The action is basic but it’s the voice recognition that shines.
When it comes to virtual reality (VR) experiences designed for arcades, they need to be short and snappy affairs. Long and impactful enough that a player leaves with a smile, wanting ‘one more go’, yet of a duration that means others aren’t waiting too long, but become equally hyped when seeing another person’s reaction. Developer Human Interact is hoping to find this balance with its latest experience, Starship Commander: Arcade.
Starship Commander: Arcade is a story-driven sci-fi adventure where you pilot an advanced fighter called the XR71 on a secret mission to retrieve some data by infiltrating an alien spy facility. So far fairly bog standard affair. You’re not alone in this mission, under your command is Sargent Sarah Pearson who will be flying alongside you, and its Pearson who provides the most interesting factor in Starship Commander: Arcade, the dialogue system.
Controllers aren’t required in any part of the experience as it’s entirely operated via your voice and gaze, meaning that the majority of the action is completely on-rails. Great for those new to VR, but possibly a little too restrictive for VR enthusiasts who want to get stuck in.
With controllers off the table, it was time to get chatty with Pearson and the ship’s computer. Human Interact utilised a next-gen AI system developed by Microsoft so that it’s almost possible to have a two-way conversation with Pearson. What impressed, to begin with, was the fact that not only did it recognise my voice without any issue, the system was able to respond with some sort of answer almost instantaneously. As Pearson appeared on the ships’ front screen like a hologram, the dialogue accuracy meant that Starship Commander: Arcade held its immersion very well.
Now that’s not to say that you could have a full blown conversation with your wingmate, but it was very impressive none the less. So long as responses or questions weren’t too stupid or unrelated then Pearson would usually remark, even sometimes coming out with a little quip. If the system did get confused then it would revert back to the mission at hand.
Starship Commander: Arcade lasts around 10 minutes, with the gameplay split between three main segments. You start in the docking bay and this is the best place to practice taking to Pearson as there’s nothing else going on. After which you jump into hyperspace and find yourself at a mysterious planet circling a blue star. It’s here that the gaze controls are first introduced, controlling the ships weapon system. Having to tell the craft to go into autopilot, it’s time to take down a few enemies by aiming the reticule at them. Nothing overly taxing.
The scene then moves to the secret base where you can take on more enemy fighters before venturing inside for the final leg. Here you can shoot enemies, and manoeuvre the ship to a small extent, veering it left and right to miss giant energy blasts. Whilst doing all this you can still talk to Pearson, although it didn’t change the gameplay at any point.
Starship Commander: Arcade is described as a ‘choose-your-own-adventure narrative,’ yet following several gameplay sessions there didn’t seem to be much in the way of choice relating to the narrative. If each section wasn’t moved on accordingly by the player the whole thing would still be pushed along – presumably due to this being a dedicated arcade experience.
While home users wouldn’t find much interest in the title it hasn’t been made for them. As a location-based entertainment experience Starship Commander: Arcade does a decent job of introducing VR to the masses. Visuals are nice, and it’s probably as comfortable an experience as you’re going to get without being completely stationary. As mentioned, the main hook is the dialogue system, which would be great to see in more content. Hopefully, Human Interact will continue developing and expanding the project for a truly branching story.