I’ll be honest with everyone here and admit that outside of Fire Emblem Heroes, Pokémon Go, and Super Mario Run, I haven’t played a mobile game since the glory days of Infinity Blade and Temple Run. In that vein Augmented Empire, a game custom-made for the Samsung Gear VR piqued my interest for a few reasons:
- The project is a fairly large departure in genre and platform for the last game we reviewed by developer Coatsink Software (for those who are wondering, Shu for PS4 (and soon on Nintendo Switch).
- I have yet to play a tactical RPG in a VR headset – a marriage that I could see going ever so right or wrong.
- For a mobile title, the game has a surprising star-studded list of voice actors hailing from some of the best games ever produced.
Much to my delight, Augmented Empire is a (self) certified must-play for any Samsung Gear VR owner. With an unparalleled story for the mobile VR store, concrete and strategic gameplay, and voice acting that goes well-above the medium, Augmented Empire is not only one of the best mobile experiences I’ve ever had, but also in my top ten for all virtual reality games.
As mentioned above, Augmented Empire is a tactical RPG set in an abstract world – players follow six citizens of New Savannah. A near-dystopian, noir-inspired world that happens to divide people up in an almost Black Mirror-like fashion – through social desirability. Those on the upper end of the caste spectrum will live in luxury mansions and enjoy the pleasantries of high society, while the lower end of the field live in a skid-row like ghetto named Detritum.
In other words, Coatsink has managed to create a fairly-novel setting and interesting world. The complex cast of characters are both intertwined with the fictitious setting yet also very believable. Without going into too much about the plotlines found within the chapters of New Savannah, rest assured that each piece of writing that Coatsink has invested into the game is backed up by a significantly talented voice actor. While the game by no means goes toe-for-toe with Naughty Dog or other AAA teams, Augmented Empire is able to punch way above its weight class simply due to the artful direction.
While the art direction and story is spot on, Augmented Empire is more or less standard fare when compared to recent tactical RPGs. Within the Samsung Gear VR headset, players generally sit stationary and look at a tiled board in front of them. Using the Samsung Gear VR Controller, I was able to move the avatars from point A to point B, often to inspect nearby flyers, loot something, or go from room to room.
This relatively-stationary overhead view of the “stage,” so to speak, happens to be one of Augmented Empire‘s greatest strengths and weakness as a VR title. On one hand, I felt ever-so-slightly underwhelmed that I would have to remain like a stiff board through my hours playing the game. While I could look around the room at my armchair and glass of scotch, the picturesque New Savannah (and its more depraved locations) would have been fascinating to see in a more first-person view.
With that said, there was something magical about the story set on the stage below. Though I occasionally had to reposition my neck or shift a sitting angle, Augmented Empire felt like a personal drama playing out on the stage in front of me. In between gameplay segments, I couldn’t help but feel enamored by the setup.
The gameplay is a fair mix of ability, tactical gunfare, and quick time event based. After triggering an inevitable fight in the story, the player will be able to stand-off against enemies in cover-based gunfire. Just like similar games in the genre (for instance, SteamWorld Heist or XCOM) players need to move in a position so enemies are in a reasonable line of sight and fire. However, you don’t want to leave yourself too open – you obviously benefit from being behind cover yourself when the enemies’ turns come up.
Once you find yourself shooting at enemies (or if you are getting shot at), you will participate in a fast quick time event where you have to land a moving line within a specific section of a bar. Hitting it dead-on will get you a critical hit, while being outside the typical realm or missing it completely will land in either a normal hit or a miss, respectively. The system works out well once you get the hang of the (admittedly fast) timing, almost like in Paper Mario games. That said, expect to miss a few shots (and get hit quite a few times) in the beginning of the game when you are scaling the learning curve.
Finally, characters you control will normally have a selection of extra abilities – for instance, healing yourself or sacrificing a turn to shoot the first enemy that wanders into your sight in the enemies turn. While these abilities are typically seen in other games and won’t bring anything new to the table, Augmented Empire adds enough strategy and depth to keep the game consistently fresh between the story sections.
Augmented Empire may not be the best-suited for a VR experience, but somehow I wouldn’t want to experience the game in any other way. With a dynamic and engrossing story playing out on a personal stage in front of you, Augmented Empire is a class act when compared to other mobile games and incredibly well-suited when compared to other games in the VR space.
Disclaimer: Oculus and Coatsink loaned DualShockers a Samsung Gear VR headset for the purpose of writing this review. The game itself was purchased by DualShockers.