Yeehaw! High Noon VR is here, offering up a serving of Wild West showdowns with a VR spin. Draw 'em, pardner.
The idea of grabbing a couple of six-shooters and strapping on our cowboy boots to blast some pesky varmints was immediately appealing. But in a world stuffed full of waved-based VR shooters, there's a question of whether High Noon VR can bring anything new to the table...
A static VR shooting gallery
Although a wave shooter of sorts, High Noon VR offers something new in the simplest of ways: there's very little need for movement here.
Whereas many other wave-based shooters we've played require you to dash about in the virtual environment in combination with real-world movements to avoid incoming threats, High Noon VR is more of a shooting gallery. You stand on the spot and simply shoot at targets as they appear.
In some ways this is a refreshing change - as it's certainly not as tiring or sweat-inducing as other wave shooters. However, you do need to be constantly turning your head to work out where threats are as they come quickly from different directions.
If you've ever been to a fairground and seen those Western-styled games where you have to fire an air-gun at pop-up targets and cowboys, then this game will feel immediately familiar.
The graphics are comically styled with a cartoon-like vibe, too. It looks like what would happen if the developers behind Team Fortress 2 made a wave shooter set in the Wild West. That feeling carries through to the amusing commentary from a disembodied voice who eggs you on and disparages enemies as they roll into the arena.
Shooting enemies causes bursts of "hit", "headshot", "combo" and points scores above their heads. A health bar also shows how much health baddies have left, which is handy when you start facing off against bosses in later levels.
Big, bad bosses
Gun-fighting is initially very tough. You start out with a single pistol and shooting accurately is tricky. Not because the game is poorly designed, merely because it's meant to be that way. Wild West guns were hardly known for their accuracy - these are the days before proper rifling and modern bullet technology.
You don't have time to aim carefully. A lot of shooting is done from the hip and in different directions, especially once you unlock the ability to dual-wield. You have to watch the way the bullets trace across the environment and adjust your aim accordingly - especially when enemies move quickly back and forth across the stage and need to be shot as they pass in front of you.
There are nine stages to play in total, which are split into various waves - often with four or more waves per stage. You have a large health bar that diminishes every time you get hit. That health carries across from wave to wave and doesn't replenish, so if you aren't a crack shot from the start you'll find you have very little health left by the final wave. This presents a real issue when the final part of the stage involves a boss fight.
We had a real struggle with this early on, when as hard as we might try we couldn't get past a boss on one of the first stages of the game. That is until on one playthrough a bug caused the boss to get stuck on a doorway and he was unable to fire back, meaning we finally had the upper hand and could finish him off.
We're not sure that's historically accurate
The good news is that with each wave you play and each stage you complete you earn in-game currency. In the main menu, you can choose to return to your stagecoach where you can access a number of new weapons and upgrades. Some of the weapons clearly aren't historically accurate, but that doesn't really matter as it's a total blast.
There are shotguns, pistols, a harpoon of sorts, a Gatling gun, dynamite and more. You have to spend your hard-earned cash to unlock these weapons, but changing weapons adds a whole new dynamic to the game.
Our favourite weapon has to be the Gatling gun - as you don't have to reload it (but it does overheat). Other enjoyable ones are the pistols that fire explosive-tipped rounds, and a small pistol-like gun that fires rockets (it only carries three rockets, so you need to aim carefully as reloading it takes time - but it deals a lot of damage and is very handy).
You need a lot of money to buy upgrades though. One gun costs $10,000 to enhance - and that took completing several levels or at least playing the same level multiple times in order to earn enough to buy it. We were disappointed when the upgrade didn't appear to have made any difference to the gun other than cosmetic changes (turning it silver, then gold).
We'd really like to have seen these upgrades improving accuracy, shortening reload times or making the guns do extra damage, otherwise we think it's just a waste of your hard-earned money.
Enemies all around
Although the AI isn't amazing, that doesn't mean your foes aren't deadly. There are a range of enemies to deal with, including scantily clad women and a variety of dangerous cowboys intent on finishing your fun. It's the small people with barrels of explosives on their backs who do kamikaze-like charges that are the biggest bother though.
Enemies wander casually onto the map and then stop, shoot at you, move again, stop, and shoot at you again. They do kindly shout "hey!" or other catch-phrases when they appear to get your attention. How thoroughly sporting of them. You also get a green arrow at the left or right of your vision to let you know a rough direction of where they are, but as with most Vive (and other VR) games at the moment the positional audio isn't there to help.
Keeping your head moving constantly to observe your surroundings is an essential part of play. Failing to do so will find you dying often. You'll then see those enemies doing a celebratory dance on your grave.
We were pleased when we found that shooting explosive barrels scattered throughout the levels not only does damage to enemies - it also slows down time. That gives you a chance to aim more efficiently, which is an important part of battling through the stages.
You also later realise that on the trickier levels you can just keep shooting barrels to slow time to help your aim and reduce the damage you take. Since barrels respawn between waves it's just a case of blowing them up again and again to give you the edge.
The size, shape and makeup of the stages also make a difference to play. One minute you're in a quarry shooting it out long-range with fast moving targets, the next you're in a small town with enemies closeby on rooftops, in doorways and on porches shooting at you with all manner of guns. Keep a sharp eye out for the dynamite, which you'll need to blast out of the sky.
You can also drop scenery – such as hanging boxes – onto enemies' heads, which is a nice and handy way of dealing with them. It's not only rather amusing, there are benefits to certain challenges - shooting off hats, blowing up the scenery, and so forth can earn you extra cash.
High Noon VR is a fun VR shooting gallery, the challenge of winning a stage and the lure of new weapons being enough to keep you shooting away.
But it's lacking in several areas. We'd have liked greater dynamism with movement, actual weapon upgrades (not just cosmetic ones), plus health drops to ease up that quickly diminishing health bar.
All that said, High Noon VR is an often enjoyable game, offering around three hours of gameplay. It's well crafted and we saw very little in the way of bugs or tracking issues during our play time.
If you're looking for the thrill of wielding two six-shooters and love the Wild West then this might be the game for you. In the same breath, as VR games go, it's not really breaking new ground.
Alternatives to consider
Duck Hunt for the VR age, anyone? This wonderfully retro take on a classic (unofficially, mind!) is a hoot.
Read the full article: Duckpocalypse review
Space Pirate Trainer
Fururistic fun from this frantic gallery shooter. Grab power-ups, shields and try to stay alive as long as you can. It's about as far from the Wild West as it could be, if that's your thing.
Read the full article: Space Pirate Trainer review