Space Pirate Trainer is a game that can be described briefly as Space Invaders meets Doom. Much like other VR shooters, the player is in first person and the joysticks serve as weapons, but the enemies are floating drones that appear in waves that grow larger and larger. The goal is to gain the highest score.
The game has 4 game modes that alter the gameplay. Player’s arsenal and enemies remain the same. The best mode to get familiar with the game is the Explorer mode, where the player’s three lives regenerate, but he gains only 50% of the points and thus has to face more difficult enemies to get the same score.
The player uses both hands. In each hand, it’s possible to hold a gun or a shield (they can be swapped at any time by moving the hand behind the back). The guns have several modes that can be changed using the joysticks:
- Pistol – shoots as fast as the player can push the trigger, bullets are fast and ammo is infinite
- Machine gun – shoots continuously and deals decent damage, but bullets are slow and hitting enemies requires optical feedback and estimating their movement
- Shotgun – shots are slower but deal a lot of damage and have spread, ammo is spent fast and takes time to refill
- Grenade launcher – deals massive damage in a large volume of effect, but needs careful aiming because the grenades explode after some time, regardless if they hit something before; ammo is spent fast and takes time to refill
- Laser gun – shoots a beam that continuously damages the targeted enemy, but does not deal much damage and needs a short break to recharge after a while
- Railgun – fast and highly damaging shots, needs to be charged before each shot
The shield is primarily used to stop enemy shots, but can be used to reflect them back to the enemies and can fire some kind of slowly moving vortices that damage enemies and push them away. It has an alternate mode (switchable using the joysticks) that works as some kind of energy whip that can be used to pull enemies, bash them against other enemies or the platform the player’s standing on or to control a turret (turrets are powerful weapons that can fire from behind the player if controlled).
Enemies fly around and shoot at the player. When the player is shot at, the time slows down and a distinctive sound is heard. The player can continue shooting, but it’s a good occasion to dodge or block the shots. The basic enemies simply shoot a few bullets and return back to flying around, but there are harder enemies that alternate between bullet-reflecting mode and shooting mode, shoot rockets that can’t be dodged etc. Later waves contain more enemies and harder enemies, huge swarms of regular enemies tend to be less challenging because their quantity can be reduced simply by shooting in the general direction of the swarm. The player can start with a later wave instead of always starting with the first one, which is boringly easy and awards little points.
Killing enemies awards points and can drop power-ups. Killing several enemies in a row or hitting them in their weak spot awards extra points. Power-ups vary a lot, some give temporary super weapon modes, others create protective shields, then there is one that summons an allied drone, one that creates a magnetic field that traps enemies etc.
The game is mainly about aiming fast at moving enemies, while dodging or blocking their fire. It’s somewhat physically demanding, but not as much as Creed or Beat Saber. Because the player moves only by physically moving around, it doesn’t cause nauseating disagreements between visual input and acceletometers.
The first thing the player sees is the graphics. And this game’s graphics are no candy. Despite a relative simple scene, models are very low poly and materials are basic. There is no dynamic lighting, no normal maps and no other fancy effects readily available with Oculus Quest’s version of GLES. The most advanced graphics that can be seen are particle effects and decals. Oculus Quest’s graphics can certainly render much more demanding stuff. The visual may give a feel of a retro game, but not as retro as Space Invaders.
Another quickly coming nasty surprise is the gun’s shape. After getting used to aim intuitively in games like Superhot or Drop Dead, I shot many degrees above the intended direction. There is a menu option where the angle of fire can be adjusted and the upper extremity of the supported range feels almost like in other games.
The game’s plot can hardly be called an excuse plot, it’s more like a justification of its title, because it’s only that the player is training to be a good space pirate. But it doesn’t really feel like the game needs a plot.
The gameplay is the main focus on the game. It’s full of action, demanding skill and after playing for a while also physical fitness. There are no boring cutscenes, just action, action, action, then a few seconds break and then more action as another wave comes. Easier waves can be skipped by starting from a later wave.
Surviving so many enemies with just three lives seems very demanding on attention not to get randomly hit from the back, but I usually lost all lives in one or two waves (the last two waves), when the enemies became too hard for me to handle.
It has good replayability because there are no cutscenes to boringly repeat, the power-ups are random and there are many gun modes to master and use in appropriate situations.
The game’s soundtrack is mostly electronic music and is rather crappy, but it can be turned off in the menu. Absence of music makes the sound that warns about enemy fire easier to notice. Even if the music was good, it would not have had much an effect of the game because of the constant noise of shooting.
So far, I have found no bugs, glitches nor other blunders.
The game follows the style of old games that had to be replayed over and over until the player became skilled enough to complete it. Space Pirate Trainer does this very well. It provides a good variability of play style combined with good replayability. However, its basic graphics and weird aiming angle are too noticeable to be handwaved. My rating is therefore 4/5.