The Ultimate Space Pirate Simulator

[Editor’s Note] – Our From Other Suns review was originally published as a review-in-progress on November 13th, 2017 and has since been updated on November 14th with a final score and expanded analysis. 

Given the relative youth of the VR industry at this stage most VR games I’ve played set out to do one specific thing well in the hopes that the simulation feels real enough or the mechanic is fun enough that you’ll keep coming back for more. Because of that, it still seems rare to come across a VR game that aims to check a lot of the boxes you’d expect to see in a non-VR title and it’s even rarer that a VR game manages to do all of that well.

From Other Suns, the latest VR title from Gunfire Games, isn’t a perfect space-faring VR adventure, but it’s so ambitious and so full of content that it’s hard not to walk away in awe of the accomplishment.

The premise in From Other Suns is dead simple: aliens are invading and you’ve got to get to Earth to face the armies and fight them off. Practically speaking though, From Other Suns is a bit more complex. For starters, it’s roguelike, which means the majority of the game is (randomly) procedurally generated and is meant to be played repeatedly with variations and nuance to keep you engaged. No two games will ever be the same.

In From Other Suns the gameplay loop consists of meeting up with your crew (up to three total human players can be in a game together,) plotting a course on the star chart, and getting into a bit of trouble. From the map I could choose to seek out a random encounter (such as potential pirates, abandoned vessels, loose salvage, or getting attacked by gruesome aliens), visit a space station to upgrade and refuel, or go directly to one of the larger ships. On these vessels I’d often interact with NPCs, go on short quests, and do what I can to earn enough wealth and power to fully explore the galaxy.

There aren’t any experience points to gain or levels to earn as all of your progress is more experiential than anything. As you loot and plunder ships you’ll find all manner of new weaponry that can be stored back on your own ship, but that’s just about the extent of the character development aspect. I felt myself wishing for a Borderlands-style progression system with different classes and abilities that could be unlocked and improved by earning XP as I played the game, but none of that existed. A big part of most roguelikes that really make you feel the devastation of death and thrill of success is the constant advancement of your character. With nothing to lose between games other than accrued weapons and vague progress towards the end, death lost a lot of the sting.

Luckily the variety of guns on display does a great job of alleviating that initial disappointment a tiny bit. While I may have started the game with nothing more than a simple laser pistol, before long I had a rocket launcher that shot three rockets at once, an auto laser rifle, a scatter-shot shotgun, an electricity beam rifle, and even a gun that shot a glowing orb to ricochet all over the environment, doing damage to anything it touched. All the weapons, like the areas themselves, are randomized in terms of stats, type of weapon, and various effects. All weapons can be recharged/reloaded at weapon stations scattered across every ship in the game.

Even though you can teleport onto enemy ships and clean them out using brute force, you have other options as well. During my time I was able to negotiate with NPCs, threaten them, and even engage in ship-versus-ship combat with a system that felt very reminiscent of both Star Trek: Bridge Crew and FTL.

The flexibility in how you approach situations and the creative solutions that come to mind was liberating. In many ways, From Other Suns evokes that same sense of curiosity that tabletop roleplaying games such as Dungeons & Dragons do. When presented with an NPC talking at me, do I just listen and follow along, or do I pull out my gun and shoot them? From Other Suns lets you answer that curiosity with action.

I’ve been having a lot of fun playing From Other Suns cooperatively and while it technically allows for you to play the game alone, I can’t really recommend it. The difficulty spikes are outrageous when by yourself and it’s just not the same if you don’t have someone by your side to revel in the victories and share the excitement about that awesome new gun you found. And even with a full squad at times sometimes the game is just unfairly difficult and you’ll end up wiping your game and having to start off. It can get very frustrating and I hope the developers will patch in some balancing measures.

The crew member system could have been taken a step further to alleviate some of those issues, but it wasn’t. As it stands you hire crew members to occupy your ship. During ship battles they can be assigned to certain rooms (such as the engine room) to perform repairs and when you die out in the field each crew member on your ship represents a single respawn. I’d have loved for the ability to take crew members with me on missions as AI companions, just to balance things out a bit.

And when compared to the boots-on-the-ground gameplay the ship battles are a bit underwhelming. You’re just poking buttons on a screen and it lacks the chaotic intensity of something like Star Trek: Bridge Crew or FTL. It can serve as a nice change of pace from the constant barrage of first-person shooting action, but overall it’s nothing more than filler content for the most part. I ended up only using the ship combat as a way to better setup my boarding of the enemy ship in most cases by disabling certain systems to allow entry.

Final Score: 7.5/10 – Good

From Other Suns is an ambitious VR title that gets a lot right. Fans of sci-fi are going to find a lot to love here and it’s some of the most fun I’ve had playing cooperative VR to date. There is an immense amount of content and enough variety to mostly prevent things from feeling too stale. The real test for replayibility in a game like From Other Suns though is going to be how well Gunfire can support it post launch and how much the community embraces it.

From Other Suns releases on November 14th, 2017 for Oculus Rift with Touch on the Oculus Home Store. You can read our tips to get ready for launch right here. Read our Game Review Guidelines for more information on how we arrive at our review scores.

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