Front Defense is a fast-paced arcade-style shooter set in the final days of World War II. Developed by HTC's first-party team, Fantahorn Studio, the game is a virtual reality shooter created specifically for the HTC Vive.
Backed by the people who actually made the VR hardware, Front Defense should theoretically be the most polished shooter on the platform, but does it hold up? We fought some VR Nazis to put it to the test.
Front Defense review: Wave upon wave of virtual Nazis
When we heard there was a WWII shooter for the HTC Vive, we had to admit we were excited. Had the time come to relive the hazy days of Call of Duty and Medal of Honor?
Alas, no, this is not your classic first-person shooter. Front Defense instead is an arcade-style wave based shooter. Which means you spend most of your time behind a pile of sandbags fighting off waves of enemies intent on killing you.
With the limited movement that naturally comes with any Vive game - you don't want to go throwing up your lunch or spin out for hours after play, after all - this game design makes perfect sense. And, actually, it makes for a very enjoyable game.
In order to play Front Defense you need minimum play space of 2m x 2m, but really at least 3m squared is preferable as you will be dashing about behind the sand bags grabbing ammo and switching weapons.
This point was one of our first frustrations with the game: the play area hadn't mapped out properly and the grenade box was buried deep within a sofa in the test area, so we couldn't grab a pineapple to throw at Jerry. Luckily the developers have accounted for things like this and we found a couple pinned to our chest that could be easily snatched in the heat of battle.
Being a wave shooter, we weren't expecting much of a storyline or deep character portrayal that would pull us into the story. But that's not the driving force of the game.
And once stuck in, we really found ourselves immersed in the heat of battle. Dropping behind sandbag cover to grab another magazine and avoid a hail of fire began to feel quite real and intense after a short while of playing. Even more so when bullets pinged overhead and knocked off our helmet.
Front Defense review: The clumsy mechanics of VR shooting
Like a few other VR games, Front Defense felt a little clumsy at first, at least until we got a hang of the controls. You pick up a gun with one controller and reload with the other, which seems logical enough but has its foibles.
Fighting mainly with a Thompson submachine gun, reloading spent magazines is theoretically easy. You move your spare hand towards the bottom of the gun, click the trigger and pull it out. A fresh ammo clip can then be either acquired from a nearby ammunition box or from the belt on your hip.
However, the mechanic of reaching to your hip to grab more ammo felt awkward at first, failing more than it succeeded, meaning we had an empty gun and ended up getting bayonetted by the enemy oh so many times. The key to success is practice, which makes it become second nature. Eventually we were dropping out spent clips and slamming in new ones with military precision.
That's the physicality to a VR game like this, which lacks from console shooters and quicker reloading systems. However, it's not infallible: sometimes kneeling down behind cover would cause the Vive to no longer properly register when our hand was reaching for the ammo belt.
Shooting is also varied. You can aim down the sights of your weapon and even use both hands to properly steady the gun, but the graphics and tracking of your hands make this tough. The gun and sights often glitched into uncomfortable directions or angles that made it difficult to aim properly.
The developers built the game with a virtual laser sight beaming from your gun so you can see where your bullets are going to hit. Not historically accurate, but useful nonetheless. We soon found ourselves firing from the hip and using the laser sight to aim, this being a far more effective way to rack up points and stay alive - even if it does feel a little bit like cheating!
Front Defense review: The little touches make the big difference
There's a lot to like about Front Defense. It's intense, well designed and full of nice little touches which make it a joy to play.
We liked, for instance, that you'll find your helmet occasionally gets shot off. If you don't quickly grab it and pop it back on then you'll soon find you're wiped out by the overwhelming firepower. We're not sure a WWII tin helmet would have offered that much protection, but at least it adds to the drama.
We also like that you can throw grenades by pulling a pin out with your teeth. Ah, yeah.
Once you get the hang of the game's mechanics, doing other crazy things like dual-wielding a Thompson and the Browning machine gun is a lot of fun.
Front Defense review: The hard fight for points
Despite the fact that enemies come in predictable waves (there are no dynamic enemies here) from the same locations time after time in a set sequence, Front Defence is a hard game as you have to fight them off all on your own.
You do have AI Allies fighting alongside you, but they're mostly useless. So we found we were dying a lot, even when we got to the stage of dual-wielding guns and fighting on our knees from behind cover.
There are only three levels to play, so repetition is inevitable. Plus the second and third levels are locked, requiring points to unlock them.
Level two asks for 40,000 points to unlock, and as we were getting around 4,000 points per try before we died, that means trying to push through level one 10 times.
There ends up being a lot of playing the same level over and over before you get anywhere, which can get quickly tiring - both mentally and physically.
We were kind of surprised how exhausting the game can be: ducking and diving behind cover, returning fire and reloading feverishly certainly worked up a quick sweat. And you better have something soft to kneel on as you'll often be on your knees trying to avoid getting shot.
Front Defense is an immersive and enjoyable virtual reality shooter. Like many other current-generation VR games, it can be a little clumsy and awkward at times, but for the most part it's pretty polished.
We do think it could be a bit frustratingly difficult for some, but the fact it's tricky adds to the replayability, because you'll want to progress through to the next levels.
For the price, Front Defense is well worth a look, especially if you enjoy shooting Nazis. And let's face it, who doesn't enjoy doing that?
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