Platforms: HTC Vive (reviewed), Oculus, PSVR
It’s no secret that VR is still struggling with how to handle movement.
There’s been a lot of effort put into bridging the disconnect many people feel when using a stationary headset that simulates movement. Teleporting from one location to another seems to be the standard route, but this robs a VR experience of the fluidity necessary to convince your brain that you’re really there.
Sprint Vector, the newest game from Survios, is trying something altogether new. It circumvents the issue of movement by putting a distinct emphasis on navigation, and involving your body in the process.
This is one of the more physical VR games on the market. That physicality paired with a colorful virtual world makes Sprint Vector one of the most novel VR experiences currently available, and an important step forward in the development of VR control.
Gameplay in motion
Sprint Vector is a fairly straight forward racing game at first glance. You select from a roster of suitably wacky future people, and run/fly through courses that are riddled with obstacles and power-ups. It’s essentially an on foot, first person Mario Kart, set in a neon, high energy world of color and light.
Though Sprint Vector doesn’t win any points for concept originality, that’s really not what it’s about. Sprint Vector is about bringing the joy of movement to VR, and at that, it excels.
Movement is handled by raising your arm with the motion controller out in front of your chest, and dropping it down past your waist while pulling the trigger. You alternate arms to go faster and faster, essentially mimicking the way you would use ski poles on a downhill slope.
This “Fluid Locomotion system” is somewhat difficult to describe, but once you make it through the tutorial, it’s a blast to use. Before long you’ll be zooming across the tracks as if you were ice skating with rocket boots. You can also jump with the trackpad, and fly through the air by holding your hands in front of you like a superhero to extend those jumps. The power-ups and projectiles are activated by quickly tapping the trigger.
There’s also more complicated features like pulling yourself up booster pads, or drifting around corners by holding the jump and trigger buttons at the same time. You don’t need to master everything in order to have a good time, but especially on the more advanced maps, you’ll need the full repertoire of skills to come in first.
Luckily, the tutorials cover everything pretty extensively, and there’s a free roaming “skate park” mode which is very useful for mastering the mechanics of this unusual game.
The movement in Sprint Vector is by far its most appealing aspect, and for the most part, it’s handled extremely well. It’s a little confusing at first, but once it clicks, the experience of quickly speeding up and getting through obstacles is exhilarating, and unlike any racing experience I’ve had.
It also requires fairly consistent arm movement, so expect to get sweaty and tired. It’s not exactly a full body workout, but it’s much closer to actually running than most VR titles.
Just make sure you complete the tutorial before jumping into any online races, or you’re gonna have a bad time.
Modes, maps, and graphics
Sprint Vector ships with 12 maps, and there’s no reason to believe more aren’t on the way. The dozen levels vary pretty dramatically, both in difficulty and aesthetics. Once you’ve completely mastered a level, you can bump up the difficulty of the AI racers, or you can compete against yourself for better times in Challenge Mode.
There’s also eight different characters, and though they all have a very distinct look, from a fairy-like embodiment of the universe to a hammerhead shark-man, all their stats are the same. The differences are purely cosmetic, which seems like a missed opportunity.
Sprint Vector is all around very colorful, and because of the style of the cel shaded aesthetic, it’s not terribly hardware intensive. Even running on the relatively underpowered PSVR, Sprint Vector didn’t have any performance issues when we tested it. That’s a good thing, because a smooth experience is critical for a game so focused on speed and movement.
Overall, Sprint Vector is visually impressive. When you’re tearing down the Tron-like tracks everything is clear, distinct, and uniquely stylish. It’s not trying to push the limit visually, but it’s got its got a style and flair that is very much its own.
Running with friends
There’s plenty to do in single player, but the obvious draw of any racing game is multiplayer. Sprint Vector allows you to play across platform on PC, though those on the Oculus or Vive will not be able to play with people using PSVR.
When you do take it online, multiplayer is a blast. There seem to be plenty of people playing, and virtually no connection issues. There were a few times the games stuttered to load or would crash to a black screen, but that only every happened after the match was complete, so it wasn’t a deal breaker.
Sprint Vector has some pretty charming social features. Before every match everyone is gathered at the starting line, and using the built in microphones from your headset of choice, you can talk to the other racers.
Of course, some people are more pleasant than others, but I had some interesting conversations with people, and some light trash talking is always a good time. For those of you less socially inclined, you can mute people easily.
As of now, Survios has already released a new set of skins for the Winter Olympics, so it looks as though they have every intention of supporting Sprint Vector with new skins and maps which will hopefully increase replayability, and keep bringing new people into the game.
The tracks in Sprint Vector are devilishly designed and take a while to master, but it’s your opponents that are the true obstacles. Though you can’t physically strike each other or push each other off the map, there’s a collection of power-ups that add a great deal of flavor to the game.
For example, the Nitro Boost shoots you forward at top speed, allowing you to catch up with an opponent much further ahead. There’s a Proximity Mine that goes off when an opponent touches it, a Lag Mine that slows down any player who enters the explosion field, and my personal favorite, Overdrive, which removes any speed limits so you can move as quickly as your arms will let you.
There’s a varied collection of mines, missiles, and support items, and these power ups definitely add a dynamic edge that vastly improves the competitive nature of the game. There’s nothing better than taking out the number one player with a well placed Crash Missile, and nothing more annoying than watching someone fly past you because they hit you with a well-placed rocket.
If you’re looking for a Mario Kart style racer in VR, Sprint Vector is it. The movement system might not be for everyone, but once you understand how it works, it’s going to be hard to go back to a teleportation based system, or heaven forfend, a controller.
It’s a fun game to be sure, but more than that, Sprint Vector feels like an important step in VR, like a substantial move in the right direction when it comes to handling locomotion in virtual environments. Not since Lone Echo have I had so much fun simply moving around maps, and the emphasis on speed and physicality makes this an excellent showcase for the potential of VR.
It might now be the most original game from a gameplay concept perspective, but the implementation of motion make it an easy recommendation for anyone looking for a compelling VR experience.