the bugs become.
Overall, a good amount of modes to play though I do wish there was some kind of story or season mode included. My favourite of the bunch was Gridiron as the matches can get very intense and it’s fun battling over the ball.
In total there are 12 different maps to choose from, giving you plenty of variety and keeping the action fresh. Arenas range from small to very large and take place in a range of cool alien environments. What I really liked is arenas aren’t just wide open spaces—many include winding tunnels and sneaky paths around the perimeter. These enable you to surprise attack enemies or duck out of battle to recover shields.
To spice up Carnage battles, halfway through event modifiers kick in and add more depth to the competition. You might find the arena suddenly populated with new repair drones that can help you out (or your opponents) when low on shield power. Or you might find yourself surrounded by hazards like gun turrets or electrical shock orbs. These events can make for dramatic moments and provide exciting variances to traditional deathmatches.
As mentioned, all modes can be played offline or online. The unfortunate part is that it can take time to find matches online (at least from my experience.) Usually I had to wait between 3-5 minutes per game, and on a couple of occasions I wasn’t able to find any games. The developers acknowledged the problem, and it appears to be a back-end issue with their matchmaking servers. A patch was released just over a week ago, and in the time since I’ve noticed much faster matchmaking speeds. More work is being done by the developer to further improve speeds, so hopefully this aspects gets ironed out soon.
Starblood Arena is my new favourite futuristic shooter game for PS VR. I love all the attention to detail in the characters and how they each have unique combat styles. It’s neat to see the blend of carnage-soaked battles mixed with tons of comedic elements to lighten the mood. Battles themselves are fast, chaotic, and exciting in great looking alien arenas. It’s too bad matchmaking can be a bit slow at times because this game really is about online competition. The good news is matchmaking speed is improving, with the promise of more improvements coming soon.
+ Fun, inspired pilots
+ Good variety of alien arenas
+ Intense aerial combat
+ Very funny game
+ Lots of customizations
+ Tons of unlockables
+ Smooth VR experience
– Slow matchmaking
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4/5
Overall Rating: 4.1/5 (82%)