Jamie Knight
Mon, 01/08/2018 - 19:15

Space Pirate Trainer is a title that's pretty easy to miss when skimming the Steam Store. There are no shortage of standing shooters on VR, and for every classic such as Superhot, there are numerous shovelware titles which offer little more than the Unreal Engine shooting range template with some different models thrown in. I was also put off by the name, presuming it's 'trainer' moniker was an indication that it would lack any real depth or content.

SPT is the reason all VR games need to offer demos, as my initial presumptions from the store-front proved to be utterly, stupidly, wrong.

It is a shooting range title. But it not only delivers this with a degree of polish and gameplay which puts all other VR shooters to shame, but underneath it's mechanics and polished visuals the game has the beating heart of a 80's arcade score attack game. I couldn't shake the feeling when playing it that the developers must have grown up in the same, smokey arcades I did, and have done an incredible job of capturing that 'I was just 1000 points away!' vibe which results in countless hours getting lost chasing your friends scores.

 

Gameplay

At it's core it's a wave based shooter. In each hand you have a gun which you can toggle on the fly between 8 different firing modes. The first four are pretty generic, you have your single shot mode, your automatic fire, your high-spread shotgun fire mode and a slow-reloading grenade. But alongside these are a few more unusual configurations such as a laser pointer, which almost seem superficial until you figure out how to use them.

Each weapon configuration will have it's own reload/cooldown dynamic, so the automatic mode will overheat and slowdown if you just hold down the trigger.

Crucially, each of the 8 configurations is fun to use and feels great. Each mode has it's own strengths and weaknesses, but the audio, animations and general feeling of bad-ass is consistently great; which is handy as in those later levels you'll be constantly switching weapons.

The game is a score attack, where various robot drones come along and try to shoot you to death. Different drones have their own attack patterns, and there are also item boxes you and blast along the way to get temporary bonuses.

If you don't shoot down a drone before it fires back at you, you are left with two choices. Either try to shoot it's projectile before it hits you, or dodge it by moving your body. Tracking works great, and as enemies are confined to a 180 degree radius you can get away with just a couple of sensors if your playing on the Rift. Due to the aformentioned weapon cooldown mechanics, you are going to die pretty early on if you try to play sat down; as you'll frequently be in a position where you don't have enough shots charged to defend yourself otherwise. So It's very much a standing game.

There are some game mode variations, but none of these fundementally change the core gameplay mechanics, and the 'bullet-time' dodging reserved for the default mode is so much fun, I don't dip into the others much.

The interface does a great job of putting all the information you want infront of you post-game, including how you fared against your friends, the steam ladder, and your previous attempts. You can also filter the leaderboards down to specific weapons, so even if you're not that great at shooting (i.e. me) you can find yourself a nice little niche in the leaderboard to dominiate.

Visuals & Audio

Whilst it doesn't have much variation in its visuals, it does a solid job of pulling off its neo-futuristic setting. It's important the scene is uncluttered so as not to distract from the bullet-hell coming towards you. But when you do find a few seconds to look around, it's neon glows are quite nice.

Running on Unreal Engine is also a big plus, as even on maxed out settings the game ran without a hitch on my modest machine. I fished out an older GTX970 to try it on (the minimum recommended spec for VR) and it still ran without a hitch, so for folks on lower end PC's you'll likely be surprised at how well this looks and runs.

The game also sounds bloody good, weapons have just the right amount of oomf, and despite all the chaos, there have been a few times when I've made a mental note to find out who made the kicking tunes so I can track them down on Spotify.

Verdict

What Space Pirate Trainer lacks in scope, it makes up for with satisfying gunplay, well-executed visuals and a rocking set of tunes. If you have even a small fondness for old-school score attack games, this is an absolute must buy.

9