Overwatch in virtual reality is not a bad pitch on paper, but it's one that struggles in practice. StarBlood Arena has its heart in the right place, and developer White Moon Dreams has actually put together a moderately entertaining first-person shooter here, but with PlayStation VR being such a niche proposition, the game's never going to have the kind of community needed to make this type of experience work.
In essence, this is the latest in a long line of cockpit shooters to hit Sony's headset. You assume the pilot position in a space ship, which you can move both vertically and horizontally. Each craft comes equipped with different weapons and features, and a lot of work has been invested into ensuring that each one looks unique. Crucially, the vessels all play differently as well, some favouring close-range combat while others excel at distance and so on.
And it makes for quite entertaining combat scenarios: not only will you need to learn the strengths and weaknesses of your character but also those of your adversaries. The problem is that, as already alluded, finding an online match is a challenge in of itself. We've sat on this review several days now hoping to play enough multiplayer rounds to do it justice, and while we have managed a handful, the servers are pretty barren right now.
It's unfortunate because this isn't really the fault of the game, but it's always the risk that you run when you decide to create a title with such a massive online focus. And to be fair, the release doesn't really make the best of what it's got, booting you back to the start screen when you complete a multiplayer match rather than offering you the option to keep playing with the people that you've finally found.
If you've got friends who own the game, then it's simple to crew up, and the action does come into its own online. There's a pretty fun four-player co-op mode which doesn't have anywhere near the depth of a Battlezone, but is entertaining enough. And then there's the real meat: the various versions of deathmatch and a Rocket League-esque spin on soccer which sees you trying to shoot a ball through your opponent team's goal.
The action's fast and frantic without being sickening, and the maps have the right mixture of open areas and labyrinth-like corridors. The controls can take a little while to get used to, and the default head-based aiming can leave you disorientated at times, but with a few hours practice it actually feels quite good to play. Moreover, he complexity of your various different weapons and abilities is really well communicated by a seriously smart HUD that shows everything you need right in front of your face.
But despite the many positives – including the great music and the abundance of cosmetic unlocks – there's just not enough here to warrant a hearty recommendation without the community needed to make it all sing. There is a single player component, which sees you working your way through various bot matches, but it feels like training wheels for the online gameplay; as a means to learn the characters it's fine, but the AI is in no way a substitute for real people.
StarBlood Arena is a likeable PlayStation VR shooter that's well-presented and pretty fun to play. The problem is that there simply aren't enough people playing it, and with the online experience being far-and-away the biggest selling point here, that's a problem. If you can convince your friends to pick it up then there's fun to be had, but with very little single player content it's a risk entering this minefield on your own.