*DISCLAIMER: ALL VIEWS IN THIS REVIEW ARE MY OWN AND DO NOT COME FROM THE COMPANY THAT HAS KINDLY PROVIDED THE GAME*
Black Hat Cooperative is, “an award-winning stealth game that pits you and an ally against robot agents that seek to remove you from the system. Explore complex levels filled with hidden dangers and work together to survive.” – BHC Press Kit
This wonderfully unique little VR and non-VR game was released on the 22nd June 2016 and is now available from the Oculus store. The game was also successfully greenlit on steam on the 28th June after having a successful Kickstarter which surpassed it’s target of $4,200 and received $5,329 when it ended on October 13th 2014. The small story of the game follows Hammer and Spice as they try and acquire hidden information. They do this by putting Hammer inside of a computer system to retrieve the information with Spice helping him along the way.
The game allows you to play both in VR and out of VR. The non-VR player must guide the VR player through a series of traps and enemies to reach the goal and collect all of the, “bits”.
A lot of people will think that the person who is not in VR will become increasingly bored as they wait for their go on the actual headset. However, the engaging design and simple to understand UI makes playing out of VR just as exciting as when you’re in VR.
The design of this area of the game is outstanding. The simple 2D environment is easy to understand and simply creates an engaging experience for the desktop player. The little details, like the animated lasers or the fact that if 2 enemy beams overlap, they create a more prominent shade of red, really make this game shine. When a game does this when they really don’t have to, I appreciate it immensely. They didn’t have to animate the lasers as they could have just had a red line appear when they came. They also didn’t need to create the overlapping beam design, but they did. Most games that I have played, which allowed for a player to be in VR and a player to be out of VR, were not focused on the non-VR perspective. Most developers would think that the player in VR was all that mattered, but not this little team. Because of all of this, I loved the game even more and my mate who was playing the non-VR part didn’t actually want to stop playing as he preferred it.
The UI in this game resembles a CLI (Command Line Interface) can be used to communicate to the player in VR and hack into enemies. To hack into an enemy, the other player must scan that enemy to retrieve it’s name. Once the name is obtained, the non-VR player can freeze or blind that enemy. To do this, the player must type in a line of computer code into the CLI. However, to do this, you must use some of your precious, “bits”. Bits are found around each level and act as a sort of currency in the game. The freeze function will simply freeze the enemy for a few seconds. The blind function will remove the enemies line of sight for a few seconds. Both of these commands are used to help the player travel through-out the map and collect all of the bits, or simply reach the end goal.
Another use for the UI is to unlock doors. Some doors that the VR player will come across in the level are locked and require a password to unlock them. The player in VR will see this password next to them and will need to communicate with the other player so that they can type that password into the CLI. This I found was quite a good feature as communication is one of the key elements in this game and there isn’t much communication between the VR to the non-VR player and is instead the other way round. The inclusion of this password allowed for a mix, which I thought was nice.
Finally, when the “dog” enemy is chasing the player in VR, a command line appears above the enemies graphic. These lines of code can range from, “root.scramble.run”, to, “daemon.trojan.finalize”. To stop the enemy the non-VR player must type these lines of code into the CLI. Because of the complexity of the lines and the speed of the enemy, it can become quite frantic when typing in the code and this panic can result in mistakes in the code which end up in the VR player being caught. It’s quite nerve-racking actually as you might be really close to the finish, but you’re still making mistakes in the code.
Now for the perspective that most people will buy the game for, as it is on the Oculus store. The simple controls result in a pleasant experience, which can instantly change when you suddenly find random blocks extremely terrifying.
The design of this area of the game is a lot different to the non-VR perspective. The art style changes into a 3D, block-based, 1st person game. This change in texture can be quite disappointing as I was expecting something more refined and elegant like the experience outside of the rift. However, the overall gameplay makes up for this. There are several enemies that I accounted during my playthrough of the game. This is only after playing 1/2 of the game though so some might be missing.
- Rotating Grunt: This enemy is stationary, but rotates it’s line of sight meaning you have to rotate with it.
- Patrolling Grunt: This enemy follows a designated path so learn it’s movements before making a move yourself.
- Hunter: This enemy knows where you are and will constantly chase you unless it is stopped by the player outside of VR.
There are also plenty of traps to navigate;
- Sound alarm: Make too much noise and these alarms will be activated an alert nearby enemies.
- Lasers: These laser beams are invisible to the person in VR and so the non-VR player must communicate to say when the VR player can cross.
- Trap-doors: These doors are also invisible to the player in VR and so the other play must navigate the player in VR past them.
The combination of the traps and the various enemies can result in quite a thriller type experience. On my first play-through in VR, I was unaware of the trap-doors and my “friend” happened to not tell me that there was one right in front of me. This resulted in quite a high-pitched shout from me and and amused “friend” beside me…
There isn’t any UI to speak of in VR as all of it is covered by the player out of VR. However, if the non-VR player types something in the CLI, the words appear in front of the player in VR. It gave me a bit of a shock the first time round as they appear to be quite close to your face, however, I love the idea of it and makes communication easier.
When you move, you create sound. This sound gets louder if you run. This is a good mechanic which allows for stealth next to enemies, but massive consequences if you run next to them unknowingly. The sound will also trick alarm systems if you are too loud so be sure to be slow when you pass one.
As this is a VR title, comfort for the player is one of the key aspects in making a VR game enjoyable. This particular game comes with 2 turning options. One is the regular smooth turning that we all expect from 1st person games. The other is a quick turn. This option results in the camera quickly moving around 45 degrees and is preferred amongst players who get motion sick in VR titles. This option may not seem very comfortable as you might expect it to be jarring, however the reason why the smooth turning results in motion sickness is because when turning, your body will think your head is moving when it actually isn’t. This results in the body experiencing motion sickness. The quick turning removes this problem and this is why it is the default movement in this game. The turning can be changed however by simply tapping the [SELECT] button on your controller.
I personally don’t get very motion sick in VR games and for that reason, I went with the smooth turning option as it is a lot easier to maneuver compared to the quick turning. However, after 2 hours of playing, I started to become a little motion sick because of all the running around that you do in the game. For that reason, I advise either taking a break every hour, or using the quick turning option.
The game seems to only consist of 2 music tracks and both of these tracks are for the VR player. This is because the Oculus, by default will move all sounds for the game into the the headphones in the rift. However, that being said, I believe that the developers could code in an option in the settings to allow the user to set which output they wanted for VR sound and non-VR sound; it’s not a big problem though.
I would personally recommend routing all music and sound through external speakers as it can be quite hard to hear the non-VR player with headphones in and communication is one of the key aspects in this game.
Even though there are only 2 music tracks in the game, they suit the style of the experience very well. They can be very eerie and the simplicity of them is good as you need to be focusing on the sound of the other player, not the amazing arpeggios of a piano arrangement. The general sound in the game is good and high quality and fits with the game very well.
There are currently 12 levels in this game, each split into groups of 3. Each group seems to add a new plays style to the game and each is more enjoyable than the last. It has taken me and a friend 2 hours to complete half of the game, meaning a 4 hour finish. However, there are 2 ways to complete this game;
- Collect all of the bits for a 100% finish.
- Beat the times allocated at the end of the round.
The times can be quite unforgiving in the later levels and will be quite hard to beat. For this reason, I would say a full completion of the game would take 5-6 hours. However, as the game is co-op. There is plenty of replay value and so I believe the $9.99 price tag is justified by the gameplay and playtime.
I personally really enjoyed the game and would love to see more VR titles with this idea of non-VR and VR players working together.
|Gameplay||Innovative game for both VR and non-VR. Great to play with mates.||I did get a little motion sick after 2 hours, but that may have just been me.|
|Comfort||Non-VR is smooth to control and VR comes with a quick turning option.||Not much to say other than if you use the smooth turning, don’t play long.|
|Quality||I love the style of the non- VR part with it’s clean and easy to understand UI.||Actual VR part of the game is lacking in textures and can become boring to see.|
|Music/Sound||The tone of the music fits the game very well and is eerie at time.||There seem to be only a few tracks in the game and they can become repetitive.|
“We hope folks have fun with Black Hat Cooperative! We’re a small team doing this alongside our day jobs, and it means so much to see people playing our creation! We worked to make something that can be readily enjoyed by roommates, couples, and visiting friends (you can introduce them to VR but still play with them!). We’re close to wrapping up our Vive version and releasing on Steam after our successful green light. Keep an eye out for updates; we plan on adding more free levels to the game over time!” – Developer Mark Sullivan – 9th July 2016
Review by Sam Elliott