Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is headed into the grand infinity of outer space when it comes out on Nov. 4, and if you happen to have Sony’s PlayStation VR when it does, you’ll be able to go there in virtual reality, as well. At the Call of Duty XP fan event this weekend in Los Angeles, publisher Activision announced that “Jackal Assault,” a PSVR experience, would be packaged along with Infinite Warfare when it’s released later this year.
Jackal Assault is a virtual reality-based take on a space dogfight you might see during Infinite Warfare’s campaign, reworked for the head-mounted display. In Infinite Warfare, players will fly the Jackal, a jet that can handle both atmospheric and space flight. In trailers, we’ve seen players hop into the jackal and fly it from the surface of a planet to orbit and straight into an interstellar dogfight.The demo puts you in the cockpit for a bit of light space patrolling, which, of course, turns into a full-on attack by enemy ships a few moments later.
The biggest takeaway from the demo, though, was that it felt a lot like other virtual reality space games — specifically, EVE: Valkyrie.
It’s hard to know just now what Jackal Assault will actually be when it’s released. It may well never be anything more than just a Call of Duty-themed demo for PlayStation VR that’s just packaged with the main game; it may well be something a little larger in its final iteration that deserves additional consideration. At Call of Duty XP, it was a demo: a chance to get a taste of what VR Call of Duty space combat might be like.
The demo starts with you launching a jackal from a capital ship, zipping out from the superstructure into the empty vastness. Your fleet recently encountered a debris field after another space structure was destroyed, and the junk is bouncing off the capital ships, wrecking antennas and other sensitive equipment. On patrol, you follow a commanding officer as you sweep the fleet, checking for damage. You finally get to open up your guns a bit to clear some of the larger scraps — jackals sport both ballistic gun cannons and missiles, and you get to mess with both. Then, of course, your routine garbage duty turns into a surprise attack, and suddenly you’re chasing down enemy fighters as fast as you can.
Like many VR space flight games, Jackal Assault uses head tracking for targeting. Your guns fire wherever your ship is pointed, and that’s handled with the Playstation 4 controller, but missile locks require you to look around the space to get a beat on enemy ships. You can snag three locks at a time, so firing off missiles quickly is sometimes not the right call when you can drop a few enemies at once instead.
Once the actual fighting starts, Jackal Assault becomes a game of speed control and sweeping around enemies to blast them. Situational awareness is a big part of VR games like this one, and keeping up with enemies means reducing thrust (effectively braking) hard through turns, then blasting the boosters to zero out enemies. Though it feels chaotic —artificially intelligent teammates are constantly calling out the loss of other fighters over the radio — the game is not especially difficult. Enemy ships weren’t much of a problem to take down, even when they found a way to sneak up on your six.
While trailers for Infinite Warfare depict a distinctive zero-gravity version of space-flight, with ships that boost in three-dimensions and take advantage of the weightlessness of space, Jackal Assault’s gameplay feels more like a conventional flight simulator. The distinction, while disappointing on paper, may be a requirement for bringing the game to VR: Those zero-g controls may be a bit tougher to implement in virtual reality, a technology that’s already known for making its users nauseous, particularly when it comes to moving laterally.
It may also be a matter of resources: In its current form, Jackal Assault is simply a small chunk of a game released as a bonus to Call of Duty players, rather than a complete game unto itself. But while Jackal Assault may be a simplification of what may appear in Infinite Warfare, it’s not a bad VR experience. It reminds greatly of another space dogfighting simulator, Oculus Rift launch title EVE: Valkyrie. Both even feature similar demos, with EVE sporting a level (or several) that start as fleet patrols that suddenly turn into surprise attacks. Jackal Assault doesn’t offer anything that EVE and other games like Elite: Dangerous don’t already — there’s not much of a Call of Duty spin on space warfare in the VR offering — but it works well enough.
That makes Jackal Assault feel like a fun VR experience that probably functions as a bonus element for players and not much else. It’s not especially deep, but it’s polished and functional. Mileage always varies between players, but Jackal Assault didn’t make me nearly as sick as EVE: Valkyrie, despite the Rift’s superior frame rate. It’ll make for a nice addition to the Call of Duty fan’s experience in November, but don’t expect it to be the game that makes you run out to buy a PlayStation VR headset this holiday season.
Fast-paced space combat
Polished, solid VR offering from the Call of Duty team
Nice bonus offering for Playstation VR-owning Call of Duty fans
Feels a bit thin, compared to what’s been in shown of Infinite Warfare’s spaceflight.
Highly reminiscent of EVE: Valkyrie or Elite: Dangerous without offering much new.