It’s been five months since the demo for Tactera became available for the Gear VR, and the wait for the full version is finally over. This is the second Gear VR release from developer E. McNeill, following on the success of Darknet, another highly rated VR puzzler. Tactera is the first Real-Time Strategy (RTS) game for the Gear VR and it is defining what we expect from RTS games in the VR world.
The premise is what you’d expect. You’re a commander at war and you need to make the best of your structures and units to destroy your opponent before they destroy you. There are a number of variables incorporated into Tactera. You’ll need to select your game mode and your units, then command them across the map to ultimately defeat your foe.
There are nine different maps available in Tactera. They vary in layout by having different base configurations and some include physical obstacles. When playing in campaign mode, the map is selected for you, but you get to choose your scene for skirmishes. The bases can be located in different locations, and some maps have more bases than others to conquer. As for obstacles, some of the maps have physical objects that block your units, forcing them to go around them. All maps still take place on a virtual tabletop surface before you.
There are 12 different units available for selection in each match. You’ll need to select three of these for your battle and each unit has different attributes for factors including armor, mobility, firepower and production speed. The units can be categorized into one of three types: ground forces, aerial forces and targeted striking bases. The ground forces consist of tanks and other ground vehicles that can be selected and sent to attack the base of your choosing, and the same goes for the aircraft available as aerial forces. Unlike those, the targeted strike bases do not create actual units that can be used for multiple attacks. They basically function as differing airstrikes on the target of your choosing, and their production speed attribute will dictate how long they take to recharge.
You can select from three game modes including “Skirmish”, “Campaign” and “Multiplayer”.
A skirmish is simply a battle between two teams and is the basis for gameplay in the other modes as well. Once you’ve selected your units, the map appears to hover in front of you as a tabletop, and an array of bases scatter across it depending on the selected map. The default number of starting bases for each team is three, however, you can choose to start with as few as one base and you can do the same for the enemy. You’ll start with the three bases along the left edge of the table in a typical 3 VS 3 match, and your opponent will have the three bases along the right edge. The rest of the bases between those edges are neutral until captured. The skirmish is complete once one of the teams captures all of the bases on the map.
Playing a Campaign mode adds more depth to Tactera. You’re presented with a world map, which somewhat resembles a honeycomb of various colors littered with tanks. As always, the blue blocks on the left are yours, the yellow on the right are the opponent’s, and the white in the middle start as neutral. Both teams take turns to move their tanks to adjacent blocks and additional tanks are earned after each round, based on the number of blocks in possession. Once a block has at least one tank from each team present, the game will set up a skirmish. If multiple blocks have a match, you’ll be presented with a choice of which skirmish you wish to play. The outcome of the other skirmishes will be automatically determined for you and the likelihood of winning is based on the odds presented to you. These odds are determined by the number of tanks on that block for each team, as each tank represents how many bases each team starts with. While you may strategize to always have 3 tanks ready for any match, you may end up with a match that is 1 VS 3 and that makes for a very difficult skirmish to win. The winner of the match wins the block on the world map. Conquer the map to complete the campaign. It sounds somewhat complicated, but after one or two rounds, you’ll have it all figured out.
This leaves us with multiplayer mode. Multiplayer matches are set up on a first-come first-served basis and the matches proceed as simple skirmishes.
Thankfully, the controls are as simple as you could hope for from a real-time strategy VR title. A controller is not required, but is certainly supported and recommended, as your arm may tire quickly otherwise. However, there’s really only one button for all actions (sometimes tap and sometimes a long-press), so if you are playing without a controller, you’ll at least avoid complicated swipes in every direction for different actions. I noticed on multiple occasions that I would accidentally click the wrong tower or select the wrong units when trying to click things at the back of the tabletop, but not so much so that it was a deal-breaker by any means. Another setback I noticed is that you’ll find yourself constantly moving your head left and right across the tabletop, due to the cursor being controlled by your head.
I’ve always been predictable when I play RTS games. I find certain types of structures/units that I prefer, then I basically build out my base the same way each time I play. In campaign mode, you cannot select the same units two matches in a row. That is to say that if you select what you think are the best three unit types for a match, you’ll be stuck choosing from what you perceive to be inferior units in the following match. When I’m presented with a 3 VS 3 match and I choose a good variation of units, I typically win. However, I’ve had 3 VS 3 matches that I’ve lost due to poor unit choices, so it’s never a guarantee. Furthermore, it becomes quite difficult to win a match if you start with fewer bases than your opponent.
The full version release of Tactera lives up to the hype of the demo released months before it. Admittedly, this is the first game of its style on the Gear VR, but it seems like the real deal. With multiple maps and units, and both Campaign and multiplayer included, it feels like a full game. The simple controls are well-suited for a game that requires nothing more than the Gear VR’s touchpad, but the Bluetooth controller compatibility is a welcomed addition. The graphics are admittedly somewhat simple, but they’re effective enough and the gameplay speaks for itself. If you’ve been eagerly waiting the full release of Tactera, or you’re a fan of the real-time strategy genre, you’ll want to give this a go.