Disclaimer: We received this game for free.
A year ago, when we first ventured into the the new wild, wild west that is Virtual Reality, dgtlhrt and I were discussing how our subconscious have possibly confused VR memories as real memories. Since then, we’ve both had VR dreams, the kind that puts you in one of the VR worlds as if they were physical. While most of my “memories” have been amusing, some of them have been quite poignant, thanks to the funky alien spawns of Cosmic Trip.
Cosmic Trip was developed by Funktronic Labs, an indie team based in Pasadena, CA. Although the learning curve was steep, I stuck with it and it has become my favorite real-time strategy game in VR.
At game launch, you’ll find yourself inside a small spacecraft reminiscent of mid-century technology. The main menu floats in front and an experimental saved game “orb” behind you, if you had previously played the strategy mode. The game currently offers a couple of Wave-based modes, the all-consuming full Strategy mode, plus a Chill mode. Wave modes put you on defense with the goal of surviving as many waves as possible. In the newly-minted Strategy mode, we see how much work the devs have put in between early access launch last year, to the official launch this year. The Chill mode lets you explore the environment and a full map, but with a higher budget and more forgiving enemies. In this review, we’ll delve more into the full Strategy mode.
In Strategy, you can pick the time of day and/or map part where you want to start. Otherwise, it’s randomized. I’ve tried a lot of the combos, and every one presents different challenges, but doesn’t necessarily affect difficulty. I have to say, each area is picturesque in a Jurassic kind of way.
The objective is pretty simple: defeat the enemy heart by fighting its spawns and preventing it from taking over the nodes. To achieve this, you must claim nodes in strategic areas, build a formidable bot army, and attack when the time is right.
You and your adorable bot buddy will claim a base at one end of the map, and the enemy heart on another end, with multiple nodes branching in between.
There are two currencies in-game, gems and ectoplasms. Gems are mined from crystals, and ectoplasms bloom on ectoplants. You’ll need both currencies to purchase buildings and build your bot army.
In the beginning, a base is claimed for you, with a capture node (FKA cosmic plug) already built. It’s required to claim a base and put up buildings. A crystal mine, refinery, and two worker bots are also provided to set you up. Ectoplasms will take a short while to bloom, but a small ectoplant patch is within base where you’re first set up. You start with 450 crystals, so you can construct a bot factory and build more worker bots. While the worker bots are harvesting more gems, you can start building your army by unlocking battle, laser, and medic bots.
Getting “Cosmic Ripped”
Cosmic Trip’s controls are pretty intuitive, but there are definitely knowledge gaps that need to be addressed. A lot of information is communicated implicitly through visuals and exploration. For people who can’t afford to play for hours on end, it can be inconvenient. Furthermore, many first-time players found the tutorial quite lacking. Thankfully, Funktronic Labs is very appreciative of feedback and has since come out with a comprehensive guide book. The next step is most likely integrating it into the tutorial.
Your Vive controllers are vacuum wands by default, which you can use to pull bots, crystals, and the like. The same mechanic works to pull up the teleporter. Clicking trackpad shows three weapons: discs, bubble gun, and shield. Pressing trigger makes the discs turn, shoots bubble traps, and releases the shield, respectively. The discs can also be thrown towards enemies, giving way to some gnarly bicep toning. Turning the wands horizontally will show some more information regarding your army size and currency, among other details.
The menu can be accessed by pressing the Vive’s menu button and it houses everything you need to build and expand your bases in the bots and buildings sections, upgrade your machines and bots in the research section, and unlock other weapons and weapon upgrades from the tool section. There’s a separate section on the left to buy batteries, bombs and some nifty accessories for your little buddy. To open the map, press one of the grip buttons.
Enemies will swarm your base a few moments after you start the game. They come in different forms: anti-bodies, macaroons, slippy boys, orbs, and the nightmare-inducing roller. They will attack you, your bots, and your machines up close. And as with most strategy games, killing enemies earns currency.
It’s when these alien creeps first came flying that I realized how real a first-person RTS in VR could feel. My shrillest squeals have come out while playing this game.
The teleportation mechanism for this game was the most challenging part, especially if you’re directionally challenged like me. You kind of have to be familiar with the map system to understand which teleportation node goes where. But with a little determination and really paying attention to your position on the map, you’ll have it worked out in no time.
All Your Base are Belong to Me
To defeat the enemy heart, one must overcome fear of the spawns. It sends flying black matter that take root on nodes and builds spawners. If you wait too long, it will construct more structures, some capable of shooting lasers or hypnotizing you. Expand your base ASAP and with a clear route, keeping resources in mind. Don’t let the enemy grow its army too fast. For me, deploying bots ahead of me has worked the best.
Don’t be afraid to teleport around and discover resources. Once I had a good comprehension of the map, I found that exploration does pay, literally. Focus on building your army so you can split them up and send them on to strategic locations and prevent the enemy from spreading. To actually defeat the enemy heart, vacuum all of the corks out and make sure your army is around to protect you from everything it spawns.
At the end of the game, you’ll get a grade for four categories: economy, army, research and style.
Cosmic Trip’s imagery is very well-executed. I find the polished contrast of good guys being mechanical and the baddies being biological one of the most effective in VR today. Sure, the aesthetic is charming with a flower-child retro sci-fi vibe, but I still shudder at thoughts of being swarmed over. I like that the devs have kept to the “funky retro” theme not only with the visuals, but with the scoring, too.