Years ago, before the days of modern personal computers and way before the rise of Xbox and PlayStation, people used to get their gaming fix by visiting their local arcade. A pocket full of change and a few spare hours could bring endless joy.
Operation Warcade is a VR shooter that attempts to bring back that gaming nostalgia by transporting you into a classic 1980s virtual gaming arcade. It might seem like a simple premise - especially when you realise that you can only play two of the machines in the arcade - but its original take of two experiences of the same game in different styles, gives it enticing originality.
Is Operation Warcade's side-scrolling and first-person shooter combo concept as interesting as it sounds?
Sucked into the screen, literally
When we first dove into Operation Warcade, we were blown away by the game design. The more we played, the more impressed we became.
The two virtual arcade machines - one marked "Classic 3D Edition" and the other "Immersive Edition" - have a virtual Uzi 9mm submachine gun ready for you to pick up and fire. Plus all the old-fashioned slots for putting coins in - although no real money is needed, as credits replace lives.
The Classic 3D Edition machine gives you an experience much like being in a real arcade. Pick up the gun, shoot at the screen to start and you're more-or-less playing a light gun game. A side-scrolling war-torn environment appears on the screen and thrusts a variety of enemies in front of you to deal with.
The submachine gun makes light work of anything and everything from infantry to tanks, planes, armoured personnel carriers and drones. A laser sight helps with aiming and an almost infinite magazine means you don't have to worry about pesky things like reloading.
With the gun gripped firmly in one hand, you also find a grenade in your other. This is where the real fun begins - because you can throw the grenade into the screen and watch it topple into the game world within and blow up enemies, buildings or vehicles. That's a small hint of things to come too.
As you travel through the levels, cutting down enemies, you'll also spot a variety of special items that need to be shot to be collected or activated. This includes special grenades that explode in weird and wonderful ways, other weapons such as another Uzi for dual-wielding, and the ultimate monkey - an immersion point that pulls you into the real game.
Throughout each map there are several "immersion points" scattered about that can be activated by giving them a quick shot from your gun. Doing so pulls you into the game world even further. Suddenly you find yourself in the war zone, fighting off enemies at a much closer range. You'll also find special abilities are temporarily activated here, whether that's a new weapon or the use of a vehicle.
Sometimes you'll be pulled into the seat of a fighter bomber, helicopter or tank, bringing the respective ability to fly, shoot or drive your way through the mission with a first-person point of view. Other times you'll have a new weapon thrust into your hands - including anything from a sniper rifle, shotgun, throwing knives, an explosive-tipped bow, to a gravity gun (more on that in a moment) - to deal with waves of enemies.
These immersion points were a sudden shock when we first started playing, but we love the dynamic they add to the game. We'd just got used to the side-scrolling, shooting-down-from-above style - feeling like some sort of demi-god - when we were suddenly pushed into a first-person perspective in a frantic fight for our lives.
Immersion points operate on a time or damage basis. If you complete them then you're forced back into the arcade. The same happens if you die, take too much damage or time runs out. But the jump between the two play styles is really interesting and a lot of fun.
Which game is best: 3D or Immersion?
The two Operation Warcade machines offer a different experience depending on which you choose to play. Though they both use the same level design and maps, the gameplay is slightly different.
The Classic 3D Edition machine offers the gaming experience we described earlier - you're shooting into the screen and occasionally getting pulled into the game for an immersion point.
There's also the option to engage "3D mode" which adds 3D visuals to the arcade screen. Characters and objects within the arcade machine suddenly take on a slightly more exagerrated three-dimensional aspect beyond their already virtual existence.
This game design makes the Classic 3D Edition hard to play, just like the arcades of yesteryear, which were purposely difficult to keep you playing and spending money. It's a great challenge and a lot of fun.
The Classic 3D Edition also has the traditional arcade feel to it. Credits are lives, with the more damage you take, the more credits you lose. Lose too many credits and its game over and you'll have to start that level again from the beginning.
The Immersion Edition machine is where the real fun begins, because the game operates slightly differently - like a modern reimagining of an arcade for the modern age. When you click to play you're pulled inside the arcade machine and suddenly you're in what can only be described as a cinema sized room with a huge screen to match. The experience suddenly becomes a lot more in-your-face and immersive. The game is still the same - with side-scrolling baddies, special pick-ups, immersion points - but it's all the same but bigger and better.
Whereas the Classic 3D Edition treats credits as lives (like a classic arcade game) and the levels are simple complete-and-move-on in style, the Immersion Edition has a ranking system, unlocks, challenges and more. You feel invincible because credits are infinite here, thus you can keep playing even when you get killed.
Another key difference in the Immersion Edition is that objectives need to be completed in order to progress. There are three objectives per level and each gives you a star which then counts towards opening up new missions and unlocks.
Small things make a big difference in the game design too. When you hit an immersion point in the Immersion Edition you can turn around (if you're not being shot at) and see the massive cinema screen behind you and the virtual representation of your character looking down at you. A weird disjointed view of the virtual world you're engaged in, which made us chuckle. It's very self aware.
The Immersion Edition also offers a more involved experience. The levels include various challenges to complete tasks within each level beyond just blasting enemies out of existence. Completing tasks like getting 20 headshots, freeing prisoners from cages or getting five kills with a single grenade will earn you stars for fully completing each mission.
Each playthrough of the level also earns you points. Those points are gained by getting headshots, killing multiple enemies in a row or just shooting everything in sight. These points then turn into prizes when you achieve the next rank because the ranking system not only unlocks new weapons, attachments and special abilities, but also opens new levels to play.
In total there are 108 missions to complete over 36 levels and the ranking system means you need to play the same level multiple times to get enough points to play the next one (or to get those unlocks). Some of the missions are replayed on the same levels, but with different objectives and new immersion points.
As you can imagine, there is stacks of gaming content from the two arcade machines to keep you playing.
Accidental and intentional hilarity
Operation Warcade offers much more than just an immersive VR gaming experience, though. With clever game design, it also made us chortle more than once.
One of the unlocks (or special pick-ups), for example, includes a gravity gun. This gun allows you to grab objects within the map and toss them into the distance with pleasing speed. We used it to grab an enemy soldier off the battlefield and toss him across the landscape like a ragdoll, then we fired a Humvee into the middle of an enemy swarm and sent them flying like bowling pins.
Outside the game, within the arcade itself, we also found accidental hilarity by throwing the virtual grenades around the room rather than into the screen. Once we've finished a gaming session we also stepped away from the machine to find a small crowd had gathered behind us. Beaming across the room we accidentally knocked one of those non-playable characters over and sent them into the clumsiest roll we've ever seen in a game before. Simple quirks like that tickled us right to the core.
Similarly, when thrust into immersion points for the first time, accidental hilarity ensued when we made a hash of things. The first time we flew the plane, for example, the new dynamic to play mechanics saw us accidentally pull the eject button before we even started to cross the map. Driving vehicles for the first time or missing enemies with throwing knives at long range also brought the laughs.
Glory for the graphics?
Though not much to look at in the screenshots, the graphics in Operation Warcade are actually pretty impressive. Certain things, like the other gamers in the arcade, aren't very realistic, but they're not the main focus of the game.
The "3D mode" visuals on the Classic 3D Edition are impressive, too, as are the first-person point-of-view graphics when you're pulled into an immersion point. The effects are simple but the overall experience is fantastic.
In the game's settings you can adjust the graphics from "low" all the way to "ultra-mega xtreme". On the highest settings, we found the Immersion Edition struggled somewhat and suffered with lag and slow down issues. This wasn't terribly surprising, but then the PC we're using isn't a slouch - Intel Core i7-5930K, 32GB RAM and Geforce GTX Titan X - so this result was a bit of a disappointment.
Operation Warcade VR is one of the most enjoyable and original VR games we've played. It's smart and witty, yet has that nostalgia value that always warms our hearts.
With the variety offered by the two gaming modes, along with the challenges, achievements, unlocks and a ranking system, there's plenty of opportunity to get hours and hours of gameplay out of this one.
In our various play sessions, we were disappointed at having to stop due to standing up for too long or having other real-world issues getting in the way - you know, like having to go to sleep. Which is testament to how addictive Operation Warcade VR's gameplay is.