What are the ethics of repeatedly targeting an eight-year-old in a video game? What if that eight-year-old is demonstrably better than you at the game but is currently being forced to talk to his mom and isn’t really paying attention, and this is your best and probably only chance to mount a comeback? How much trash can you talk after you kill the eight-year-old a few times? What if that eight-year-old has been talking trash to you for the better part of the last hour while gleefully shouting “Expecto Patronum” every time they fire their shotgun?
These are the kinds of questions you’re forced to answer in Super Rumble, the new game for the Meta Quest. (They’re the same kinds of questions you’ll find anywhere in the metaverse and on most multiplayer online games, really.) Super Rumble lives inside Horizon Worlds, the virtual universe system that Meta has tried hard to make the centerpiece of the universe… to essentially no success. Meta hasn’t even been able to get its employees to spend time in Horizon Worlds.
But against all odds and historical precedent, Super Rumble is actually quite a lot of fun. It’s not the Quest’s best game or even its best Fortnite clone (that would be Population: One), but it’s the best — and maybe first? — signal I’ve seen so far that Meta might eventually be able to make a digital world that’s actually fun to be on.
It’s a really simple game, which helps: you’re dropped into a simple arena filled with seven different weapons, which you use to try and take out the other players in the arena. Every round is a few minutes long, you respawn a few seconds after you die, and it’s just a total free-for-all until the buzzer sounds. As you play, you level up, and new levels unlock new in-game skills and gear.
I’m still not good at the game, per se, but after a few hours inside it, I’ve got the hang of the one- and two-handed shooting mechanics and have figured out which weapons and “Super Powers” are the best. (Grenade launcher, Super Ammo, trust me.) I know where the good hiding spots are, and I’m finally getting the hang of moving with the controller and my body simultaneously. Super Rumble won’t rival Fortnite or Apex Legends for shooting-game supremacy anytime soon, but it’s a surprisingly good time.
Super Rumble is actually the confluence of a few important things that could all help make the metaverse a little better. Meta’s internal game studio, Ouro Interactive, built the game using entirely new tools that allow developers to bring outside elements and assets into Horizon Worlds rather than just using the built-in libraries. “We’ve really raised the ceiling on what can be built in Horizon in terms of visual complexity, interactivity and fun gameplay,” Meta’s metaverse head Vishal Shah told Lowpass. It’s a deeper, more replayable game than anything Meta has built before, and not for nothing, it actually works pretty well.
Super Rumble is actually the confluence of a few important things that could all help make the metaverse a little better
But most of all, Super Rumble gives you something to do in the metaverse. So many supposedly immersive experiences amount to standing around and looking at things or watching something happen on a screen inside the screen. That’s why you see those screenshots of a bunch of people standing around looking lonely in Decentraland and why all the experiences you hear about are mostly just tech demos. It’s cool and fun to be dropped into a 360-degree place you can explore, but that novelty wears off fast, and too often, there’s nothing underneath.
Even in the rest of Horizon Worlds, there’s not much to do other than look at all the animation and wonder why your avatar doesn’t have any legs. Ultimately, Meta seems to think that’s fine; it sees the metaverse as a place you’ll eventually just hang out with your friends, more like a virtual coffee shop than a virtual arcade. Personally, I don’t see myself kicking back and relaxing in my Quest headset anytime soon.
Super Rumble is, in many ways, just a pretty good VR game that happens to exist inside of Horizon Worlds. The sense of presence is real, for one thing. Super Rumble’s arena is fairly blocky and rudimentary but still felt fun to explore because I could actually move around inside this 360-degree space. That’s why I play games like Superhot and The Climb, too: they may not be as deep or developed as other games, but there’s something about being inside them that no other system can match.
There are some big-picture metaverse things going on here, too. Your character in the game is your Meta avatar, for one thing, and it’s sincerely fun to play as yourself. When you’re in a game, you can hear everyone else competing, so it was like we were all in the arena together with headsets on. (Listening to a bunch of preteens trash talk has been hands-down the best part of my experience so far — one kid told another, “Your hairline is like a pineapple,” and I’m still trying to sort through that one.) When a round ends, a new one begins a minute later with the same contestants, so you could theoretically play all day with your friends or get to know your new opponents instead of getting a new crew every time. Super Rumble is a game, but it’s also a place, which is a clever maneuver from Meta.
The challenge for Meta will be to continue building on Super Rumble, adding new levels and weapons and power-ups that make it a world worth continually coming back to. It also has to convince people that the game is fun enough to be worth finally diving into Horizon Worlds, painstakingly customizing their avatar, and learning how Meta’s universe works. So far, the game seems to be a hit for the people who play it but not much of a draw to Horizon Worlds — every time I’ve launched the app, Super Rumble has somewhere in the range of 1,000 people playing. That’s not nothing, but it’s also not much.
Even more than that, Meta has to continue to find ways to prove that Super Rumble is more than just a VR game. I’m bullish on VR and AR gaming in general but still unconvinced that “the metaverse” will be a place where people want to spend their days. Super Rumble is a leap in the right direction, both as a technical achievement and as a virtual activity, but there’s still a long way to go.
In the meantime, I’ll just be here, trash-talking the legless avatars of preteens from around the world. That’s the metaverse, baby.