Review – Shock Troops
The Quest 2 release schedule is really weird. You can spend months without a single meaningful release, but once the titles start dropping, they all come out at once. When it rains, it pours. This time around, I’m taking a look at a game that felt like it was made with neanderthals like myself in mind. Shock Troops‘ premise is simple: what if you could play a 90s first-person shooter, with you inside of the game? Ever felt like being the DOOM marine in VR, exploring vast levels and destroying tons of sprite-based monsters? Well, have I got a game for you…
When I think of VR retro shooters, my go-to standards are DOOM VFR and DOOM 3 VR. I really enjoyed these games, but they had their fair share of flaws. Namely, they weren’t originally released with virtual reality in mind. They were mere adaptations of the DOOM 2016 or DOOM 3 gameplay loops with highly improvised controls for a new system. As a result, they felt really odd at times. This is the main advantage Shock Troops has over its peers: it was made from the ground up with VR in mind, and as a result, it feels a lot more fluid in terms of gameplay.
It all boils down to the Quest 2’s amazing controllers. Once you turn off all comfort settings (you absolutely NEED to play this game with free camera movement), you’ll be thrown into a fast-paced shooter world with some surprisingly varied level design. In some levels, you’ll explore maze-like space stations, with narrow corridors and an overwhelming sense of tension. In other levels, you’ll be thrown into big, quasi-open spaces, where you’re free to explore and tackle objectives in any order you want. You’re able to look at your objectives from afar, all thanks to a surprisingly great draw distance.
The most important part of a shooter is, well, the shooting. Thankfully, that’s also a thing that Shock Troops excels at. It’s simple, that’s for sure, but definitely functional. The simplicity stems from the limited amount of weapons at your disposal, as well as the fact all of them are tied to a single hand. With that said, you start out with a beefy assault rifle, and can obtain crazy crap such as a flamethrower, a sniper rifle, and even what I can only describe as Captain America’s shield, if said shield was made out of bullet-deflecting lasers. Considering how every single bullet in the game is somewhat slower than usual and polygonal, you can use this shield to deflect shots around like a Jedi.
Finally, I was surprised by the length of the game’s campaign. Shock Troops costs a mere ten dollars, which, in the realm of VR, means that it’s less of a game, and more of those “one and done”, two hour long “experiences”. I was very wrong to assume that, as I clocked over four hours in its shockingly replayable campaign. Once you unlock a weapon in one level, you can revisit an older one with your brand new arsenal and get a better completion percentage as a result. All boiling down to the previously mentioned high-quality combat gameplay, of course.
I have just a few complaints regarding the gameplay. I didn’t like the constantly floating UI on top of the screen which never fit that well with my point of view. Given how useless the radar on my left hand ended up being, I wish they could have given me the choice to look at my stats via my left hand, not unlike Resident Evil 4 VR. I also didn’t like how uneventful the game acted whenever I got shot, to the point I’d occasionally not even pay attention to my health going down. Some flashing red lights would have helped to remind me that, yes, I’m getting attacked by tons of enemies at once.
Being a neat VR shooter is good and all, but that isn’t Shock Troops‘ most noticeable selling point. As previously mentioned, it wants to make you feel like you’re inside of an early 90s shooter, in (supposedly) low poly environments, killing off sprite-based enemies. I didn’t feel that kind of immersion, because of a really weird complaint (?) I had with the game: it looked way too good to feel retro.
It boils down to the really impressive level design. These levels are impressive. With the exception of the lame corridor levels, which felt like reskins of one another, Shock Troops‘ bigger levels featured great geometry that made it look more like a modern space shooter than anything else. In contrast, all enemies are sprite-based, simplistic in animation, and devoid of a back sprite. I get the point: they are sprite-based due to budgetary concerns, and I appreciate the attempt of making me feel like I was inside DOOM 1 or 2. But the overall presentation was this mish-mash of “really good looking” against “really cheap”, never finding a suitable middle ground.
I wasn’t a big fan of the sound design, either. The game’s intentions were solid: it wanted to replicate 2016’s DOOM, with a mix of quiet ambient noises and some banging metal. Sadly, that worked because Mick Gordon was taking care of the soundtrack. Mick Gordon did not work on this game, and whoever composed it wasn’t up to par. It was too loud, too abrasive, and not all that memorable. To make matters worse, the game is chock-full of underwhelming voice acting and some “okay at best” sound effects. Nothing effectively deal-breaking, but worth mentioning nevertheless.
This is easily one of the most pleasant VR surprises of the year. Considering its minuscule price tag, I thought Shock Troops was going to be one of those really short, “one and done” VR experiences that come out every other week on the Quest or PSVR. How wrong I was! Thanks to some pretty solid controls, an excellent premise, and a surprisingly lengthy campaign, this is one of the best VR shooters you can find on the Quest 2 right now. Despite being clearly influenced by DOOM VFR, it surpasses its source of inspiration in many ways. This one is a no-brainer: despite its handful of design flaws, Shock Troops is a must for your Quest 2 library.
Shock Troops looks really good. Way too good at times, which is an issue when it tries to go for a retro aesthetic. Oddly enough, its excellent level geometry and physics make the sprite-based enemies stand out in a non-immersive way.
Not exactly recommended for those who suffer from motion sickness, as this game is a blast with all comfort settings turned off. It’s basically a fast-paced retro shooter, with you being thrown into it with the power of VR.
There is a lot of underwhelming voice acting in a game that should have been a lot more streamlined. Otherwise, its sound design is just decent. It’s quiet for the most part, with some deafening metal being played during tense sections.
Fun Factor: 8.5
Inventive levels and great combat mechanics make Shock Troops a must-have for Quest 2 owners, even though it suffers from some issues stemming from its small budget.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Shock Troops is available now on Quest 2.
Reviewed on Quest 2.
A copy of Shock Troops was provided by the publisher.