Review: Sparc (PSVR)

Review: Sparc (PSVR)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • PlayStation VR Required
  • DualShock 4 None
  • Move Required (2)
  • PS VR Aim Controller None
Title: Sparc
Format: PSN (4.98 GB)
Release Date: August 29, 2017
Publisher: CCP Games
Developer: CCP Games
Original MSRP: $29.99
ESRB Rating: E
PEGI: 7
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Sparc was something I dreamed about as a kid, particularly when watching the movie Tron. The more the science-fiction concept of virtual reality became a possibility, the more I imaged a world where a sport would be played inside of a headset and I could either participate in the games or simply be a spectator and watch it unfold before me. Sparc is all of this, and it is surprisingly more fun than I anticipated.

Yes, there was a little game called HoloBall on PlayStation VR a few months back. And yes, it was also a blast to play – not to mention a little workout at that. But that was a single player experience. It was you against the computer in a quest for your freedom.

Sparc is one of the rare online virtual reality sports and it’s pioneered by the same team that brought us Eve: Valkyrie – which is also one of the best online VR experiences I’ve had since the launch of the various headsets.

This is a game that, for me anyway, represents a few firsts. It’s the first time I’ve played a sports game in VR. Despite it being an invented sport, it’s still me throwing a ball at an opponent in order to score points.

I realize that there are games like Starblood Arena out there that are considered “arena sports”. But Sparc required me to move my body in order to play. So keep that in mind when considering this game.

It’s pretty much a game that requires you to stand. I suppose you could sit and play it, but you’d be leaving yourself at a disadvantage in the arena since dodging is a part of the defensive strategy. The game also requires two Move controllers as there’s no DualShock support here.

The rules of the game are fairly simple. You throw your own sphere at your opponent with the intent to hit them. While holding your sphere, you can activate a shield, which in turn, deflects your opponent’s ball. But you can only activate a shield while holding your ball. So if you throw it, you leave yourself vulnerable to your opponent’s attack. Thus, keeping an eye on their movements is important.

I played a match where the other player and I just stared at each other for a while , each of us waiting for the other to make a move. The game does a great job of easing you into the game with plenty of tutorials and a few challenge modes that help your perfect your aim.

It’s highly recommended for you to go through the tutorials because throwing the ball with the intent of hitting such a small target is tougher than it sounds. In doing so I discovered that overhanded tosses were my strength.

Before you even begin a match you’re given the opportunity to customize your player. Not only are there plenty of masks, VR headsets, and clothing options, but you can also customize your hair and color scheme.

All of this is reflected online when you play against others or in spectator mode while you are watching others play. Which, by the way, they can also see you standing outside the arena and their movements are also conveyed, so you might see them cheering you on or simply observing your play style.

This game is a blast – to the point where I was thinking about it long after I had stopped playing. And it is an absolute workout. I mean, who said video games don’t get your blood going? I had to wipe down my headset after three straight matches, and it felt great.

Visuals:
One impressive thing about Sparc, and something that was almost a necessity, is that you can see your opponent’s upper body, head and arms. Few have attempted full body avatars in VR due to the clumsy inverse kinematics resulting in spastic animations. Not so here.

Not only do the characters look great but they also move great. I spent quite a few minutes in the customization menu checking out the different options, but also admiring how well the character models moved in relation to my own movements – arms, elbows, body and all.

Hell, in my first match I saw my opponent putting on his wrist straps for his Move controllers and it actually looked like he was putting on gloves. It’s all pretty surreal.

The comparisons will be made and I’m sure even the developer knows this. Tron. Yes, this entire visual experience feels like you’re living in the Grid.

From spectating in a floating rectangular arena to the sound equalizers visually pounding around you, even the glowy nature of your shield as you deflect the opponent’s ball, it’s all based on cues taken from that movie.

And, why the hell not? This is what some of us imagined the future would look and feel like. I say feel, because the first time you swing your arm, deflect the ball, and hit your opponent is absolutely blissful.

Audio:
Designing sound for a sport that doesn’t exist must have been a bit of a challenge, but the audio here is pretty brilliant. Evocative of that same movie I mentioned above, the awesome “digital” sounds of the ball bouncing off the walls and hitting its target is clear sign that the developer made an effort for the world to look and sound like they were part of the same universe.

A personal favorite is the sound when you pull the trigger and ignite your shield. I would say my only minor gripe against audio would be the semi-glitchy voice work during online play.

I could almost always hear my opponent and other players speak, but there was a compressed garbled sound to the whole thing. I imagine this is something that could be fixed with future updates.

Online/Multiplayer:
I’m not a huge multiplayer gamer but I was ridiculously curious about how one of this one-on-one virtual sport would play. I was immediately hooked. Not only are you allowed to just spectate if you want, but the entire presentation is amazing in VR.

You can see a miniature version of the arena below you and watch as two players try to score against each other. You can lean in and look closer – though keep in mind that the players can see your giant face looking through the glass also. You can also add yourself to the queue from here in order to play against other players.

Once in the arena you’re prompted to reach your Move controller towards your opponent as a way to show good sportsmanship, a salute of sorts if you’re familiar with fencing.

In the few matches I played I experienced no issues, though my first game was won by default as my opponent started experiencing some headset issues. It was such a cool experience to actually see his avatar reaching for his helmet.

Ultimately, that game was over with me leading by three points. I tied my next match and lost the following one. All the while, other players outside were cheering us on and cracking jokes.

I’d manage a glance out the window in between bouts and could see the other players looking around, checking stats and it was pretty surreal that this much of the real person’s motions were being reflected in the online avatar.

That said, in my play time, I didn’t notice any issues that might have hindered my experience, though I have read that some international games are experiencing lag. It’s almost understandable, but I do hope they resolve this issue.

Conclusion:
This game is absolutely badass! I know RIGS launched with the PlayStation VR and it was a great virtual sports game so I’m not diminishing the value of that. What Sparc represents is a few firsts, at least in the PS VR world.

It’s the first time I’ve seen a semi-full body avatar’s inverse kinematics work so well. It’s the first time I’ve faced off against another “human” player face to face with their movements being accurately mimicked on screen.

It’s the first time that I’ve felt like I was existing in the games of Tron. And it’s the first time that I’ve simply been a spectator in a virtual match. I can’t accurately describe what playing this game feels like. I can only imply it with words, which convey little of the experience.

I sweated. I definitely sweated, so buy some wipes for your headset. It was a great workout, and one that I enjoyed.

There seems to be some camaraderie in the online community with folks sharing tips and being friendly and respectable on the court. CCP is no stranger to online gaming in VR. Eve: Valkyrie is an indicator of this. They’ve once again hit a homerun.

Score:
8.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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  • JVENOM1

    This is one of my favorite vr games right now.