Blasters of the Universe is an action arcade first-person shooter available for download from the PlayStation Store for PlayStation VR. Blasters of the Universe is developed by Secret Location; an award winning team with experience in creating original virtual reality experiences including short-form sci-fi crime drama mini TV series Halcyon set in 2058 as a detective within the Virtual Reality Crimes Unit investigates the world’s first murder to take place in VR. Halcyon’s 15 episodes broke new ground in the entertainment industry as it comprised of 10 short-form episodes that people could follow the story without the requirement of a VR headset through Syfy or Halcyon’s official website, while 5 virtual reality episodes supported by Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR allowed viewers to actually explore the crime scene for a greater sense of immersion. Can Secret Location’s VR experience lead to Blasters of the Universe being the most immersive action arcade first-person shooter on every virtual reality platform?

The story revolves around an expert gamer named Allen Fitzpatrick who spends his time at his local arcade where he one day decides to transport himself into a new virtual reality device in which he then decides to design a virtual reality world, surround himself with numerous minions and change his name to Grand Master Alwyn. However, the Blasters of which you are one; want to enter Grand Master Alwyn’s world to challenge and defeat him and his minions.

Gameplay begins almost immediately with an entertaining tutorial teaching the player how to construct a weapon before getting in some target practice, how to reload your weapon when depleting your ammo and learning how to utilise your shield.

Campaign mode sees the player trying to complete a level without losing all five lives that are lost one at a time for being hit only once and shield health that diminishes after every hit received by an enemy bullet resulting in potentially not having anything to shield the player from the incoming onslaught. Meanwhile, endless mode tasks the player to survive hordes of enemies for as long as possible in an attempt to earn the highest score. Challenge mode is essentially a weekly challenge that offers a specific objective per week and a fixed loadout which is capable of completely changing the experience such as being provided with two shields instead of a gun and a shield.

Upon completing a level or being defeated; a statistical analysis of your performance is presented including game time, enemies killed, headshot kills, bullets dodged and swarmer kills, alongside the option of restarting a level or heading to the armoury to craft an alternative weapon that may be better suited to the level you were previously unable to complete.

Enemy design is quite varied as there are a dozen enemies with their own unique shapes, sizes, movements and patterns of fire. Ground enemies include robots of varying sizes and armour and a creature similar to a scorpion, while aerial enemies are modelled around a circular shape covering a human head, ships reminiscent to that of Hunter Killers in Terminator and more besides, alongside enemy bosses situated at the end of each level that tower above the player.

Weaponry comprises of a frame that all of the customised components slot onto including a phase blaster, a rapid-fire phase rifle and much more besides, while rather interestingly every frame has a special ability that gradually charges such as the phase blaster’s special offering a continuous high powered laser to fire at enemies and a rapid-fire phase rifle’s special being a widespread protective shield that prevents all incoming enemy fire regardless of the angle it is approaching from for a limited period of time. Every weapon frame has unprecedented unlockable weapon customisation components including many variations of ammo magazines that have their own physical or rechargeable ammo, fully automatic and semi-automatic fire modes, capacity and damage bonus; in addition to modifiers that provide varying increases to damage, refills a portion of ammo after defeating an enemy, bounces your weapons bullets off multiple surfaces and more besides. Elsewhere, barrels that fire bullets straight when aiming or amplifiers that fires multiple bullets in a scatter pattern at Grand Master Alwyn’s minions with further attributes including damage, fire rate and accuracy; alongside projectiles that have varying impact types, damage to enemies and speed.

There are two types of shields comprising of defensive and offensive shields in which defensive shields prevent incoming enemy fire from hitting your character, while offensive shields are more productive in the sense that they reflect incoming bullets back towards enemies with increased damage dealt to any enemy hit in the process. Shields have their own unique attributes too including health, charge rate and overload penalty, while each shield has other advantages such as a large sized shield instead of a medium sized shield or even multiple shields that can be positioned where the player believes they would prevent enemies from hitting your character the most.

Environment design comprises four levels including barrens containing structures floating in the sky, a scientific facility, a passage to tall buildings and structures and the core of a futuristic ship. Despite the player not being able to move around the environment; each level provides the sense of depth in an immersive feeling which is helped by particle effects hurtling towards you upon amazing backdrops.

The controls are appropriately mapped to two PlayStation Move controllers that represent your left and right hands with a control scheme consisting of pressing the trigger button on the right-handed PlayStation Move to fire your weaponry; pressing the trigger button on the left-handed Move controller to hold a shield in front of your character; pressing the move button on the left-handed Move controller to produce an ammo magazine to physically position underneath your weapon in order to reload; and holding start to reset head tracking. Some enemies fire lasers at an alternative angle to the majority of bullets fired by enemies; therefore requiring the player to duck to avoid the lasers. PlayStation Move’s gyroscopic motion sensing functionality allows the player to aim the weapon and position your shield respectively, while head tracking is utilised efficiently enabling the player to watch out for enemies attempting to flank from the left or right, alongside vibration reflecting the recoil of your weaponry as it is being fired.

Graphically, Blasters of the Universe is impressive as the weaponry and huge quantities of accompanying particle effects of varying neon stylised colours in the bullets produced by the player’s and enemy’s weaponry, while enemy models and environments all look of an equivalent high quality complimented by a consistent level of performance no matter how many particle effects and enemies are simultaneously within view.

Blasters of the Universe’s presentation is immersive as each area of the menus are layered in the sense of what you would anticipate from stereoscopic 3D. Every choice of weapon crafting, shield, mode and level selection sees the player physically turning in the direction of their preferred option before pointing their left or right PlayStation Move controller while pressing the trigger button to choose the holographic option. Menu backgrounds are suitably stylised in a neon aesthetic.

Blasters of the Universe’s arch nemesis Grand Master Alwyn is voiced with extreme wit and comedic timing to match that of Guardians of the Galaxy’s Starlord as he instructs the player to bow before him, while taunting the player that they are about to lose all of their remaining lives during an enemy boss battle and even suggesting that he may play videogames and have a chat with the player after he has defeated you. Sound effects include firing weapons at your enemies, enemies firing back at your character and sounds that indicate an impressive quantity of enemies defeated consecutively without losing a life complimented by adventurous and upbeat arcade music.

The trophy list includes 37 trophies with 24 bronze trophies, 7 silver trophies, 5 gold trophies and 1 platinum trophy. There are no easier trophies, although there are some accumulative trophies including the Near-Miss bronze trophy for near-missing 1,000 shots; the Swarmer Killer bronze trophy for killing 5,000 swarmer enemies; the Heavy Duty bronze trophy for killing 1,000 heavy gunners; and more besides. Harder trophies include the Barrens Mastery, Facility Mastery, Passage Mastery and Core Mastery gold trophies for scoring 1,000,000 points in the Barrens, Facility, Passage and Core environments respectively and the Fart! gold trophy for beating the game. It is estimated that depending upon skill and a good trophy guide to provide some helpful tips that it would take between 20 to 30 hours to platinum the trophy list.

There are two difficulty levels including casual and hell with the major differences being an increase in enemies per wave, introducing a new enemy variation here and there and a much bigger focus on enemies taking flanking positions to fire on the ground from the left, centre and right in addition to varying flanking positions for aerial enemies. Casual difficulty is harder than hard difficulty in most games; therefore reducing the enjoyment at times due to frustration setting in as the player begins to doubt if progression will ever be made beyond the first level. Some minor difficulty rebalancing for casual difficulty would have went a long way to making it less frustrating as casual difficulty should be an entry difficulty level such as removing the alternate angles of lasers fired by enemies resulting in not having to duck and a faster recharge rate for the shield’s health.

For family and friends situated in the same room; the TV presents what the player is experiencing, albeit without the same quality of depth in comparison to virtual reality. There is no social screen multiplayer which is a missed opportunity to introduce local multiplayer through having the VR player taking on the role of the Blaster, while the TV player controls Grand Master Alwyn’s minions in an attempt to prevent the Blaster from destroying what he has created by deciding the approach and formation of each enemy wave in a competitive multiplayer battle. However, there are online leaderboards that focus on top 10 and global rankings for each player’s highest score per level on casual and hell difficulty levels.

Blasters of the Universe’s replayability stems from three game modes including campaign, endless and challenge mode, gradually unlockable components for weapon crafting, two difficulty levels and online leaderboards that will bring players back for more providing the over-the-top casual difficulty level can be overcome, although it would also have been preferable to have more than four levels worth of gameplay.

 

 

Analysis

  • Title: Blasters of the Universe
  • Developer: Secret Location
  • Publisher: Archiact
  • System: PlayStation VR
  • Format: PSN Download
  • Cross-Buy: No
  • Cross-Play: No
  • Players: 1/Online Leaderboards
  • Hard Drive Space Required: 6GB (Version 1.04)

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