I don't think I'll ever be able to play a dogfighting game on a two-dimensional screen again. That is the strongest compliment I can pay to EVE Valkyrie, or indeed any virtual reality game. For me, the core mechanics of fighting in space are now intrinsically linked to putting a headset on my face and flying into battle.
After tearing my headset off in a fit of nausea the first time I did a loop-the-loop and discovered the joys of having neither an up nor a down in virtual reality, I then found it fairly easy to fly around.
It's almost a rite of passage for Valkyrie, and the first time you take one at speed you'll definitely taste your breakfast. As soon as that's done though, things get easier – quite an achievement for a game that, due to its arcade physics, mostly sees you circling your enemies at high speed, looking for an opening.
The arcade physics may put off the hardcore, but for many it means that navigating the starfields full of space debris and asteroids is more manageable: especially as you're often having to contend with gunfire, pursuing attackers and the constant flash of missile lock warnings.
Developers CCP Games know what it takes to make a space game. They've been running MMO EVE Online for 13 years now, and although it's an entirely different beast to team-based shooter Valkyrie, it's clear that a lot of the lessons and lore they've built up working with spaceships shows here. Every ship looks beautiful, and the story about cloned pilots signing up to be mercenaries – despite not really gripping me – is a great example of pulp sci-fi.
The single-player content is fairly thin on the ground. There are a few story missions, easy enough to clear in a few sessions and so simple they don't ever come close to representing the harsh realities of space-warfare you'll find jumping into the multiplayer.
There's a "scout" mode in which players fly around maps looking for extra details, but after going in once to admire the scenery I promptly forgot about it, and am not likely to revisit. The best of the single-player content is the wave-based survival mode, which I found myself dipping into repeatedly to test out new ship configurations before taking them into the multiplayer.
Time spent learning the ropes is invaluable, as piloting a heavy fighter or support ship is a completely different experience to the basic fighter. I liked the basic fighter, with its forward facing space machine guns and homing missiles that lock onto whatever you're looking at. The fighter made sense to me.
The support fighter is a big departure, with an auto-aiming laser that'll help or hinder people depending on whether they're friends or foes. Later on, some of them will unlock tiny robots that also support or sabotage, depending on whether you and the ship that passes by them are on your side. I had the most trouble with heavy fighters, as their main gun is aimed with your eyes, which ends up feeling kind of exhausting – although this won't be the case for everyone.
The big draw is getting your hands on these ships and taking them into the multiplayer. Valkyrie is a game you'll want to play with friends. Not because you need to have a specific team composition between the three aforementioned ship classes, or even that you need a particularly taxing plan in the three game modes. No, the reason you'll want to play with friends so that you have someone to watch your back when it all goes south, which is pretty much all of the time in the 8 v 8 skirmishes. Wingmen are essential in Valkyrie, and if you find yourself without one, you'll quickly be picked off by enemy pilots.
There are three game modes: standard two-point capture and team deathmatch modes make an appearance, but I had the most fun in the third mode: Carrier Assault, which asks pilots to knock down an enemy flagship's shields by capturing points before going in and thumping it directly. It's one of the better parts of the whole experience, as you try to balance raking the enemy carrier with gunfire and strafing to avoid getting wrecked by the enemy fighters all around you.
In a week of playing with PlayStation VR, it's Valkyrie I've spent the most time with. Unfortunately, the biggest issue for me has been how slow progress is, and how comparatively easy it would be if only I felt like dropping some cash on microtransactions.
It's not the most debilitating issue; the game doesn't hinge on its progression and most later-game ships are just as strong as those you get early on. Still, the progression is so slow, even with the in-game boosters to speed up your XP-gain, that it felt a bit like CCP trying to nickel and dime gamers.
If I was being cynical, I'd suggest this was designed to take advantage of the Oculus Rift players that got the game free with their Rift headset, but for a full price release it's unfortunate.
It's one blemish on an otherwise fairly exceptional game, though. You'll rarely be worrying about how fast you're earning new ships when you're focusing on the spectacular skirmishes that unfold every time you enter a multiplayer match.
EVE Valkyrie is a simple game, but keeping the scope small has allowed CCP to achieve something special. This is the space dogfighting game, and I can't imagine playing another space combat game now I've experienced Valkyrie. The microtransactions are a particularly gross negative from CCP, but it's the only misstep in a near flawless dance.