AirMech Command is what happens when you strip away the pesky resource management of StarCraft, inject the MOBA-style lane assault of League of Legends, and give the player a twin-stick shooting mech to orchestrate all the battlefield mayhem. However, AirMech Command may trigger your skepticism since it’s a VR port of an older free-to-play RTS game. Let us be the first to reassure you that not all VR ports are created equal.
Launching alongside the Rift as a $40 Oculus exclusive, Carbon Games’ genre-blending RTS is a terrific example of how virtual reality can meaningfully improve a game without feeling like a gimmick that’s been shoehorned in.
AirMech Command has a straightforward premise: claim victory by methodically marching (and flying) across the battlefield, capturing bases to bolster your forces, and eventually swarming and decimating your opponent’s HQ. What’s so refreshing is that the developers have included tons of flexibility in both how you achieve that win, and how you spectate the chaos.
When a match begins, you can pull back the camera and view the entire battlefield as a diorama; a living, breathing tabletop game. You see AI or human opponent’s avatars directing the action on the other end, and you’re struck with the sensation that your AirMech – your army’s commander that transforms between deadly robot and powerful aircraft — is a remote-controlled toy.
You can eventually unlock 10 different AirMechs, each with vastly different roles and support skills. This is the character you have direct control over, using it to scoop up and place units at strategic points on the map, or flying over entire squads and commanding them to fall back, hold their position, attack, or capture the nearest unclaimed base.
Thanks to the great use of VR to improve the game as a whole, you can zoom all the way into the map by tapping the right shoulder button on your Xbox One controller, and suddenly you’re immersed in the battle. Your toys are larger than life, the action is louder, and you can physically move your head 360 degrees to survey the action.
The VR presentation gives real depth and space to the landscape, as well as more precise control over your AirMech’s various real-time skills, such as buffing and healing your units, unleashing an energy disc attack, or laying down a barrage of bombs. We also love the intuitive twin-stick shooter control scheme for both airborne and ground combat.
Another advantage VR brings to the table? Eliminating UI clutter. To build units (up to 60 types total, ranging from jetpack-equipped infantry to anti-air turrets and devastating Goliath tanks), you simply look up, activating a toolbar you can navigate with your controller. Once you’ve dialed in what you want, clicking the A button queues it up at the nearest base. This may seem like a minor tweak, but it further compliments the immersion and imparts a strong sense of presence since you feel like the commander in charge, not merely a person controlling that player.
We’ve already sunk a good 10 hours into AirMech Command and haven’t remotely had our fill. That’s partially because it’s such a comfortable game in VR, with a presentation that facilitates lengthy play sessions. But there’s also a good variety of maps, each with their own unique obstacles and strategies. Though absent any semblance of story, the single player missions offer up challenges beyond just “build and conquer,” such as defending your own HQ, or overcoming a 2-on-1 matchup against a team of UFOs.
The game also features several solo practice modes in addition to online versus and co-op matches (with some neat tricks like portraying the actual head movements and voices of your opponents), but due to very low pre-launch player population, we weren’t able to properly evaluate the multiplayer components. If you’re primarily a competitive multiplayer fan when it comes to RTS games, you may want to adopt a wait-and-see approach to ensure the servers are stable post-launch.
With literally hundreds of different units on the map at any given time – each with unique animations and particle effects – it stands to reason that steady framerate is going to trump visual fidelity. AirMech Command is by no means the best looking game of the Rift launch lineup, with somewhat muddy textures that don’t pop like you’d expect them to. It would have been nice to let players with higher-end rigs ramp up the graphics, but it doesn’t detract from the overall fun factor.