Guardians Frontline might be the Starship Trooper game VR players have been waiting for. It’s not the first time a first-person shooter blends seamlessly with real-time strategy. But indie studio VirtualAge has polished up Guardians Frontline enough as a proof of concept for better things to come.
Guardians Frontline is one of the few games where I was more invested in gameplay than story. It’s remarkable that VirtualAge nails the VR shooter mechanics on their first try. Weapons come with satisfying weight and punchy feedback. Movement and jetpack-hopping feel responsive across open RTS maps. Guardians Frontline starts to really open up after its basic first-person shooter tutorial.
While its RTS roots start with a point-and-shoot tool spawning troops, walls, turrets, drivable mechs, and drones, the “RTS gun” is a surprisingly clever way of employing spawns in a VR game – so much that other games attempting this can look to Guardians Frontline. It’s also an accessible tool players can use in the heat of battle without wasting more clicks.
These sci-fi staples are pretty cut and dry out of an RTS game. But as players learn to amass their own armies, Guardians Frontline can deliver on some pretty fun large-scale battles from a bird’s-eye view. Better yet, players can possess their own character to get in on the action. Unfortunately, the difficulty starts to ramp down as players become too powerful, while the top-notch FPS controls mean players can walk over to a vulnerable section of an outpost and mow down every bug.
“…Guardians Frontline can deliver on some pretty fun large-scale battles…”
I highly recommend players max out their difficulty to feel tension against hordes of alien insects, while manual reloading weapons offer benefits like higher damage output to even the odds. In a nice touch, players can also teleport to vantage points and patrol towers for a better view of the battlefield. Though I prefer playing security guard and picking insects off from a distance, it pulls away from the satisfying RTS feeling of sending troops to do your dirty work.
For just a few hours, players can coast through Guardians Frontline’s single-player campaign that serves as a tutorial with scattered objectives. Said missions are typical, from defending and conquering infested bases to exploring empty planets. These bland solo outings offer little to remember. But Guardians Frontline shines outside of its campaign with endless replay value.
The game comes with its own surprises, including a co-op option for the campaign. A level generator comes with very intuitive and hands-on controls. Players can build the RTS levels of their dreams and make even better content for others. By giving Guardians Frontline to the community, it expands the game’s scope and maximizes fun. Though the same can’t be said for a basic PvP multiplayer mode that feels tacked on next to other competitive VR shooters.
“Guardians Frontline still dazzles with plenty of ways to become a one-super-soldier-army…”
Guardians Frontline still dazzles with plenty of ways to become a one-super-soldier-army against those nasty bugs. Progression unlocks more weapons, including submachine guns, assault rifles, and launchers. Better yet, players can customize their loadouts, dual wield and experiment with different ways to exterminate. The more intricate melee weapons, including an energy blade, are satisfying to use for crowd control, while a gravity tether lets players lasso bugs and fling them into walls. Given the short campaign, players are quickly rewarded and can find different ways to revisit levels.
Sadly, Guardians Frontline‘s story is almost non-existent. The pieces are there for players to drop into a sci-fi planet and go on a bug hunt. This literally sets our galactic federation on a mission to conquer regions from Starship Trooper-esque bugs. From the generic arachnids to winged acid spitters and large brutes, Guardians Frontline spends the bare minimum on world-building.
Though I trust VirtualAge will employ some desperately-needed human characters, voice actors, and possibly live-action RTS cutscenes, players in between missions roam through an empty spaceship without much to do apart from inventory, upgrades, and training, all without a single person to interact with. For a galactic federation, players feel like a one-person-army in all the wrong ways in an RTS game that should exponentially grow in scale.
Guardians Frontline has the structure needed to go into AAA territory. But VirtualAge scratches the surface of a promising sci-fi FPS/RTS hybrid for VR. The game matches every B-movie science fiction story with an equally B-list production value. That’s not to say players should sleep on Guardians Frontline’s respectful nods. In VR, players unsurprisingly become an armoured super-soldier firing a big machine gun in space. If this sounds familiar, Guardians Frontline takes patches of cloth from other sci-fi shooters for a generic blanket. But it’s enough to showcase VirtualAge’s ambitious plans to grow Guardians Frontline and deepen that RTS/FPS combo.