It's been about a year and a half since virtual reality gaming went mainstream and, in that time, we've seen approximately 4,586 first-person shooters hit the platform. Every now and then, though, a VR FPS manages to break away from the pack and offer an experience that's actually worth talking about. Blasters of the Universe is just such a game.

Available in late 2017 on the PC and just now making its way to the PlayStation VR, Blasters of the Universe is a cross between your typical VR shooting gallery and a bullet hell style of gameplay more commonly seen in 2D side-scrollers.

The package is a bit bare-bones, but what's on offer is super solid and wonderfully realized. The team at Secret Location has been working on Blasters in some form or another for about two years now, and that time has clearly been spent honing a small number of solid parts in order to make an equally solid whole. Clocking in at just four levels, the game's only major fault is that I could have used a heck of a lot more of it.

Blasters of the Universe, as you may have guessed from the title, doesn't take itself too seriously. The antagonist is your typical arcade nerd, the kind of guy who feels a high score on a machine somehow makes him better than everyone else. After getting sucked into a VR arcade cabinet, he's become an all-boasting, all-taunting god of his own virtual world.

The player takes on the role of a Blaster, a gun-slinging hero with the sole purpose of overthrowing this realm's cocky ruler. To do that, you'll need to equip a highly customizable loadout and shoot/dodge your way through a series of increasingly difficult levels, each capped off with a clever boss fight.

While there are only four levels, Blasters of the Universe actually demands a bit of time and dedication to get through. You'll likely fail each level several times over before finally completing it, and then you'll still have the "Hell" difficulty of each level to master, leaderboards to tackle, an endless mode for each map to take on and even a refreshing series of challenges that have you trying to achieve specific goals, like kill 15 airborne enemies in as little time as possible.

A couple things really help set Blasters apart from similar VR shoot-a-thons, the first of which is the loadout customization. You'll unlock new options for your gun and shield as you progress through the game, including different frames, barrels, projectiles, attachments, magazines and the like. Mixing and matching the various components can dramatically affect the way your gun fires, and the fact that the loadout menu is also a shooting range means that experimentation is instantaneous.

The second big hook is that this is a bullet hell game, which means that dodging incoming projectiles is just as important as accurate aim. You never move from a fixed point on the map, but that doesn't mean you'll be standing still while playing Blasters. Enemies fire projectiles ranging in complexity from a single bullet to an ever-changing wall of deadly balls of energy. The trick here is that your face is the only weak point on your body, so that's the only part you need to keep clear of enemy fire. You'll begin each wave simply sliding your head from side to side and, before you know it, you're leaning far to the left, ducking way down, juking to the right and then standing on your toes just to keep your face clear of danger.

Part of the challenge comes from performing this elaborate dance while simultaneously firing back at the enemies. You'll frequently find yourself firing at a baddie on one side while, to the other side, you're focused on swiveling your head to avoid fire. Keeping track of your enemies and their bullets is key; a process that's helped along by audio cues that let you know when more targets are entering the arena from various locations.

But as noted above, dodging is only half of the battle. At the same time, you'll be letting your own bullets fly, and the team at Secret Location has done a bang-up job of making things intuitive and accurate. When you're not too busy wiggling around to keep your face safe, you'll be keeping track of the various types of enemies entering the arena in order to assess which target needs to be taken out first. Each enemy has their own behavior patterns and projectile types, so making your way through each level becomes something of a math problem involving threat assessment.

This is where weapon customization comes in especially handy. If you've noticed that enemies seem to start off further in the background in one level, you'll probably want to bolt on a faster-moving projectile to make sure your bullets reach the baddies before they move. Having trouble hitting the flying enemies? Maybe an attachment that adds a little aim assist will solve the problem. Noticed that a lot of enemies seem to be sticking close together? Perhaps you'll want to use a slower, more powerful loadout coupled with a mod that makes your bullets bounce between nearby targets.

Complementing your firepower is a shield, which you can whip out in a pinch to protect your dome from enemy fire. The shield is also customizable, with the player able to hold up a standard barrier like Captain America, place three small shields in set positions or even bounce bullets back at your enemy. All of these customization options means pretty much any player will be able to find a combination that boosts their strengths or makes up for their weaknesses.

Each level's main waves are a bit random, which helps add to the Blasters' replayability. Mini-bosses seem to be set, though, as are the especially clever boss battles that offer their own set of challenges to master. These showdowns can be extremely exhilarating, making each victory feel like something you truly earned.

Take all of that shooting goodness and wrap it in a delightfully retro arcade aesthetic and a goofy sense of humor and you've got yourself a solid VR FPS that establishes itself as one of the best the genre has to offer. Even though Blasters only boasts four levels to play through, randomness, extra difficulties, an endless mode and challenges offer a nice incentive to keep coming back for more.

When your biggest complaint is that you want more, you know you've got a winner on your hands.

This review based on a PSVR copy of the game provided by the publisher.

8 / 10 stars
Rating: movie reviewed rating

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