Review: Cosmic Trip21 Aug 2017 0
Review: Cosmic Trip
Released 24 May 2017
When push comes to shove, my idea of a real-time strategy game is tied to the supply and demand mechanic. Being a big RPG fan growing up, I didn't have much exposure to the real-time strategy genre until my light World of Warcraft addiction sent me through Blizzard's timeless titles.
So when faced with the question of just how a real-time strategy title would fare inside the confines - or lack of - of VR headsets, I was intrigued. Thankfully, Funktronic Labs' Cosmic Trip quelled any lingering fears I had that I would never enjoy an RTS as much as StarCraft.
Within VR, the limits of what you can experience seem practically endless. In this case, you're certainly not down on Earth digging through ruins or casting spells like Gandalf; but you are kept on your toes. Straying far from the idea of being a simple sit-down RTS with a birds-eye view of an army down below, you're put straight in the heart of the action. If anything, you're the strongest troop on the battlefield. But flinging sharp frisbees at your foes can only get you so far when you're responsible for the oiling of the machine.
Zipping through a rainbow wormhole into a similarly psychedelic spaceship, everything Cosmic Trip does is handled in the most adorable way possible. Though the threat on the battlefield is very real, it's a bright and colourful strategy experience easily capable of being a kid's introduction to a genre that's spawned many timeless classics.
The tutorial attempts to reduce staple RTS mechanics into bite-sized chunks with varying degrees of success. Placed on a platform similar to those you'll spend time zipping across in a real skirmish, you're taught how to build necessary equipment by your feet and how to send your would-be robotic troops into battle; but it doesn't present players with a scenario in which to put these intructions to use. Much like RTS classics, however, you'll notice yourself pulling off quick decisions fluidly as time goes by. Though I wasn't able to 'win' a round in 3-4 attempts, I was getting closer with each shot and could identify issues with my strategy as time went on.
Starting with nothing but a flat surface and a couple of minerals, I found myself recalling the early game build orders I'd put to use in my Starcraft 2 days within a completely different environment. With basic resources all present, I found myself utilising macro techniques to kickstart my economy and, in turn, my army within the first few minutes. Throwing out a few extra worker bots early on meant I could double or triple my unit production by affording multiple factories. Before long, I was unlocking close and long-range bots to stay by my side, while constructing a few medics to keep them all afloat during more stressful enemy advances.
The need to 'expand' your operations carries over from other RTS experiences, too - albeit more quickly. Although Cosmic Trip is very much a 'room scale' experience, it doesn't have you pacing back and forth. Instead, you're limited to platforms scattered across the battlefield separated by teleportation nodes you slide out from the ground like a satisfying kitchen drawer. Stepping through these terminals jolts you to the next platform in that direction, usually transporting you to a vantage point within a cave, the end of a tunnel or a cliff out in the desert. Not all platforms can act as an expansion to your territory, however, as mineral deposits and Capture nodes are randomly generated with each playthrough. Should your starting point begin to run dry of precious minerals - or you're wanted to harvest at a faster rate - it's imperative that you venture out and claim more land. With little ability to move around each platform, you're limited to the space around you - meaning you'll start to struggle with building placements relatively quickly. Just be warned that large-scale battles might muddy up the sound a bit.
All major actions are available at the flick of a wrist or the press of a button - literally. The face buttons of the Oculus Touch (or Vive) controllers are used to open up building and equipment menus with your hand movements doing most of the work from there. Slap a menu button to toggle through, and grasp at your target to place it into the gameworld. Being arguably stronger than your growing army of floating robots, you're able to slap attachments onto your fist-guns to erect energy shields, saw-blade frisbees and bubble guns to fend off would-be assailants – and yes, grinding up attackers (or your own head) is a just as fun as you'd expect. Starting with smaller robots, you'll come across ravaging cave worms and rolling shadow golems as the fight goes on. It's when these start to appear that you'll need to be fast with your fists. Full-body movements aren't quite as a swift.
It's these quintessential mechanics and moments where Cosmic Trip starts to... trip. Though the Oculus Rift isn't built for room-scale experiences straight of the box, those with the required Touch controllers will likely opt for experimental 360-degree functionality, rather than make do with the less immersive joystick body rotation. Traditional RTS titles typically allow players to select units and order them by clicking objects on the field or on mini-map. Here, you're limited to popping open the mini-map with the grip button, filtering visible units to just those you'd like to command, doing a classic drag-release motion and clicking a target from there.
While it sounds fine on paper, the amount of precise movements needed to trigger such an important task leaves something to be desired. I often found my natural motion for this being to open the map close to my body, usually leading to sensor inaccuracies that would turn a simple idea into a struggle - one I couldn't afford when trying to organise my units to launch an assault. When the idea is to track down the enemy base and pluck a dozen corks from its shady body, your only hope of surviving long enough is to have your army protect you while you get down to business. There's a real thrill when you're getting beaten to a pulp as you drain each cork down, but knowing a janky map will likely be the cause of your demise is a tad upsetting. For that reason, the slightly more static 'Waterfall', 'Wave' and 'Travel' modes are likely a little less stress inducing. There's no multiplayer functionality in place, but there are leaderboards to contend with.
Cosmic Trip absolutely nails what it sets out to do - bring the tried and trusted RTS formula to a new platform. Funktronic Labs have managed to fuse the best traits of common VR experiences with the core values of a genre built upon forward thinking and the idea that remaining calm under pressure will typically yield better results than simply throwing everything at the wall. Although sadly, when it comes to unit management, it feels like that's about your only option. One word of advice, however: beware of RSI from flinging disks and going for battery trick shots. The threat is real – and enticing!