I think it’s a pretty safe bet to say PlayStation VR users have been clamoring for an adequate multiplayer shooter and, even though there are plenty available, many are shallow or lack refinement. Developer BigBox VR has decided to enter the fray with their game: Smashbox Arena, and what a better way to differentiate from the crowd than labeling your game as a ‘dodgeball-meets-paintball’ shooter. The concept is simple and, while the gameplay actually holds up, too many other issues (including glitches) happen far too often.
Smashbox Arena is a team sport in VR where the objective is to eliminate and have the last member(s) of your team still standing. Matches are played in 3v3, with AI bots filling in when there are not enough real people available, and you take out opponents by literally shooting a dodgeball at them.
All you do is point one of your two PS Move wands (dodgeball gun) at a ball, pull the trigger to instantly attract balls into the muzzle, then aim and fire at your targets. To move, the gun also shoots a teleport pad in an arc like trajectory and this is the only way to move. The ball and teleport pad are completely effected by the laws of physics and will bounce off of walls or other obstacles. When playing against another team that uses this to full advantage, it gets much trickier and harder than the base rule-set makes it seem.
There are three different modes the game offers, including a Story mode, a Training and then an Online mode. You take part in selecting these modes in a train-like hub world, which is severely underwhelming and unpopulated, not providing much to do other than getting use to traversal and movement in the world. Being a competitive game as is, I was surprised to see an actual Story mode make it into Smashbox Arena. Although, this may be a misnomer as there really is no story to speak of. Pretty much it’s a series of matches with silly characters only jabbering on about how they are going to beat you in one through two lines of dialogue. The worst part is the spoken lines have poor audio quality and sound like they were written by a computer from a decade ago.
At the start of each match the teams are set at each end of the map; then there is a countdown to announce the blue and orange teams. When the match begins, balls fall from the sky and litter the ground giving the arena a plentiful supply of ammo to be used. It’s your goal to maneuver around the field, picking up balls and shooting them at your opponents to dispose of the opposition. You can also catch balls shot at you and deflect incoming shots if a ball is in the muzzle, mainly based more off of luck than skill.
To give yourself an edge over your opponents, there are a nice variety of weapons to exploit. Rather than using the standard balls, the power-ups help provide a layer of strategy in movement spawning in set places throughout the arena. A well placed shot from one of these special power-ups can completely change the battle.
For example, by dropping an exploding fireball between two opponents who are close together, you can dispatch of them both and that’s already two thirds of the team wiped out. Stone boulders grow to a gigantic size and roll through anyone in there way except for the team that shot it. You can also pick up a sniper shot which is incredibly precise and a shield power-up which offers far better coverage than trying to block with a ball in the muzzle. Smashbox Arena could use a few more variations in shots beyond the six power-ups currently available, but the change in attacking at least provides some strategic element.
The movement system overall is extremely clunky and presents plenty of problems when trying to traverse the environments. It’s unfortunate, but also a necessary evil when having a game tethered to PS Move wands that isn’t on rails. Pressing the X or Square buttons move the player in 30-45 degree increments for turning, however when trying to position yourself using this method you’re usually already shot by the other team. After hating movement initially, I eventually became proficient enough to appreciate what the game was trying to accomplish — although I never felt truly in control of my character’s movements.
Moving around is the least of Smashbox Arena’s problems though. The one thing the game did not optimize well was how the AI bots reacted and controlled. While they are easy to outplay (even on Hard difficulty), the bots were usually quite buggy and slow which really becomes distracting.
For instance, after being eliminated and checking out the battle from a top-down perspective, the two bots remaining remained in the same spot; not moving closer or firing shots at each other, just standing still. Another instance occurred when I became stuck in the environment and the bots still couldn’t maneuver to my position to vanquish me. All you can do in these moments is wait until the timer expires and the match ends. I can say the pairing with the PS Move controllers is wonderfully implemented and I had no trouble with syncing or blind spots.
“Smashbox Arena could have been a great competitive game to play on PS VR, instead it’s just another generic VR shooter with an underpopulated online community.”
When playing Online mode the teams are populated by humans and if not enough humans are present bots fill in the vacancies. As with playing single-player, the teams are always 3v3 and the same rule-sets apply. As you are playing if someone leaves bots are automatically inserted and it was really easy to join matches in progress or setup your own match. Most of the time I could not find five other people to battle with, but playing with humans at least made the gameplay more compelling and more fun overall. It was great not dealing with glitchy bots, but instead trying to outsmart fellow players.
Smashbox Arena could have been a great competitive game to play on PS VR, instead it’s just another generic VR shooter with an underpopulated online community. While the VR motion tracking is on the positive end of most VR titles and the simplicity makes its accessible to about anyone; the dull gameplay, poor visuals, and overabundance of glitches make it more of a chore to play through than needs to be.