Republished on Wednesday 30th August 2017: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of September's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
It's got all of the ingredients needed for a title charge, but RIGS: Mechanized Combat League never quite escapes the doldrums of a mid-table finish. Guerrilla Cambridge's virtual reality shooter has it heart in the right place, but its nauseating action never quite comes together like its future sports contemporaries, and it falls apart as a result.
While the likes of Rocket League reward skilful play and strategy, you'll mostly find yourself mauling the triggers in this mech-based battle arena. Presented a little like FIFA and its kin, your career here will see you working your way through the leagues, raising your pilot profile and unlocking new cosmetics as you go.
The structure's strong enough: winning matches will earn you currency, which can be re-invested into better RIGS. But depending on the competency of the teammates that you hire, you'll have to stump up a percentage of your prize money, creating a kind of risk/reward dynamic; do you cheap out and depend upon your own skill, or cough up for better wingmen?
There are three game types: Team Takedown, Endzone, and Powerslam. The first fixture is your standard team deathmatch type affair, while the second is a Rocket League-esque ball carrying mode. It's the Powerslam ruleset that's the flagship of the MCL, though; you'll need to enter Overdrive by completing team objectives, before hopping through a hoop in the centre of the stage to score.
Each map – of which there are four wholly unique layouts in the game – includes different lanes, platforms, and spawn points. You'll be able to access different areas of the arenas depending upon which mech you select; smaller classes will be able to sprint beneath walls, for example, while bigger RIGS will have to make do leaping over them.
In addition to class, there are also several special abilities that your mech will be augmented with. These include the Engineer (who can heal) through to the Carapace (who has a rear-facing shield) and more. It means that you have a lot of options on the field, and will want to build your team around different offensive or defensive strategies.
Well, in theory, at least. The real problem with RIGS is that it never feels like tactics come to the fore, with much of our time spent haplessly exercising our trigger finger in the hope of landing a lucky break. We can count the number of quality plays that we made on one hand, including one last minute pass to a teammate in Endzone that guaranteed a goal. These are the exceptions to the rule.
Even worse is that the combat isn't all that entertaining. Many of the weapons are woolly, whether they're beam lasers or homing missiles, and the aiming system – which follows your gaze – is one of our least favourite things about virtual reality thus far. Honestly, playing the game is both exhausting on the eyes and a source of neck strain – it feels like hard work at times.
And the rewards just aren't there. There are trials which test your combat and speed capabilities, as well as sponsorships which unlock new cosmetic upgrades for your character – but with the core controls so cumbersome, it's going to take someone with a more cheery outlook and a stronger stomach to see them all through.
To be fair, you can customise the experience to best meet your needs, tweaking the turn speed and applying your rotation to the right analogue stick. There's also a toggle for a peripheral vision mask, which is supposed to reduce motion sickness, but made us feel even more queasy when it was turned on.
The game does warn you to only play in short bursts at first, and it's for good reason; even as virtual reality veterans now, we came away from longer sessions feeling downright sick. In its defence, the game does look good, channelling F1 and American sports in order to settle upon an eye-catching art-style, but repetitive pre and post-match rituals will begin to grate after the second time of viewing.
Which leaves the multiplayer to rescue the package. Unfortunately, the game's been unable to sustain a sizeable community since launch – though an unexpected PlayStation Plus giveaway in September 2017 could help. The servers are sturdy when they're full, but the gameplay is still woolly, and even with real opponents it fails to realise its full potential.
RIGS: Mechanized Combat League may be the posterchild for PlayStation VR, but it's not the headset's MVP. While this future sports sim has a strong art style and some interesting ideas, it struggles to get the business done where it matters – on the pitch. Nauseating action and mushy combat really cause this contender to drop points.