PlayStation VR is an exceptional piece of hardware with a software problem. Either its stores are not lined up with the quality you’d want for a piece of tech you just paid nearly the price of a PS4 for, or Sony themselves aren’t giving you compelling reasons to want one. First-party VR support has been hit or miss, with Starblood Arena just being the latest example of this. A sparsely enjoyable, free-motion arena shooter that fails to excite, and struggles even worse to give you a reason to stay for long.
Starblood Arena looks like it was stripped straight out of some alternate Ratchet and Clank universe. Its two alien hosts set the stage for a cheesy television deathmatch show, with its competitors taking up arms in some zero-gravity pods hungering for battle. Its on-set aesthetic wears thin fast when announcers start repeating the same unfunny lines far too frequently, which happens pretty fast while trying to toil through menus trying to find a game to play.
Starblood Arena is, of course, an online-focused shooter. Given that it requires PlayStation VR, that immediately presents a problem. The scarcity of the device coupled with the not so stellar sales mean servers are often empty and unreachable. Finding online games was nigh impossible at times. I personally only connected to a handful, forcing most of my time to be spent with computer controlled bots in simple skirmishes. Not the ideal gameplay experience you want from a $40 title.
Its limited modes leave a lot to be desired too. There’s the standard deathmatch and team deathmatch variants, along with a spin on capture the flag that feels more like space-based rocket league than anything else. There’s an additional horde mode that is surprisingly enjoyable, but again suffers from the lack of online humans to team up with. Aside from that there’s simply nothing else bar a rather in-depth tutorial and a mildly dynamic menu system to keep yourself entertained.
Which is a shame, because the underlying mechanics to Starblood Arena aren’t at all bad. the game adopts the hero shooter traits that games like Overwatch nail so well. Each pilot has a distinct ship, with its own main and secondary attacks, defences and traits. Starblood Arena does well to warn you which pilots might be more suitable for expert players, while easing you into the tricky movement with easy to fire others. Although they lack some personality, the visual and gameplay difference between each of the pilots is fresh, and certainly noticeable in fierce firefights.
Control is another area where Starblood Arena unusually excels. You pilot each ship using the standard accelerate, boost and braking from traditional vehicular games, with primary and secondary forms of fire mapped to each of the triggers. You can use both R1 and L1 to roll too, allowing you to live out those neon trail-blazing sci-fi dreams you might have had after watching something like Guardians of the Galaxy. it takes some time to get used to, but you’ll soon be barrel rolling through tight spaces and turning on a dime to keep up with pursuing foes.
At least, you might. The free-form movement in Starblood Arena can be nauseating at times, and even my experience with VR was not able to stand up to the sick feeling that formed in my gut after a few moments of play. The fast pace doesn’t do itself any favours either, nor does the lack of any real feedback that the game gives you for movement. Boost feel almost non-existent and variations in speed are badly managed, to the point where it was hard to discern between differently paced fighters. The motion tracked head aiming is incredible though, and somewhat of a bar for other shooters of this ilk to aspire to.
Yet in amongst the very physical illness and the lack of any compelling game modes, Starblood Arena falls at the mercy of a small community that is being given little reason to keep the game alive. it’s a curious decision for Sony to make too on a first-party title, that could’ve otherwise been a galvanising reason to convince your friends to pick up a headset and join you online. Starblood Arena suffers from the same problem Rigs did at launch. Its target audience is so small already that any additional barriers to that are not easily overcome. And when you’re asking this much in return for so little, it’s not hard to imagine things not working out from the get go.
Last Updated: May 10, 2017