That’s what I kept saying while playing this game. When I first loaded it up and saw that it was published by Oculus Studio I was sure that would mean good production values and boy was I right about that. Anshar Wars 2 isn’t perfect, but man is it fun, diverse and in all ways an improvement upon it’s predecessor. I couldn’t ask for more out of a first generation Gear VR game. Keep reading to find out why Anshar Wars 2 absolutely deserves a place in your library.
[UPDATED: I have learned from the developers that they are not the voice actors, but they were inspiration for the artwork for the characters which is why they are listed the way they are in the credits.]
[Original Review Below]
When I first loaded it up and saw that it was published by Oculus Studio I was sure that would mean good production values and boy was I right about that.
People who follow my writing are going to learn a few things about me. One, I’m a sucker for nostalgia and two, I think the Nintendo 64 is the best video game system that has ever existed. Sure, it wasn’t the best to look at, but for sheer fun and wonder, nothing has topped it in my opinion. While playing Anshar Wars 2 I kept getting a feeling of happiness that reminded me of my younger days, getting that new N64 cart on Christmas morning. There was something almost magical about video game worlds back then and, though I’m sure this won’t be the case for everyone, there were many occasions in Anshar Wars 2 that rekindled that joy in me.
AW2 is controlled in much the same way as the first Anshar Wars was. You steer the ship with head movement and you shoot with the touchpad or, if you have one, the game pad. The controls in Anshar were never bad, but they have been refined in Anshar Wars 2. They seem more natrual, less like your ship is stuck on the end of a pole attached to your face. Normally I don’t like this style of control because I feel it forces you to focus on the ship instead of the world around you and though there were times I would have liked to press a button and be able to move my head freely without it affecting the ship, because of the large, open environments it never feels like you don’t have the freedom to look around.
There have also been a few additions to the control scheme. You are now able to control the speed of your ship, to a degree. With a swipe of the touchpad or a tilt of the left thumbstick you can shift between fast, normal and slow speeds. The faster speed is good for speeding away from trouble or grabbing a power up off in the distance. The slower speed is almost stationary and is useful when attacking a target head on so you don’t crash into it or for when you are being attacked from behind so that the ship will overtake you and you will be in a position to take it out. It’s a welcome addition that I didn’t realize how much I wanted it until I went back to AW1 and didn’t have it.
AW2 is always exciting as OZWE changes things up in every level. Sometimes you are fighting in space, sometimes you are flying over the surface of a planet. Sometimes you are in a bomber ship, sometimes you are in a fighter, each with different weapons, handling and speed. There are levels where you can swap out ships by returning to the Anshar mothership and even one level where you can land your ship on the much larger mothership and mount a turret. Here Anshar Wars becomes possibly the best turret shooter available on the Gear VR, with turret responsiveness on par with Gunjack, and multiple turrets to choose from as in Bandit Six Salvo, except instead of just fading between you actually have to get back into your ship and fly to the other turrets. And, of course, you don’t have to use the turrets at all if you don’t want to. It’s all up to you. When you are not in the turrets you are zipping around the giant space craft, zooming between narrow gaps and through the engine. It all feels pretty bad ass.
AW2 is always exciting as OZWE changes things up in every level
And flying through things is awesome. OZWE clearly noticed that and designed the game around it because you can do it, or have to do it in almost, every level. It was one of the first things I noticed when I started playing. The asteroids had tunnels going through them. But there is more than just asteroids to fly through. Sometimes it’s a ship, sometimes it’s a cavern, sometimes it’s a debris field. It doesn’t matter what it is you’re flying through, it’s a lot of fun. And you’re going to want to do it because there are crests hidden throughout each level to pick up which add to your score.
The stages in Anshar Wars 2 are neither too short, nor too long. Most stages give you a bonus for completing them in less than five minutes, but it’s easy to take longer if you go exploring. There were one or two occasions where I took longer because I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do and I had forgotten that you can pause the game to see a list of objectives. I don’t want to give a spoiler but this hint may save some time for some of you. Trust your hud. There was one point where I thought my hud was glitching because it was telling me there were enemies in a place I didn’t think I could get to. Sometimes completing a level will mean putting on your explorer hat, and that’s quite alright with me.
Most stages give you a bonus for completing them in less than five minutes, but it’s easy to take longer if you go exploring.
AW2 has a wonderful look that is perfectly fitted to the style of game that it is. Whether you’re out in space, flying through ice caverns or squeezing through a desert canyon the bright colours pop and the clean lines make everything distinct and easy to see. In some of the environments the textures looked flat and lower resolution than some might like and there were a few animations on background objects that looked a little choppy, but most of the time you’re flying by too fast, or focusing on an enemy, so you don’t notice. And really, I would rather have a game that runs smoothly with a few blemishes than perfect textures and frame drops. The ships though, which you spend most of your time looking at anyway, look fantastic. A big improvement in design over the first game.
In AW2 you aren’t just flying around blasting ships for no reason. There is a story and it is delivered via cut scene and in game conversations between your commander, fellow Ansharian soldiers and the scientist, all of whom communicate with you over your comm system through the mission. Sometimes I found it hard to follow the story. That is no fault of the writer’s though, it’s partially mine for not paying attention and instead looking around at the ship or the new planet or whatever environment I was surrounded by at the time instead of listening. But some of the blame will fall to the developers because during cutscenes when someone is talking to you, you just see a still image of their face floating in front of you. And that hardly draws your attention away from the far more interesting scenes OZWE has created. The story isn’t amazing. Your jaw isn’t going to hit the floor at the big twist ending, but it is entertaining, if at times a little cheesy, and it serves the purpose of giving context to what you are doing.
The voice acting is great. I was suprised when I was watching the credits to see the developers listed as the characters. I thought for sure they had hired actors to do the voices but that doesn’t seem to be the case. The rest of the sound is equally good, giving a clear sense of the crazy battles that you find yourself in. Once or twice though the sound that goes off when your rockets lock on to an enemy seemed to get stuck in a loop for a short time and that was kind of annoying but it always stopped after a few seconds. I wondered if perhaps it was some other warning system, but if it was I didn’t find out what it was. The only other complaint that I have is that the audio doesn’t appear to be 3D. It didn’t seem to matter what side the enemy was on, it sounded the same.
For those who have played AW1, you will probably be wondering about multiplayer. Unfortunately it has not made the journey into AW2. I sent an email to OZWE asking if this was to remain the case. Their response? “AW2 is single player only for…now ;)” So you can take that however you want to take it. I know how I’m taking it.
There are so many good games to play on the Gear VR that I don’t feel comfortable labelling one of them as the best. But if I were to make an equally weighted list of the five best games that I have played so far on this platform, Anshar Wars 2 would be on that list. It looks and plays great with engaging action and plenty of variety in level design. In spite of some low res textures and the occasional choppy animation, AW2 looks fantastic. This is the sort of game that we want more of on the Gear VR. With 13 levels that you will want to play more than once, you will absolutely get your money’s worth.