One of the Oculus Rift's best launch games is basically Top Gun in space

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The most defining moment in EVE: Valkyrie — and by extension the Oculus Rift itself — happens just before I play my first round. Strapped in and waiting to enter the fight, I calmly look around and appreciate every detail of my craft: disarmingly small and very utilitarian, built with a clear purpose in mind and every other expense spared. Then the track beneath me lights up, and I feel a real sense of speed as I shoot like a bullet into the vastness of space. Instantaneously, the micro becomes the macro, and I can’t help but feel a sense of insignificance to whatever towering structure is floating in front of me, and whatever nearby planet is obscuring the stars.

It’s a powerful moment for virtual reality, one that repeats itself after every death as I respawn onto the battlefield. It’s a feeling that has yet to lose its luster, thankfully, because I find myself dying quite a lot. You will, too, probably.

The Oculus Rift is launching this week with a few dozen games and experiences, but none are anywhere near as important as EVE: Valkyrie. CCP’s multiplayer space-fighting game is a visually impressive spectacle whose development has operated in tandem with the Oculus and the Rift. The big question for so many VR titles is: what’s the benefit of playing the game in headset vs. a traditional "flatscreen"? EVE: Valkyrie comes the closest to an answer: as traditional as it may feel, I cannot imagine playing the game in anything other than VR.

Field of view is a technical way to say everything you can see at a given moment, and in virtual reality, being able to look around is crucial. EVE: Valkyrie is at all times a first-person experience; you are a pilot in a small fighter craft. You and a handful of squadmates are sent to some derelict location to shoot up a different squad of space pilots. There’s so much going on, so many things whizzing by you, that you benefit from being able to instinctively look up — not with a joystick, but a tilt of your head — and track an enemy's path.

The controls are fairly straightforward, which is good since all I see when looking down is virtual hands working a virtual control panel. The gamepad's joysticks move the ship, agnostic of wherever you’re looking. The short-range gun turrets fire straight ahead. The homing missiles lock onto whatever baddie is maintained in your line of sight. Conversely, a countermeasure is available for when an enemy locks onto you (listen for a particular series of beeps; this part becomes very reflexive). There’s even a button for highlighting a target, so you can try to keep track of one opponent in particular vs. jumping to and from whatever flies past.

I eventually gave up trying to 'right' my perspective and just adapted to chaos

There’s a rhythm to EVE: Valkyrie, a constant pull between moments of calm and intensity. There are times when I felt miles away from the action, my opponents just blips circling through space debris. Seconds later I’m smack dab in the middle of the fight, twisting and turning (both in-game and literally in my chair) to try and get a lock on someone while simultaneously hoping no one targets me.

For the first hour, I had a feeling in my stomach as I pulled more jarring moves like maneuvering through old construction or hiding behind an asteroid, but eventually I adapted to the chaos. The levels you play don’t have a strong sense of what’s up or down, so I eventually stopped worrying about "righting" my perspective.

Everything about EVE: Valkyrie is built with VR in mind, from the credits that float through the intro level to the menu system that’s mocked up as a hologram interface. Even the game’s premise feels like a nod to the Oculus: a pilot whose body rests in a room of fellow headset-clad squadmates, your consciousness transferring from one doomed clone pilot to another. Or something like that, it’s all a bit hazy and ultimately inconsequential. There’s a campaign you can play that lets you roam around the levels and find audio clips that provide a backstory, but the point of the game isn’t narrative discovery; it’s a chance to be a fighter pilot in space.

Death, be not proud. Or permanent

The game itself is constructed with the traditional gamer in mind, the sort of person who doesn’t just want a relaxing vacation lightyears from Earth. EVE: Valkyrie is not a forgiving experience. It’s a game that’ll happily teach you the basic controls and then let you learn the rest through hours of trial and error. There’s a lot of level grinding — it took me about four hours to unlock a new ship class (there are three different ship classes in all, each requiring very different playing styles). I swore very loudly to no one in particular when I got caught in someone else’s weird laser field of robot spiders (which will take many more hours of grinding to unlock as a weapon of my own). Right now there seems to be only two multiplayer types (deathmatch and capture the base, essentially) and a handful of levels, but CCP plans to "continue to add features to the game long after the Rift hits shelves, at no additional charge."

It’s hard for me to say how EVE: Valkyrie will fare over time, as it’s a game that will evolve largely based on the community of players — many of whom are only now getting a chance to play for themselves. But as frustrating as it is, I still find myself returning, ready to enjoy that feeling of being jettisoned into battle. It’s a visual spectacle — the closest thing to being immersed in Battlestar Galactica or some weird sci-fi sequel to Top Gun. The experience is transportive. It’s currently bundled with every Oculus preorder but honestly should never be unbundled. EVE: Valkyrie bridges the gap between familiar gameplay and virtual reality. And while it may not be enough to justify every gamer owning a headset, those who do make the investment will be rewarded with a trip unlike anything on this world.


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