Ever since 1987 Arnie hit The Running Man, I've had an appreciation for brightly coloured future-sports. RIGS: Mechanized Combat League, a game that's half team-sports and half first person shooter, scratches that itch.
That it's ended up exclusive to the PlayStation VR is no surprise. Sony have had an obsession with brightly coloured futuristic visions ever since the original PlayStation launched with techno-speed racer Wipeout.
There are parallels between Wipeout and RIGS. Wipeout took advantage of the original PlayStation's 3D and enhanced pixel-pushing power, while RIGS is a first-person shooter adapted to work in virtual reality.
Players are strapped into mech suits for three-on-three matches in multi-tiered arenas, taking part in one of three different game-modes. The first two are simple. Team Takedown is a reworking of Team Deathmatch, while Endzone is equal parts Capture the Flag and American Football. Power Slam is slightly harder to define. It sees players trying to kill one another and collect orbs around the arena to achieve a powered-up "Overdrive" state, at which point they need to hurl themselves through the floating hoop like a sentient basketball.
Unlike what you would expect for a futuristic sport where mechs battle with heavy weapons, the presentation here is all clean lines, smooth concrete and vivid colours. RIGS is a beautiful game, a Utopian vision of a future where people just so happen to brawl in mechs like a life-size Robot Wars. Nobody gets hurt, with pilots ejected skywards upon the explosion of their mech, before quickly being poured into a new mech and dropped back into the fray.
It's slickly designed and looks wonderful, particularly the team logos and look of the mechs. Unfortunately customisation is limited to your tiny human pilot, and not the clambering mech that acts as your avatar. Players can only have a pair of challenges active at once, one each for the online and offline modes. It's not too troublesome, but it feels like an artificial attempt to slow your progress.
The only real problem with the framing around the game is the intros and outros for matches, which is gratingly chatty and takes too long. This could well be to hide the loading screens, but the additional time between matches puts a dent in the pacing.
When I was actually playing though, RIGS was one of the most intense action games I've ever encountered. The sense of being in the mech heightens the tension, making it truly palpable. Offline, you'll be playing against AI bots that, as you're trying to get to grips with VR and staggering around the arenas like a toddler learning to walk, will absolutely stomp you. You'll die frequently, sometimes before you've even had a chance to react. Teammate AI is competent enough to carry you for a few rounds, and there's a genuine feeling of accomplishment as you beat your body's initial rejection of piloting a virtual mech.
I found myself frequently annoyed by my inability to react as quickly as the AI does, and was sore and nauseous from trying to twist my head so far around. With time I think I'd adjust, but it's quite frustrating and others may never get along with its blistering pace. Many of the mechs' skills are poorly explained too, and as a result working out which guns work at which ranges is mostly trial and error.
Online, these problems persist, although everyone seems to be afflicted with the same lack of familiarity, so games during these early days involve players huddling together, using the PlayStation VR's built-in mic to whisper urgent strategies centred around sticking together and covering the arcs. The pace is a little slower than may have been intended, but it works. It's interesting to see how play changes when most players are trying to work out how to navigate.
RIGS is fairly thin on content, so the drive here is the competition – and I'm not sure if it feels tense enough in action to really succeed on that front. That's a shame, because the pageantry really is wonderful.
The many different mechs seem like a great idea initially. Instead of direct mech customisation you just buy yourself a new off-the-shelf model, with its own loadout of weaponry and a special ability. If you want to change, you'll have to buy another mech. The problem, though, is that each one of these vehicles costs the same as the initial one, so there's a chance you might buy a model you really don't agree with. You're then stuck with it until you can buy another.
RIGS has made me nauseous every time I played it, but for a game that moves this fast, that's not totally unreasonable. The hope, as with many other VR titles, is that over time I'll be less affected by it, and the game should be complimented for the steps it takes to reduce nausea. Players are offered several different control schemes, and the game also blacks out your view with a shield when you're killed so you don't have to watch yourself eject to a high altitude. In the tutorial, so you can see which you would prefer (all comfort options can be disabled). I was ejected into low orbit and nearly threw up on myself, so I appreciated them shielding you from the experience by default.
RIGS is suffering from a content deficit and made me feel sick every time I've played it, but as a competitive game it's compelling, albeit frequently frustrating. It's a bold step towards the sort of content VR needs, even if it falters in its execution.